Friday, February 15, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> Jackrabbit boys top Southside at district

Leader sports editor

NEWPORT – The Lonoke Jackrabbits get their rubber match with Pine Bluff Dollarway at 7:30 p.m. today in Newport. The Jackrabbits handled Southside-Batesville 68-49 in the semifinals of the 4A-2 district tournament without the help of head coach Dean Campbell, who was in Newport earlier in the day, but had to be taken home because of illness before the tournament games began.

Lonoke assistant coach Heath Swiney stood in as head coach while girls coach Nathan Morris sat in as assistant. Swiney was pleased with how the squad reacted to not having its head coach.

“I think the kids showed a lot of maturity to go out there and play hard like that with their head coach not on the bench like they’re used to,” Swiney said. “They played very good in spots. We didn’t rebound very well but the kids stepped up and made important shots at the right times and stayed in control.”

Southside briefly held a 3-1 lead in the first moments of the game, but Lonoke scored five straight and never trailed again. The lead was up to 15-8 by the end of the first quarter.

Darian Young hit a three to start the second quarter to give the Jackrabbits a double-digit lead, but the rest of the second period was even. The Southerners began to penetrate and dish effectively, creating several open layups.

Lonoke began to struggle with its half-court offense, relying on the outside shot and getting to the free-throw line. The lead was eight at 26-18 at halftime, but the Jackrabbits would pull things together in the second half.

Lonoke led 30-21 with five minutes left in the third quarter when it made its first big run. It appeared the game was about to become a blowout when the Jackrabbits went on a 7-1 run for a 37-22 lead with 3:40 left, but Southside answered with four quick points off two Lonoke turnovers.

The Jackrabbits’ owned turnovers increased when they increased the pace of the game, but the up-and-down action still benefited Lonoke much more than the rough and rugged Southerners. Southside tried on a couple of occasions to make it a very rough and physical game, but Lonoke did not get caught up in it.

After a scoring drought of nearly three minutes, Lonoke’s lead was down to 37-26 with a minute remaining in the third quarter.

Post player Reid McKenzie then scored four straight to push it back to 15. Southside added a free-throw to make it 41-27 by the start of the fourth quarter.

Lonoke opened the fourth with a 6-1 run to take a 47-28 lead. Southside answered with its final and best run of the game.

With 2:51 left in the game, Lonoke’s lead was down to 50-40, but the Southerners had little left in the tank. Instead of trying to run out the clock, like it had when Southside made its charge, Lonoke went back to pressure. The leg-weary Southerners couldn’t handle it.

The Jackrabbits had scored no more than 15 points in any quarter, but scored 16 in a period of a minute and 35 seconds to take a 66-45 lead with 55 seconds remaining. The highlights came at the 1:15 mark. Blake Mack got a steal and mid-court and converted an acrobatic layup while being fouled.

He missed the free throw, but stole the ball under the goal and flushed it home with 55 seconds remaining for Lonoke’s biggest lead. Southside scored the next four points, but Mack got one more dunk, this time in transition, to close the show with a bang.

Mack led the Jackrabbits with 22 points, including 12 in the fourth quarter. He also recorded five rebounds, five steals and four blocked shots. Point guard Jamel Rankin was the most consistent player throughout the game. He finished with 21 points and five steals and four assists. McKenzie came off the bench to score all 11 of his points in the second half, and grab a team-high seven rebounds.

Jake Henderson led the Southerners with 12 points while Taylor Ellis scored 10.

Lonoke and Dollarway split during the regular season with each team winning on the road.