Friday, December 20, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> Lonoke’s ladies get close win in league

Leader sports editor

The Lonoke Lady Jackrabbits won their last two outings, including their conference opener on Monday, running their early-season record to 5-2 overall and 1-0 inside the 4A-2 Conference.

On Saturday, the Lady Jackrabbits battled with tournament host Conway St. Joseph in the third-place game before prevailing 40-37. Two days later, they went on the road to handle Southside-Batesville 47-31.

The Lady Bulldogs’ defense was tough for Lonoke to deal with in Saturday’s game. CSJ executed a half-court trap that created problems for Lonoke for most of the game. The score was knotted at 29 at the end of three quarters, when the Lady Jackrabbits finally solved the puzzle. Lonoke began breaking the press and getting the ball to post player Eboni Willis while the defense was still extended. Willis finished well at the basket, and led all scorers with 15 points.

“We had some chances to go up a little bit more,” said Lonoke coach Nathan Morris. “They called timeout when it got to nine. We were knocking on the door of putting the game away and then they went on a little run and we had to keep working.

“St. Joseph is well-versed in what they do. You really have to go out and beat them. They’re not going to give anything away. That trap bothered us some, but that’s a good thing. It gives us something we know we need to work on.”

Monday’s conference win was another one that, despite the lop-sided final score, was close for a half. The Lady Jackrabbits led 26-20 at intermission, but stepped up their defense in the final two quarters.

“We just defended better, stayed in front better than we did in the first half,” Morris said. “We moved our feet and didn’t reach. They got to the free-throw line eight times in the first half, but only twice in the second.

“We’ve got a sophomore, Kemistry Balance, that’s coming along and playing good defense. She’s our first guard-sub off the bench right now. She’s one I thought had the potential to help us down the road, but I didn’t expect her to be this effective this early. She was a solid player in junior high. We’re getting a little more confidence in her offense, but we feel really good about her defense.”

Offensively for Lonoke, Southside had no answer for Jarrelyn McCall. The sophomore guard scored 20 of Lonoke’s 26 first-half points, and finished with a season-high 25.

“Jarrelyn can create too,” Morris said. “It’s not all what plays we run for her. She can create shots for herself. They were running a 1-3-1 zone, and they didn’t have anyone that could keep her from going baseline. They tried laying way off of her on one particular inbound play, and she hit a three, so they had to go back out to defend her.”

Another thing that helped Lonoke take control in the second half was the inside presence of Willis. The 6-foot-1 junior got into early foul trouble and sat most of the first half, but came back to score all nine of her points in the second half.

Southside stayed close primarily by utilizing guard penetration in the first half, which brings Morris back to the second-half defense as the primary key to victory.

“We feel pretty good about putting Amanda Sexton on anybody’s best player,” Morris said. “Unless it’s a point guard, Amanda is going to draw that responsibility. Now we have another one in Kemistry that we’re confident with. So we’re finding our niche a little bit when it comes to that. We’re growing as a team.”