Tuesday, March 11, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> Red Devils seek repeat

Leader sports editor

ALMA – Jacksonville coach Vic Joyner is a defensive-minded coach, and his Red Devils were keyed in to play defense Tuesday night. Jacksonville harassed Harrison into a poor-shooting night, and in so doing, earned the right to play for the second-consecutive state championship game with a 52-38 victory over the Goblins at Charles Dyer Arena.

The win also avenged one of the team’s three-straight losses in early December, when Harrison beat Jacksonville 52-50 in the Wampus Cat Invitational at Conway. That loss provided no extra pressure for the Red Devils, but did provide extra motivation.

“Ever since that loss we’ve been rooting for Harrison to make it to state so we could play them again,” said Jacksonville junior Kerry Knight. “We weren’t really a very good team at that point. We weren’t playing together, we weren’t playing good defense. We wanted to prove we were better than the team they beat earlier.”

Knight, who comes off the bench for the Red Devils, provided a big spark for Jacksonville in the third quarter when the team was mired in a scoring drought.

Jacksonville took a 25-16 lead into intermission, and the two teams traded buckets without a miss for seven-straight possessions. Jacksonville then went four-straight possessions without even getting a shot off, committing turnovers on every one. When they finally did get a shot, it missed everything, but defense kept the Red Devils ahead.

Harrison was only able to trim the nine-point gap to five at 31-26 with 3:43 left in the third, that’s when Knight scored four-straight to put his team back in control.

“We treat practice just like the games,” Knight said. “So when my opportunity came I was ready.”

That’s almost exactly what his coach said.

“There’s no hesitation for Kerry to shoot,” Joyner said. “He takes those shots in practice and our practices are intense. We needed somebody to step up and tonight he was blessed to be the one to take the big shots and knock them down. And we needed them.”

Harrison got the margin back down to six at 39-33 by the end of the third quarter, but the Red Devils cranked up the defensive intensity another notch in the fourth.

After Devin Campbell scored to open the final quarter, Jacksonville played defense for more than a minute before Harrison finally shot and missed, and Kanaan Jackson came down with the rebound.

Jacksonville didn’t score on that possession, but LaQuawn Smith got a steal on Harrison’s next possession. He passed to Campbell, who missed the layup, but Jackson was there for the follow-up and a 10-point Red Devil lead with 5:30 left in the game.

Jackson sat almost the entire first half after picking up two fouls in the first 70 seconds of the game. He then got his third foul just 86 seconds into the third quarter, but he proved to be a big factor in the fourth.

“It’s always tough sitting on the bench,” said Jackson. “Just being there to support my teammates kept me in the game. When it came my time, I knew I had to step up.”

In Jackson’s absence, Tedrick Wolfe scored 10 points in the first half, all on the low block.

“Wolfe has legs,” Joyner said. “He never gets tired. And he sat on the bench with foul trouble in the last one. So he wanted to make his mark and he played well. We almost followed the game plan perfectly tonight. I’d say it was about 88 percent. We played a good game tonight.”

Campbell led the Red Devils with 15 points while Wolfe finished with 12. Jackson and Berkley had eight apiece.

The Red Devils got to the semifinals on Tuesday with a 79-53 route of Morrilton in the quarterfinals. Jacksonville will play Forrest City in the championship game this weekend at Hot Springs’ Summit Arena. Game time will be determined today at the Arkansas High School Activities Association offices in North Little Rock.