Tuesday, December 01, 2015

SPORTS STORY >> Lonoke girls dominate Shirley

Leader sports editor

The Lonoke ladies had an easy time of it Monday in the first round of the St. Joseph Invitational tournament in Conway. The Lady Jackrabbits tried out a few new things, and still hammered the Shirley Lady Blue Devils 61-20. Scoring started slow. Neither team scored for two minutes and Lonoke led just 2-0 halfway through the first quarter. After that, Lonoke began to dominate.

“We were shaking the Thanksgiving rust off,” said Lonoke coach Nathan Morris after the game. “We were running a brand new offense that we just practiced one time. The scoring wasn’t where we’d like it to be, but I thought the effort was there.”

The new offense wasn’t needed a lot. Most of Lonoke’s points in the first half came off steals and Shirley turnovers. The Lonoke defense was so dominant early. The Lady Blue Devils only managed to get seven shots off the entire first half, and only two in the second quarter. Lonoke forced 14 Shirley turnovers in the second quarter alone, to just two field goal attempts.

After the slow start, Lonoke pulled out to a 10-3 lead that could’ve been much more if not for several missed layups. Lonoke senior Jarrelyn McCall was fouled after a steal with two seconds left in the first quarter. She inbounded the ball under the Lonoke goal. Her pass found sophomore Keiunna Walker in the middle of the lane for a jumper at the buzzer that made it 12-3.

The struggle to score ended there. McCall hit a 3-pointer 10 seconds into the second quarter, then got a steal and two free throws just 40 seconds later. Another Shirley turnover was followed by a Lonoke miss and Shirley rebound, but Ashlyn Allen got a steal and layup to make the score 19-3 with 6:26 on the clock.

Morris called off the full-court press at that point, but his team’s half-court defense continued to create steals and force turnovers.

Walker got a steal out of the half-court man and hit an easy layup with 5:40 left in the first half. Allen followed that up with back-to-back steals, but Lonoke only converted once, making the score 25-3.

Shirley made its first shot attempt of the quarter with 4:37 left in the half to make it 23-5, but Lonoke closed the half with a 10-0 run to go into intermission leading 33-5.

After the break, Morris switched his team to a zone defense the rest of the way. The Lady Blue Devils only managed five shot attempts again in the third quarter, but made all five of them, including two 3-pointers and one 3-point play.

Lonoke got many more opportunities to run its new half-court offense in the second half and continued to score well. Meaning Shirley’s best offensive quarter of the night still left it trailing by 39 points at 57-18.

“We’ve got a girl (McCall) running the baseline the whole time,” Morris said. “We’ve got Keiunna out at the top of the key and if she sees an opening she’s got the green light to get in the lane and score. They both were pretty effective tonight. Shirley’s down, but we played with good intensity. Somebody might ask if you’d rather have practiced, but my thing is, let’s go play this 4:30 game, get some work in and get home to get ready for a big conference game the next night.”

McCall and Walker each scored 18 points to lead the Lady Jackrabbits, while Allen added 14. Allen, a senior post player, was challenged by Morris after the loss to Heber Springs, and the head coach is pleased with her initial response to that challenge.

“She was challenged after the last game to step up,” Morris said. “She’s a senior and we need a presence in the middle. She’s not as big as the post people we’ve had in the past, but she’s played bigger tonight than she has been, so I’m very pleased with her effort.”

Lonoke played at Southside-Batesville last night in a 4A-2 Conference game. The Lady Southerners were on the wrong end of a huge upset in their first league game at Stuttgart, but Morris still considers it a dangerous game.

“They’ve won or shared the junior high district the last three years,” Morris said. “I think it’s just a chemistry thing going on with them right now. They don’t have enough basketballs to go around. But that’s a very talented team and it’s a huge challenge for our young team early.

“I know this, win or lose that one, we’re going to be a better team in January than we are right now. We’re very young and we’ve got a lot of kids still learning the ropes. We’ve got three conference games before the break that we’ve got to get through. After that I’m excited to see how we can compete.”