Tuesday, March 12, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> Did you notice at the 5A games?

Leader sportswriter

It is rare for a school to sweep both the girls and boys basketball finals, but that feat became reality for Jacksonville High School on Friday as the boys defeated a persistent Alma team 56-53 while the Lady Red Devils downed Paragould 54-43 in the late game on Friday.

Seniors Justin McCleary and Jessica Jackson took home the MVP honors in each game, giving boys coach Victor Joyner his second state title in five years and girls coach Katrina Mimms her first ever.


Jessica Jackson served notice early on who the night would belong to as she dominated the lane and the outside for 10 quick points to give the Lady Red Devils a 14-0 lead by the 4:03 mark of the first quarter.

Adjustments by the Lady Rams slowed her down from her frantic opening, but Jackson still finished with 22 points despite missing the entire fourth quarter due to an asthma attack. She also had nine rebounds, including eight defensive boards, as well as three blocked shots. It was enough to earn the future Lady Razorback the game’s MVP award.


Perhaps basketball fans and media figures have grown spoiled by the plush amenities of such venues as the Stephens Center on the campus of UALR and Summit Arena in Hot Springs, but it was evident early on in the championship weekend that few were comfortable with the cramped confines of the dated T.H. Barton Coliseum.

From a wireless network that refused to cooperate to a hospitality room that tripled as an interview room and work station, and appeared to be some sort of old converted janitorial closet, it was far from press friendly.

And while the old concert posters of rock and country acts from the 1970s and 80s that lined the hallways served as a reminder of the golden age of the arena, they also served as a reminder of the age of the arena, which was dedicated in 1952.


The final scores varied, but the Red Devils and Lady Devils both led their opponents 24-21 at halftime.

Both teams also scored 14 points in the opening quarter, with the boys leading Alma 14-13 at the end of one and the girls leading Paragould 14-8.


Alma’s Gage Jensen was not shy about putting his arrogance on display early on, from belittling an official after being charged with his second personal foul early in the second quarter to repeated verbal jabs at game MVP Justin McCleary.

Red Devils post player Keith Charleston got his fill of Jensen’s antics at the 3:55 mark of the third quarter, as he got in his face following another wisecrack.

Officials diffused the situation and gave Jensen a warning to curb his attitude without charging a technical foul to either player, and Charleston let his playing do the talking for him directly after the incident with a dunk that got the Red Devil fans on the their feet and gave Jacksonville a 44-27 lead.

Jensen kept his mouth in check for the most part for the duration, and even hugged Charleston and McCleary in the greet line at the conclusion of the game.


Mimms is normally regarded as a somewhat subdued coach when it comes to sideline demeanor, but the head Lady Devil was quite animated during the championship finals on Friday.

Mimms paced the sideline frantically late in the second quarter when Paragould started its comeback, and borrowed a page from boys coach Victor Joyner when she disputed a foul call against Jacksonville earlier in the frame.

Her most humorous gesture came in the opening minutes when she caught air following a Jacksonville turnover, as her hair whipped forward similar to that of a hard-rock singer. Mimms was all smiles following the game, however, as she spoke about the historical significance of the girls’ first-ever state championship.

“Even Jessica’s ninth-grade year, when I pulled her up, in conference we went 0-14,” Mimms said. “Just within three years, last year, we went to the final four and got beat. This year, we go from a 0-14 to a 14-0 turnaround, so it’s meant everything for basketball at Jacksonville High School.”


The Red Devils had sporadic moments of difficulty throughout the class 5A state tournament and championship game, but breezed their way through the postseason for the most part with a strong bench and a starting five that never seemed to run out of gas when it was apparent their opponents were operating on an empty tank.

That scenario became apparent in the middle of the fourth quarter when Alma stalled after coming back from a 17-point deficit to close the gap to five. The Airedales played on pure heart in the closing minutes and even cut it to 54-53, but Charleston stepped to the line in the final 20 seconds and made a pair of free throws that set the final margin.