Tuesday, February 05, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> Jacksonville ladies win it in the fourth

Leader sports editor

For the second time this season, the No. 1 ranked Jacksonville Lady Red Devils needed a strong fourth quarter push to get past Little Rock Christian Academy. The home game on Friday was even tougher than the road game in early January.

The Lady Warriors were on fire from outside for three-and-a-half quarters, but lost the touch late, just as Jacksonville found it, resulting in a 64-57 win for the home team.

Jacksonville was down 29-23 until Shakyla Hill hit a driving floater in the lane at the buzzer to end the first half. It wasn’t quite the spark the team needed in the second half. LRCA stretched the lead to as much as 39-30 in the third quarter, then pushed out to a 10-point lead early in the fourth, almost exclusively from three-point range. The Lady Warriors made 14 three pointers in the game on 22 attempts.

“We were hot for three quarters,” LRCA coach Skip Sanford said. “All of a sudden we lost it and they found it. It’s hard enough to deal with Jessica Jackson on the inside. When they start hitting from outside you just have to try to score with them, and suddenly we couldn’t make anything.”

Jacksonville junior Tiffany Smith tied the game with a three pointer with five minutes left to cap a 12-2 Jacksonville run. Still, the Lady Warriors retook the lead with a pair of free throws at 3:28.

Hill tied it again with a transition layup. Jacksonville (16-4, 9-0) wasn’t pressing, but Smith, alone in the backcourt with four Lady Warriors, snuck up on Carlee Earls and stripped her from behind.

“I usually get about one of those a game,” Smith said of her sneaky steal. “Just plays where they don’t even see me coming.”

She pulled the ball out to the top of the key and passed it to Hill. After passing the ball around the perimeter, Smith hit a 23-foot shot with 2:26 left to give Jacksonville its first lead in the second half at 55-52.

It didn’t last long. Little Rock Christian’s Rachel Rudder drained a three just 16 seconds later to tie the game again. Smith answered that with her third three-pointer of the fourth quarter with 1:43 to play.

“That’s my strength,” Smith said. “I’m an outside shooter. It wasn’t working early but when you’re a shooter just keep shooting. That’s all I did.”

The Lady Warriors’ hot shooting was over with Rudder’s three pointer. They didn’t make another shot from the floor the rest of the game. An air ball out of bounds followed Smith’s last three pointer.

Little Rock Christian (15-6, 7-2) fouled Jackson with 1:15 left and she missed the front end of a one-and-one. It was the second front-end miss of the quarter for Jacksonville. Little Rock Christian got the rebound but threw it away under no pressure.

Jacksonville’s Markela Bryles then hit two free throws with 46 seconds remaining for a 60-55 Lady Red Devil lead.

The Lady Warriors missed two more threes before Jackson got the rebound and was fouled. Her two foul shots made it 62-55 with 16 seconds remaining and sealed the victory.

Smith led Jacksonville with 17 points while Jackson and Hill each added 13. Earls led all scorers with 21 points.

The Jacksonville boys were expected to have an easy time with winless Little Rock Christian, and did, winning 54-26. The Warriors (3-15, 0-8) didn’t score until a minute remained in the first quarter and it made it 14-2. Senior Justin McCleary scored six points before head Devil Vic Joyner went to the bench for most of the final three periods.

Jacksonville (16-4, 8-1) led 50-22 after three quarters and invoked the sportsmanship rule early in the fourth.

Senior Khaleel Hart led the Red Devils with 12 points.

Jacksonville’s boys and girls hosted North Pulaski on Tuesday. They will travel to McClellan on Friday with first place on the line in the boys’ game. Jacksonville and McClellan are 8-1 in league play with McClellan’s only loss at Jacksonville.