Friday, February 19, 2016

SPORTS STORY >> Lady Devils step up for McClellan

Leader sports editor

The Lady Red Devils were without their leading scorer Tuesday night, but still played well enough to earn a 44-34 victory over McClellan in a 5A-Central matchup in Jacksonville.

McClellan’s towering and athletic center, Ketrunia Gamble, didn’t start and Jacksonville jumped out to a quick 9-2 lead.

When Gamble entered the game, she proved to be a matchup nightmare for the Lady Red Devils, but the home team still scrapped hard inside and managed to frustrate the Lion center much of the game.

With the absence of the team’s leading scorer, Jacksonville got a huge boost from reserve guard Emily Lovercheck, who scored a season high 15 points to lead the Lady Red Devils.

“She seems to play well against McClellan,” said Jacksonville coach Crystal Scott. “She got the start and she did well. She took good shots for the most part, and didn’t rush.”

Scott also saw a good game by reserve point guard Josie Starr, who was out for almost a month with injury and played less than Scott planned at the beginning of the season.

“I thought Josie had one of her best games of the season,” Scott said. “She got us up the floor and into our offense, and she passed the ball very well and created open shots for us. McClellan didn’t press us like they did last game because that’s when we pulled away from them. Josie did a good job in our halfcourt sets and providing a little extra leadership on the floor.”

Jacksonville led 12-5 in the first quarter when Gamble entered the game. The 6-foot-2 center scored six-straight to pull the Lady Crimson Lions to within one by the end of the opening period.

Jacksonville’s defense began to turn things around in the second quarter. With Jacksonville leading 19-16, Taylor Toombs sparked a 6-0 run with steals on back-to-back McClellan possessions, and she forced a throwaway on a third. The Lady Red Devils responded to each turnover with baskets – two by Asiah Williams and one by Lovercheck – for a 25-16 lead with 3:05 left in the half.

McClellan’s Shawntay Casey hit her second 3-pointer to and Jacksonville responded with a basket by Tarnesha Womack to make it 27-19 with 2:36 remaining. Jacksonville got a defensive stop and took possession with 2:06 on the clock and the action stopped.

Red Devil point guard Alexis James held the ball a few feet beyond the top of the key and McClellan (5-14, 3-9) hung back in a packed in 2-3 zone. James held it for the rest of the half. Jacksonville attempted to run a play with a few seconds left but failed to score.

The pace slowed in the second half. Williams scored to start the half to give Jacksonville a 10-point lead, and the two teams stalled for several minutes. Jacksonville led 33-21 with 2:38 remaining in the third quarter before McClellan closed with an 8-2 run that made it 35-29 going into the fourth.

McClellan’s Brandi Patterson scored to start the final frame and pull the Lady Lions to within four, but Jacksonville increased its defensive aggression and went on a 9-0 run to take control of the game.

The Lady Red Devils (14-13, 8-4) also found a way to deal with Gamble – fouling. Jacksonville contested every shot Gamble took in the fourth quarter and fouled her five times, and she missed 5 of 6 free throws down the stretch.

Leading 42-33, Jacksonville committed two turnovers after offensive rebounds. Once it was called for traveling and another time for stepping out of bounds, but appeared to be shoved on both occasions. That drew protests from Scott, but Williams negated the calls by get a steal and layup that made it an 11-point game with 1:54 left.

Gamble hit a free throw on McClellan’s next possession to pull her team to within 10, but the Lady Lions conceded the rest of the game, allowing Jacksonville to dribble out the remaining 1:36 to seal the victory.

Lovercheck’s 15 led Jacksonville while Williams posted a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds.

“That kind of surprised but only because Asiah is not as focused as she needs to be,” Scott said. “In my opinion, she should have a double-double every night. She’s capable of it. She has that kind of talent.”

Gamble also posted a double-double with 16 points and 11 rebounds, and added six blocked shots. Casey scored 12 for McClellan.