Friday, March 14, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> Late rally can’t break through, Lonoke falls in state title game

Leader sportswriter

HOT SPRINGS – Despite an early fourth-quarter surge from Lonoke in Thursday’s class 4A state championship game at Summit Arena, the Brookland Bearcats stayed the course and pulled away in the end to beat the Jackrabbits 60-50.

Brookland’s stingy defense got to the Jackrabbits early, but it was the Bearcats’ stellar shot selection and overall percentage from the floor that gave them a 13-7 lead at the end of the first quarter and a 28-18 lead at halftime.

The Bearcats (28-6) were 5 for 7 shooting in the first quarter and 12 for 18 by the end of the first half for 67 percent. The Jackrabbits (26-7) didn’t necessarily have an off night, making 7 of 16 shots in the first half for 44 percent, but that percentage obviously didn’t match Brookland’s.

“They’re a very tough team,” said Lonoke coach Dean Campbell of Brookland. “They guard and defend, and don’t let you get anything easy. They shot the ball extremely well. I think we had a little bit to do with that. We weren’t guarding very well the first half. We did a lot of chasing instead of jumping to the ball and being in the right position.”

Brookland extended its lead to 31-18 on a 3-pointer by CJ Henry at the start of the second half, and the Bearcats led by double digits for most of the third quarter, but the Jackrabbits were able to cut that lead to single digits by the end of the quarter, trailing 36-28.

Lonoke turned up the pressure in the fourth quarter and was able force turnovers. As a result, the Rabbits began the fourth period with a 4-0 run, which trimmed Brookland’s lead to 36-32.

The Bearcats got a bucket soon after, but Lonoke’s Darrius McCall answered with an and-1 with 6:46 to play, which narrowed Brookland’s lead to 38-35. That, however, was the closest the Jackrabbits would get the rest of the way.

Brookland was able to eventually figure out Lonoke’s press defense and after the Bearcats beat the pressure, it often led to high-percentage shots on the offensive end, or they’d get to the line and steadily build on their lead.

McCall, who guards the opposing team’s best player every game, fouled out with 4:19 remaining, and at that time the Rabbits trailed 44-37. Brookland pushed its lead back to double digits on a pair of free throws by Chandler Thompson, who earned Most Valuable Player honors, which put the Bearcats up 50-40 with 1:44 left.

Lonoke got to within six points of the Bearcats’ lead on a putback by Ced Cooney after a Jamel Rankin miss from the baseline with 51 seconds remaining, which made the score 52-46, but Brookland pushed it back to 10 on a transition layup by Reece Gamling with 22.9 ticks left, which made the score 58-48.

In the final seconds, Thompson sank the team’s 13th and 14th free throws of the fourth quarter to set the final score.

“We’re always the underdog in every game we play,” said McCall, “but we came out and did our best, and I can’t say anything more about my team. We fought to win, but we just came up short. This team is a family. We’ve been together since community center ball.

“With everyone from Pottsville, CAC, Nashville, we fought adversity and we overcame it.”

“We had a great season,” said Lonoke senior post Blake Mack. “We’ve been growing up together since we were in kindergarten, playing with and against each other. Compared to prior seasons, this season I feel like we did great.”

Their head coach expressed the same sentiments.

“There are 48 teams in 4A,” Campbell said. “Forty six didn’t make the trip. So, it was a great year. We set some team goals early. We decided what do we really want? Do we want to just come to camp and just have fun, or are we here to do something and get better and do some work?

“I think we’ve had a great year. We went to Conway St. Joseph and won that tournament. We won our tournament at home, the Goldfish Classic. We caught a very hot Stuttgart team at district and, of course, we ran into Dollarway again at the regional tournament.

“As I told the guys in there, ‘you’ve created and developed relationships and created memories that no one can ever take away from you.’”

Lonoke finished the game 19 of 49 from the floor for 39 percent. The Rabbits made 1 of 13 threes for 8 percent and 11 of 19 free throws for 58 percent, and finished the game with 12 turnovers.

Brookland finished the game 19 of 35 from the floor for 54 percent. The Bearcats made 5 of 10 3-pointers for 50 percent and 17 of 29 free throws for 59 percent. They finished the game with 14 turnovers and outrebounded the Jackrabbits 31-26.

Thompson led the Bearcats with 15 points and made 10 of 11 free-throw attempts, but Mack led all scorers with 19 points. He finished his last game as a Jackrabbit with a double-double as he also hauled in 10 rebounds.

Rankin, also a senior, finished with nine points. Senior Darian Young scored seven. McCall, also a senior, finished with five points. Seniors Tykel Gray and Cooney scored four points apiece, and sophomore guard Jawaun Bryant added two points to round out the Rabbits’ scoring.