Friday, March 07, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> Lonoke girls win playoff opener with solid fourth

Leader sportswriter

Despite the Lady Jackrabbits’ rough start in the second half, they overcame Star City’s third-quarter run and left the Gina Cox Center on Thursday with a 52-44 win to advance to the second round of the class 4A state playoffs.

Lonoke (24-8), the class 4A state tournament host, was the better team in the first half against Star City (26-4), as the Lady Jackrabbits led 13-9 after a quarter of play and 25-17 at halftime. However, the host team came out of the halftime break ice cold from the floor, and the Lady Bulldogs were able to battle back as a result.

Star City, the South No. 3 seed, opened the second half with an 11-1 run to take a 28-26 lead late in the third quarter. Lonoke, though, didn’t stay down long. Sophomore scorer Jarrelyn McCall made Lonoke’s first field of the half on a short baseline jumper with 2:13 remaining in the third quarter.

That tied the game at 28-28, and McCall hit two more free throws before the third quarter ended, which helped Lonoke take a 30-29 lead into the fourth quarter.

Star City re-took the lead 14 seconds into the fourth period on a pair of free throws by leading scorer Jaida Harden, who led all scorers with 23 points, but McCall answered with a midrange jumper at the other end, which put Lonoke back on top, 32-31.

McCall scored 10 of her team-high 21 points in the fourth quarter, but the Lady Rabbits couldn’t separate themselves from the Lady Bulldogs until the end of the game.

With 3:43 to play, junior guard Callie Whitfield got a transition bucket off the glass that gave the host team a 42-37 cushion, and that sparked a 6-1 run that was capped with another basket by McCall.

McCall’s basket that capped the short run gave Lonoke its first double-digit lead of the game at 48-38 with 1:30 remaining. Star City added a basket to cut its deficit back to eight, but junior forward Amanda Sexton made it a 10-point game again with 57 seconds to play on a putback underneath the basket.

The Lady Bulldogs once again made it an eight-point game on the following possession with another quick basket, and Whitfield was fouled after the inbound pass. She went to the line and sank both free throws with 31.4 ticks remaining, which set the Lady Rabbits’ point total for the evening.

“I can’t ask for much more in the fourth quarter because when they started pressing us in the third it looked like, oh my gosh,” said Lonoke coach Nathan Morris. “We got the ball down the floor in the fourth and once we got it there we were able to score. We plugged along in that third quarter, but we came back in the fourth, and 22 points in the fourth quarter was a big, big key.

“They missed some easy shots early and we came out shooting the ball pretty well. We had a couple of big threes early. All three of our guards hit a three, and that was big. All three of our guards got big-time buckets off of each other’s penetration. That was key and it kind of helped us distance the score out a bit.”

McCall was the only Lady Rabbit to score in double figures, but Whitfield scored nine points. Kerasha Johnson scored eight. Eboni Willis and Sexton scored seven points apiece. Sexton also had a game-high 13 rebounds.

The Lonoke girls played North No. 1 seed Farmington last night at the Gina Cox Center after deadlines. Look for details of that second-round playoff matchup in Wednesday’s edition of The Leader.