Tuesday, March 11, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> Lonoke scraps Nashville, will vie for 4A title

Leader sportswriter

The Lonoke Jackrabbits are back in the class 4A state championship game for the first time since 2008 after beating Nashville by the final score of 50-39 in Monday’s semifinal round at the Gina Cox Center.

Lonoke (26-6) led the Scrappers 11-6 at the end of the first quarter, and extended that lead to 21-13 at halftime. Nashville’s Jamie Newton hit a 3-pointer at the start of the second half that cut the Jackrabbits’ lead to 21-16, but the host team outscored the visitors 15-7 for the remainder of the period to take a 36-23 lead into the fourth quarter.

Nashville (17-13), though, wouldn’t go away quietly. With 4:45 to play, the Scrappers made it a single-digit game on an inside bucket by Brandon Shamrock that made the score 38-29. A short jumper by Lamichael Pettway soon followed and a free throw by Shamrock made it a six-point game with the Rabbits leading 38-32 with just over four minutes remaining.

Whenever Lonoke desperately needed a bucket down the stretch, senior guard Darrius McCall made it happen. McCall didn’t score at all in the first two games of the state tournament, but he scored eight points alone in the fourth quarter, and each point scored was when his team needed it the most.

“He’s got the tough chore of guarding the best player every game,” said Lonoke coach Dean Campbell of McCall. “Whether it’s a guard or a second post guy, he’s doing that. He’s got the toughest job and he accepts that. He’s a tough kid and I love him for that.

“He showed up and I figured he would because the last couple of games he wasn’t very happy with himself. He really stepped up tonight and he was huge. That was what we needed.”

Lonoke pushed its lead back to double digits on a pair of 1-and-1 free throws by senior guard Jamel Rankin with 1:01 left, which made the score 48-38.

Nashville’s Darius Hopkins set the Scrappers’ point total for the afternoon with a free throw as the final seconds ticked away, and with 20.6 ticks to go, McCall set the final score with a couple of 1-and-1 free throws.

The Jackrabbits, who entered the state tournament as the three seed from the East, defeated Pottsville, last year’s state champion, by the final score of 66-64 in the first round of the tournament last week.

They then beat South No. 1 seed CAC, 56-41, in the second round Friday, which put them in Monday’s semifinals against the Scrappers, who were the South three seed.

Despite the team’s success and stellar record this season, there are those that still consider this Lonoke team a surprise team of sorts. Campbell and his players realize that and instead of shying away from it, they’ve embraced it, according to Campbell.

“Every game that we go into, we’re the underdog,” Campbell said. “Everybody will tell you who’s picked to win; it’s not us. It’s whoever we’re playing is picked to win. Our guys understand that and embrace that.”

In Monday’s semifinal, the Jackrabbits made 18 of 37 shots from the floor for 49 percent. Conversely, Nashville made 16 of 42 for 38 percent.

The Scrappers outrebounded the Rabbits 28-20, but the tournament hosts had fewer turnovers, as Lonoke finished with nine compared to Nashville’s 13.

Blake Mack led all scorers with 13 points. McCall scored all 12 of his points in the second half. Darian Young added 10 for Lonoke. Rankin scored seven, all of which came in the second half. Tykel Gray scored five and Ced Cooney scored three to round out the Rabbits’ scoring Monday.

Pettway and post player Cameron Alexander led the Scrappers with 11 points apiece.

Lonoke will play Brookland in tomorrow’s class 4A state championship game at Summit Arena in Hot Springs. The Bearcats, the East No. 1 seed, beat Lincoln to advance to Monday’s semifinal where they beat South No. 2 seed Monticello, 22-21, in overtime.

Tip-off for tomorrow’s championship game is at approximately 5:15 p.m.