Saturday, March 09, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> Lady Devils bring home crown

Leader sportswriter

Jacksonville’s historic 54-43 victory over Paragould in the Class 5A state basketball championship on Friday did not come without its scary moments.

It was an up-and-down night for senior and University of Arkansas commit Jessica Jackson, who went on to earn game MVP with 22 points and nine rebounds to lead the Lady Red Devils, but an asthma attack with 5:30 remaining as she sat on the bench put a temporary damper on the buildup to celebrating the Jacksonville ladies’ first-ever state title.

Game play was stopped while medical personnel attended to Jackson, and she was taken back to the locker-room area before returning with just under two minutes left to play.

She attempted to return to the game in the final minute, but was denied by officials.

In her absence, sophomore point guard Shakyla Hill stepped up and made a pair of big free throws with 1:12 remaining to give the Lady Devils a 50-37 lead, and scored a layup off a steal in the final 30 seconds for a 52-41 lead. Hill finished with 13 points and eight rebounds.

“With a 10-point lead, and they were playing zone, I think the biggest part was we could hold the ball,” Lady Red Devils coach Katrina Mimms said. “And they had to goman. I knew that if they had to go man, they couldn’t stay in front of Shakyla. She does a great job of dishing, and she did, and she scored a couple.”

Jackson’s contributions in the third quarter got momentum back on the Lady Red Devils’ side, including a pair of technical-foul free throws at the 3:39 mark to give Jacksonville a 29-21 lead. She followed that with a basket and free throw seconds later to extend the advantage to 32-21.

Jackson remained on the bench to start the fourth quarter, and held out on a couple of opportunities to check back into the game. Jackson’s cries from the bench at the 5:30 mark brought play to a stop as a concerned tone fell over Barton Coliseum while she received medical attention.

“It was pretty difficult,” Hill said of carrying on without Jackson late. “Because she is our leading rebounder, but I think coach Mimms and coach Joyner prepared us to stay calm and stay going.”

The Lady Red Devils jumped out to a 14-0 lead during the first 3:57 of the first quarter. Jackson made a three-point basket at the 7:08 mark, followed by a three pointer by Tiffany Smith to give Jacksonville an early 6-0 lead.

Jackson kept momentum going for the Lady Devils with a bank shot assisted by Hill with 5:54 remaining in the opening period to make it 8-0, and followed that with a block and defensive rebound on the other end. That led to a hook shot by Jackson that also drew a Paragould foul, and the University of Arkansas signee converted the and-one to give Jacksonville an 11-0 lead with 4:42 to go in the first quarter.

Hill added a free throw on the Lady Red Devils’ next trip, and Jackson scored in the paint over two defenders to give Jacksonville (25-4) what appeared to be an overwhelming 14-0 lead at the 4:03 mark.

The rest of the opening period belonged to the Lady Rams, however, as Sydney Layrock made a pair of free throws and scored on a lay-in with 3:27 left in the first to cut Jacksonville’s lead to 14-4. Carson Gill then made an inside basket for Paragould, followed by a third-try putback by Layrock to close the gap to 14-8 by the end of the first quarter.

Markela Bryles scored at the 7:51 mark of the second quarter on the first possession of the period to make it 16-8, but Layrock answered on the other end for Paragould before Jackson finally broke a nearly seven-minute scoreless streak with a midrange shot that extended the Lady Devils’ lead to 18-10 with 6:44 remaining in the half.

Jackson and Hill scored again midway through the second to extend the Lady Red Devils’ margin again, this time to 23-14, but the Lady Rams (24-5) went on a late run before the half, outscoring Jacksonville 6-1 down the stretch. Rachel Dicus set the halftime score for Paragould with a three-point basket in the final five seconds to make it close again at 24-21.

Smith finished with seven points while Bryles added six points and seven rebounds for Jacksonville. Alunte Petties, Keaundra Alcorn and Ashli Evans all had two points each.

For Paragould, Layrock led with 23 points.