Monday, January 13, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> Rabbits rally on road at Stuttgart

Leader sports editor

The Lonoke boys and girls basketball teams picked up wins in 4A-2 Conference play on Tuesday. The Jackrabbits and Lady Rabs hit the road and pulled off a sweep of Stuttgart. The boys won 59-45 while the girls grabbed a 51-35 victory.

In the opening game, the Lady Ricebirds stayed even with their guests through one quarter, but Lonoke took control of the game in the second quarter and took a 13-point lead into intermission.

“We played a really good second quarter,” said Lonoke girls’ coach Nathan Morris. “The inside play was very critical in those two middle quarters. We didn’t have our best offensive effort to start the game. But the defensive effort was there and the middle two quarters were solid.”

Point totals bear out Morris’ observation. The post player and two forwards led the Lady Jackrabbits (11-4, 3-0) in scoring. Forward Amanda Sexton led the way with 14 points and eight rebounds. Center Eboni Willis added 12 points while forward Callie Whitfield had 10 points and five assists.

The team’s leading average scorer, sophomore two-guard Jarrelyn McCall, scored nine points and had eight rebounds, and scored five in the nine-point first quarter.

“We knew inside would be critical against this team,” Morris said. “So you look at Jarrelyn’s scoring and you say it’s not what it usually is. But then you look at where we struggled so bad executing our offense in the first quarter, she scored five of our nine.”

Point guard Kerasha John-son only had two points, but dished out six assists and committed zero turnovers.

“We’ll take 100-percent assists to turnover ratio every day of the week,” Morris said of his point guard. So you can see, each one of those girls contributed to this win in a big way.”
Rebounding has been a weakness for Lonoke this season. Even though Stuttgart outrebounded Lonoke by a small margin, Morris believes that aspect of the game is improving with his team.

“We’re probably getting better,” Morris said. “The stats indicate that. But as a coach, you see those where somebody goes right down the middle and gets an offensive one. Or they get three in one possession. That glares at you. We’re having to work harder on defense because we’re not finishing that first effort. But Stuttgart is awfully athletic. Their bigs can step out and hit threes and that pulls your rebounders out some. I’m not going to complain about a conference road win. Overall it was a pretty good effort.”

The Lonoke boys (12-2, 2-1) jumped out to a quick 13-6 lead, but suffered a few turnovers and let the Ricebirds back into the game. The home team took a brief lead midway through the second period before the visitors fought back and carried a 24-21 lead into the locker room.

Lonoke increased the tempo in the second half, and while it never put together a game-breaking run, it was much more comfortable in a fast-paced game and maintained control of the action for most of the half.

“We were in man and we came out of it with some halfcourt traps and the kids executed it really well,” Lonoke boys’ coach Dean Campbell said. “We kept at it the whole third and fourth quarter. And when we got the turnovers, we finished better at the rim than we did in the first half. We also spread the floor a little bit and made them come get us. That made it easier to attack the gaps and force the issue a little bit. We made them come out and get us and that opened things up a little bit for Blake (Mack).”

Guard Tykel Gray led the Jackrabbits with 22 points while Mack, a 6-foot-4 post, finished with 20.

“I thought the kids reacted well after losing to Dollarway,” Campbell said. “Went right back on the road and got a win. So I was pleased with that.”