Tuesday, March 11, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> Lady Rams put an end to Lady Devils’ season

Leader sports editor

ALMA – A bad first half of shooting got worse in the third quarter, and the Jacksonville Lady Red Devils’ season came to and end in the quarterfinal round of the class 5A state tournament. The Paragould Lady Rams, who Jacksonville beat in the state championship game last season, got their revenge with a 64-40 victory on Monday.

Jacksonville hit just 8 of 27 shots in the first half and was 4 of 10 from the free-throw line, and only trailed 26-23 at intermission. But those numbers got even worse in the second half while Paragould began to find its range.

The Lady Rams weren’t much better in the first half, hitting 10 of 27 shot attempts, but made their first five of the third quarter while Jacksonville opened the third with seven-straight misses.

Just 1:29 into the second half, Paragould senior Sydney Layrock scored seven unanswered points and the Lady Rams were suddenly up by double digits. Jacksonville did not score in the third quarter until freshman Alexis James hit a free throw with 4:10 on the clock to make it 39-24. The two teams playedevenly for the rest of the quarter and the Rams went into the fourth with a 45-30 lead.

Jacksonville briefly cut the margin to 10 early in the fourth quarter. Antrice McCoy got a steal and a layup and Keke Alcorn drained a 3-pointer to make it 49-39 with 6:10 remaining, but the shooting woes re-emerged and Paragould pulled away.

“We just never shot the ball well the whole game,” said Jacksonville coach William Rountree. “We got 34 from our post player in the first game, and just couldn’t get them to fall in this one. And it wasn’t just her. We missed layups, threes and free throws. You’re not going to win doing that.”

McCoy led Jacksonville with 12 points and was the only Lady Devil in double figures. Layrock carried Paragould, scoring 21 and grabbing 14 rebounds.

Jacksonville finished the game hitting 14 of 57 shot attempts and was 4 of 20 from beyond the 3-point arc. They also made just 8 of 26 free-throw attempts for 31 percent.

Still, the Lady Devils look upon the season as a success. There were many challenges facing the team at the beginning of the season and many doubters believed the team would struggle.

They lost Jessica Jackson to graduation, a player who went on to become the top freshman in the SEC. They lost their starting point guard and second-leading scorer to transfer, and started over with a brand new coach in Rountree.

Early on, it looked as though the naysayers would be right. Jacksonville lost its first five games, but it turned out to be to four teams who advanced to at least the second round of the class 6A and 7A state tournaments.

Senior guard Tiffany Smith, who is this year’s leading average scorer, believes she and her teammates accomplished a lot this season.

“We definitely had the doubters out there and we wanted to show we were still a good team,” said Smith. “I think we did that. We’re better today than on day one. It was a tough transition with the new coach. Last year with coach Mimms we just went out and played ball. We knew if you got the ball to Jessica she was going to score. This year we had to listen. We had to execute the offense and get good at that, and we became a better team.”

The Lady Devils end the season with an overall record of 16-10.