Tuesday, February 28, 2017

SPORTS STORY >> Wolves win first regional

Leader sports editor

PANGBURN – In the school’s first-ever season as an officially recognized member of the Arkansas High School Activities Association, the Jacksonville Lighthouse boys’ basketball team will enter the Class 2A state tournament as a one seed after winning the 2A-West/Central Regional championship Saturday.

The Wolves were hoping for a rematch of their disappointing loss to White County Central a week earlier in the district finals, but instead got England for the fourth time this year.

Lighthouse had won the previous three meetings, but Lions led almost the entire game before two steals in the last 15 seconds turned a 48-48 tie into a 52-48 victory for the Wolves.

The two senior captains, Cameron Shaffer and Zach Bobo, came through with those steals. Shaffer picked England guard Darius Clarkson clean on England’s end of the court, and dished to freshman Gerald Doakes, who was fouled.

Doakes had not shot free throws well throughout the game, but calmly stepped to the line and sank both shots for a 50-48 Lighthouse lead.

England (22-7) called timeout to set up a press break, but it was to no avail. After getting trapped near the end line right after the inboundspass, Bobo stepped in front of a pass to the middle of the court, and slammed home the final two points of the game and the regional championship as time expired.

“It was tough because we weren’t making shots,” said Lighthouse coach Kelvin Parker. “Our defense kept us in the game and our seniors led the way.”

The Wolves were hot in the tournament’s first two rounds, where they won high-scoring games by large margins. They beat Eureka Springs 72-38 in the first round, then handled West regional champion Lavaca 80-59 in the semifinals.

But Saturday’s championship saw the shooting grow cold, very cold. Lighthouse went 0 for 12 from 3-point range in the first half, and shot four air balls in the first five minutes of the game. They also missed several other short-range shots and layups, and it all resulted in a 27-24 deficit at intermission.

Things didn’t get much better in the third quarter.

The Wolves (27-6) finally made a 3-pointer in the third, but that and a layup by Shaffer were the only two baskets they made that period.

But the defense was still strong, and the deficit was only 35-31 going into the final period.

Shaffer tied the game with 5:22 to play with by making both ends of a 1-and-1 trip to the free-throw line. Lighthouse then sent England center Brandon Thompson to the line. He missed the front end and Lighthouse got the rebound for its first possession of the game with a chance for the lead. The Wolves caught a break when a loose ball went out of bounds off England, and then executed the inbounds play perfectly. Bobo got a wide-open layup and Lighthouse led for the first time in the game with 4:52 remaining.

England trailed 48-45 with 1:22 to play when point guard Brayden Brazeal went to the line. Before his first free throw, the referees made Parker sub for freshman Devontae Davis, who had untucked his jersey. Brazeal made the first foul shot and missed the second, but England got the rebound and putback to tie the game.

Lighthouse took a quick shot and missed, and England got the ball with a chance to take the lead. Doakes fouled Brazeal and risked a technical with some words after the play.

Brazeal missed both free throws, but Doakes then tried to go one on four, took a wild shot that missed badly and Thompson got the rebound for the Lions.

That’s when the two senior captains made their defensive plays that preserved the win for the Wolves.

Shaffer said the talented freshman has been a huge lift to the team that lost a lot of talent from last year, but that the seniors have to step up and lead to bring home a state championship.

“They voted us captains so they look to us to be the leaders,” said Shaffer. “But the credit don’t go to me or the seniors or the freshman. All the credit goes to God.”

The win earned the Wolves a first-round bye in the state tournament that begins Wednesday in Quitman. They will play at 8:30 p.m. Thursday against the winner of Wednesday’s game between East Poinsett County and Foreman.

England plays its first-round game against Marked Tree at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday. A win in that game means a 5:30 p.m. matchup with Bearden on Thursday.