Tuesday, January 26, 2016

SPORTS STORY >> Lonoke girls win despite start, finish

Leader sports editor

There was very nearly a major collapse at the end of the Lonoke girls’ makeup game with Heber Spring on Monday, but not quite. The Lady Jackrabbits overcame the difficulties that saw a 10-point fourth-quarter lead evaporate, and held on for a 48-44 victory at the Gina Cox Center.

The win avenges a loss in November to the Lady Panthers, and pulls Lonoke back into the race for a two seed in the district tournament.

The Lady Jackrabbits (15-6, 7-4) still trail Heber Springs (11-8, 8-3) by one game and eStem Charter by two in the race for second. Riverview leads the league with a perfect 11-0 record.

On Monday, Lonoke took a 41-31 lead into the fourth quarter. The Lady Jackrabbits started poorly and trailed 12-4 at the end of the first period, but dominated the action in the second and third quarters.

Both teams struggled offensively in the fourth and neither team scored for more than two minutes. Heber Springs’ Madaline Spanel then hit a 3-pointer just inside the six-minute mark. After a rushed shot by Keiunna Walker, Heber’s Lana Milton went to the line and hit a pair of free throws that made it 41-36 with 5:30 remaining.

Walker scored the next time down the floor and Lonoke got a defensive stop. Walker then took another highly-contested baseline runner that missed everything, and Heber’s Hannah Thomas hit two free throws at the other end to make it 43-38 with 4:16 to play.

Lonoke coach Nathan Morris called timeout and sat Walker momentarily, but Mickenzie Williams attempted the same errant shot after the break and missed. Milton then scored for Heber Springs to make it 43-40 with 3:10 remaining.

Williams was fouled and hit both free throws for Lonoke 25 seconds later, and Jarrelyn McCall took a charge for the Lady Jackrabbits on the ensuing possession. Walker then hit a driving layup to put Lonoke back up by seven with 1:58 to play.

Milton hit two free throws to cut it back to five. After a Lonoke turnover, Spanel scored after three Heber Springs offensive rebounds to make the score 47-44 with 55 seconds left.

Morris called another timeout, and again his team responded with a rushed, contested shot and Heber Springs got the rebound with a chance to tie, but Lonoke’s defense saved the day.

The Lady Panthers couldn’t find an opening for a shot for several seconds and called timeout with 21 seconds to play. After the break, there was still no opening and Lady Panther coach Jamey Riddle called another timeout with nine seconds left.

This time it was Heber Springs’ Milton that took the rushed shot. Shooting from far beyond the 3-point line with a hand in her face after the initial inbound pass.

McCall got the rebound with five seconds left and was immediately fouled. She hit the second of two attempts to set the final margin and seal the win for Lonoke.

“That was almost a meltdown,” said Morris after the game. “You want to think it’s that sophomore youth still coming into things, but it’s also January 25th. We shouldn’t be making those mistakes at this point.”

After falling behind in the first quarter, Lonoke turned the tables and outscored Heber Springs 21-10 in the second period to take a 25-22 lead into halftime. A pair of steals by Ashlyn Allen sparked the second-quarter run. She also got back-to-back layups off the penetration and dish by McCall. The defense continued to play well in the third quarter, but the shooting suffered a bit. Walker and McCall combined for five steals in the third while Allen and Kaley Woodruff each had one.

“I thought our defense played pretty well most of the game,” Morris said. “I think we came out flat offensively and our defense wasn’t as good early as it could have been. But overall I liked our defensive effort. I didn’t think we took care of the ball very well and we made some bad decisions late. But this is a good win, a really important win because it puts us right back there in the mix.”

Lonoke committed 18 turnovers, but forced 25, including 11 steals. Walker led Lonoke with 14 points and four steals. Allen scored nine points and added six rebounds and three steals.

The Lady Panthers keyed on McCall and held her to a season low five points, but she still contributed a team-high eight rebounds and dished out six assists.

Spanel led all scorers with 16 while Milton added 12. Both teams finished with 29 rebounds.

Neither team shot well. Lonoke was below 30 percent on 16 of 54 shooting from the floor, and hit 11 of 17 free throws. Heber Springs made 14 of 44 shot attempts and went 13 of 17 from the free-throw line.