Friday, February 26, 2016

SPORTS STORY >> Falcons’ phenomenal finale

Leader sports editor

The game was between the two last place teams in the 5A-Central, but that didn’t matter to the North Pulaski Falcons. It may not have been an overall successful season, but it was very successful send off as the Falcons closed the book on NPHS athletics with a 51-47 victory over the Beebe Badgers on Thursday in Jacksonville.

It was the last-ever sporting event for any North Pulaski Falcon team. NPHS is not offering any spring sports this year, so athletes wanting to participate in baseball, softball, soccer or track will do so for Jacksonville. Next year, Jacksonville High and NPHS are combining into the new JNP district.

Beebe (3-19, 1-13) did its best late in the game to ruin the night, storming back from an 11-point fourth-quarter deficit to get to within two with 42 seconds remaining.

That’s when Beebe’s Deandre Butler hit two free throws to close a 13-3 run and make the score 46-44. North Pulaski answered immediately when a nifty interior pass from Braxton McKinney to Sean Moragne resulted in an easy layup. The Falcons got a stop when Grant Brown missed a 3-pointer and NP’s Justin Glasco was fouled after Christian White’s rebound.

Glasco made 1 of 2 with 18 seconds left, but Beebe’s Austin Moore raced up the floor and hit a long 3-pointer that made it 49-47 with 14 seconds remaining. Beebe called a quick timeout and planned to foul immediately.

They sent NP senior James Robinson to the line with 12 seconds remaining. He calmly made both shots to set the final margin.

Brown tried a long 3-pointer but missed. Moragne got the rebound and held the ball the last few seconds as time expired.

“We needed that. We needed that” North Pulaski coach Roy Jackson repeated many times. “It looked like we were trying to give it away in the last few minutes, but the kids dug down, man. I’m so proud of them. This was just a little rag tag team, man, and they kept coming out and busting their butts all season long. They deserve this.”

Beebe started the game strong as well, but NP dominated the middle portions. Beebe’s K.J. O’Neill didn’t miss the entire first half, and jump-started the Badgers to a quick 8-2 lead. He and Butler each completed 3-point plays and O’Neill added another basket.

The margin stayed around six until early in the second quarter when NP began to take control. The Badgers led 20-14 when the Falcons went on a 13-3 run the rest of the half.

After five-straight, Brown hit his first 3-pointer of the game for Beebe to make it 23-19.

White then scored for NP and Glasco made 1 of 2 free throws after a steal. White then got a steal and Glasco scored to give the Falcons their first lead of the game at 24-23 with 53 seconds left in the half. It was a lead they would never relinquish.

After a third-straight steal, a McKinney alley-oop pass to White hit the rim, but Robinson was there for the rebound and putback.

Beebe then threw the ball away for its fourth-straight turnover, and White hit 1 of 2 free throws to send NP into the locker room with a 27-23 lead.

The second half started just like the first half ended, with NP on a run. Beebe missed its first five shots from the floor, its first two free throws and committed five more turnovers in the first three minutes of the third quarter, including four steals by NP.

But the Falcons (3-18, 1-13) didn’t capitalize every time, and Beebe’s defense kept it within striking distance. The Falcons scored the first six points of the quarter, but it was a slow run. NP led 33-23 with 4:30 left in the third to complete a 19-3 run that started in the second quarter.

Beebe then scored six in a row, including a 3-pointer by Bryson Bell with 2:20 left in the third, but Beebe didn’t score again in the period. McKinney scored five-straight, including a 3-point play and buzzer-beating 16-footer to make it 38-29 going into the fourth.

After two free throws by Moore opened the fourth, NP scored four in a row. Robinson’s penetrating floater gave the Falcons their biggest lead at 42-31 before Beebe started its comeback.

McKinney, a senior, didn’t score in the first half but finished with nine points, including seven in the big third quarter.

“I just told myself I had to pick it up,” said McKinney. “I knew I was letting my team down in the first half and I had to come back strong. We were just trying to get out there and have fun. We wanted to go out with a bang and have fun. But it meant a lot. I didn’t want to go out defeated. I’m happy we came out and won one.”

Moore led all scorers with 15 points, all in the second half. O’Neill scored 11 for Beebe, all in the first half.

Senior Jermaine Lopez joined Robinson as NP’s co-leading scorers with 10 points. Senior Moragne scored eight.

The Falcons didn’t shoot extremely well, going 16 of 46 from the floor and 0 for 7 from 3-point range. They were 19 of 28 from the line.

Beebe shot better from the floor, but was abysmal at the free-throw line. The Badgers were 18 of 49 on field goals, including 5 of 15 from 3-point range. But they only made 6 of 15 free-throw attempts.