Wednesday, February 25, 2015

SPORTS STORY >> Inside game lifts Lonoke to runaway win, regional

Leader sports editor

The fifth-seeded Lonoke girls’ basketball team avenged two earlier conference losses in emphatic fashion Saturday in the 4A-2 District tournament, beating four seed Heber Springs 67-46 in the old gymnasium at Lonoke High School. In so doing, the Lady Jackrabbits secured a spot in next week’s East Regional that will be held in Trumann.

Things started to go Lonoke’s way midway through the first quarter. The Lady Jackrabbits led 9-4 with 4:10 remaining before the Lady Panthers scored four in a row. After a timeout, Lonoke closed the last 2:10 of the first quarter with a 7-0 run, including a 3-pointer by Kerasha Johnson, a bucket by Amanda Sexton and two free throws by Tiunna Walker.

Sexton then scored four-straight to open the second quarter. After her first steal of the quarter, Sexton drove baseline for a layup and a 20-8 Lonoke lead. Sexton then stepped in front of a Heber Springs pass at the top of the key for her second steal in two Lady Panther possessions of the frame.

Frustrated, Heber Springs’ Makenzie Martin ruthlessly shoved Sexton in the back as she went up for a layup, driving the Jackrabbit senior hard into wall padding behind the goal. Martin was called for a flagrant foul as Sexton lay on the floor for a couple of minutes recuperating from the impact. She stepped to the line and made both free throws, and Heber Springs never got within nine points the rest of the way.

The Lady Panthers reached that margin just a few minutes later in the second quarter, going on a 7-2 run to pull within 24-15 with exactly four minutes left in the first half. The two teams traded baskets for the next three minutes, making it 30-21 with 63 seconds left in the half. From there, Lonoke’s pressure took over.

With Johnson and Jarrelyn McCall on the bench, Callie Whitfield moved to the point, where she found Sexton breaking to the basket for a layup with a minute left. After two quick missed shots by each team and some substitutions, Kimistri Balance got a steal, passed to McCall, who dished to Ashlyn Allen for a transition layup. Lonoke’s pressure then forced a traveling violation with six seconds remaining.

McCall took the inbound pass, drove the length of the court, stopped and popped a 12-footer at the buzzer to send Lonoke into halftime with a 36-21 lead.

Both teams scored on each of their first three possessions of the third quarter, but Lonoke was trading two for three. Johnson scored eight-straight for Lonoke, including two 3-pointers before picking up her third foul and sitting down with 5:20 left in the third quarter.

Heber Spring cut the margin to 13 on back-to-back baskets by Abigail Herring, but Lonoke still took a 53-37 lead into the final quarter. Lady Panther McKenzie Cresswell scored first to start the fourth, but another Lonoke run soon put the game away.

The Lady Jackrabbits played keep away from an aggressive defense before Whitfield, standing in the left corner, hit McCall streaking in from the top of the key. In one motion, McCall leaped, took the pass, spun and hit Eboni Willis all alone underneath the basket for a layup, capping a 96-second possession and kick starting an 8-0 run that would put the Lady Jackrabbits up by 22 with 3:45 remaining.

All eight points were layups out of the half-court set, the first six by Willis, the last two by Sexton.

The two senior post players accounted for more than half of Lonoke’s point total. Sexton led all players with 18 points and 13 rebounds. Willis finished with 16 points and seven boards.

Sexton also had four assists and three steals.

“That’s a pretty good all around game,” said Lonoke coach Nathan Morris. “I thought we played exceptionally hard today. On top of that, we executed well as a team, and that’s why our post players were able to score as easily as they did. This is one of our better games of the year.

“And I thought Callie Whitfield did a good job when we had to sit our two starting guards. They weren’t really coming hard and trapping, but they were giving us some token press to keep us in front, and she did a really good job getting it up the court and getting our offense going.”

Johnson added 14 points for Lonoke while McCall scored 10. Herring was the only Lady Panther in double figures with 14 points.

Lonoke had to turn around and play top-ranked and undefeated Riverview three hours later, and lost.

Lonoke wasn’t the only lower seed to win on Saturday. Sixth-seed Southside Batesville beat three seed eStem Saturday afternoon before falling to CAC later in the evening. Since Lonoke (15-13) is a higher seed than Southside, it will take the three seed into the regional tournament that began today in Trumann.

The Lady Jackrabbits are scheduled to play at 4 p.m. Thursday against Pocahontas.