Wednesday, September 13, 2017

SPORTS STORY >> Lonoke ladies knock off Baptist Prep

By RAY BENTON Leader sports editor

The Lonoke volleyball team picked up a quality road win on Monday, beating a much-improved Baptist Prep squad 3-1 in west Little Rock. The Eagles and Jackrabbits shared one common opponent in CAC. The Lady Mustangs beat Lonoke 3-1 in the season opener, but Baptist Prep had swept CAC 3-0 in its match just prior to Lonoke.

The Lady Jackrabbits, however, have been steadily improving since their opener, and their defense steadily improved as Monday’s match progressed.

While the two teams are in the same 4A-Central Conference, they are in different 1A/4A blended districts. That means the match didn’t count towards district standings, but it was a chance to get a look at a potential 4A-Central Conference tournament opponent.

“We’ve been working starters vs. starters in practice in terms of our hitters against our defensive players,” said Lonoke coach Laura Park. “In this conference, we don’t get the chance to play many teams where we have to play defense. We know what to do. But it’s one thing to know, and another thing to move your feet and do it. That took a little time tonight but once we started doing that, I was very pleased with our defense.”

After three hard-fought games with a final margin of no more than four points, Lonoke appeared to be on its way to blowing its host out in game four. Lonoke senior Kayla Shelton took serve with her team leading 10-8. After two BP kill shots that strayed long, and a miss-hit into the net, Eagle coach Krista Spoon called timeout. It didn’t stem the tide.

The next point was a long rally that saw Gracie Mason and Shelton get tough digs of huge hits by BP’s 6-2 junior Molly Singleton. Shelton’s dig was also a perfect pass to Emily Armstrong, who set up Keiunna Walker for the kill that made it 14-8.

Prep won the next point, but Lonoke immediately broke serve with an Armstrong kill that made the score 15-9 and set up another run of points by the visiting team.

Sydney Hallum took serve and Maddie Pool started the run with a huge block. Prep hit out and Armstrong got a sneaky tip kill to make it 18-9. Hallum then served up an ace before another hit went long to give Lonoke a 20-9 lead and force another timeout by Spoon.

This time, the Lady Eagles (7-5, 4-0) rallied, but the deficit was too large. Final scores in the match were 25-21, 23-25, 25-21 and 25-20.

Lonoke (6-4-1, 3-0) has several capable hitters this year, and the team spread the ball around nicely. Five players finished with at least four kills. Walker and Kennedy White had eight each. Those two came on strong in the last two games.

Walker had five kills in game four alone, while Kennedy had three. Three of Armstrong’s five kills came in game four, while Pool and Shelton carried the load early. Pool finished with six kills and 12 blocks, including seven blocks for points in games two and three. Shelton had four kills and seven blocks, two each in game one, the rest in games two and three.

“I think it’s very important to stress that everybody played well tonight,” Park said. “Everybody did their job. This was an important game and they really came together as a team, and played like a team and got a good win.”

Lonoke missed more serves than Park wants to see, but they were also gambling. At times it paid off. The Lady Jackrabbits finished with nine aces, three by Walker and two each by Hallum, Pool and Armstrong.

Lonoke built an 18-12 lead in game one before the Eagles rallied to within 20-19. Alex Clouser then served wide and Lonoke went on for the win.

Lonoke may have lost some focus going into game two. Baptist Prep Molly Lane served five-straight, including two aces, to start it. The deficit stayed five or six until a service break made it 12-8 and Shelton took serve.

Pool got two blocks while Hallum and Armstrong got a kill apiece to tie it up at 12. But Prep pulled away again, going from 13-13 to up five before a Walker kill broke the run. The margin grew to 23-17 before Lonoke tried to rally. It got to within 24-23 with another block by Pool, but a little luck gave Prep the game. Senior Julie Young swung for a big kill that went off the side of her hand and fluttered to sideline, landing just inside the boundary in an empty spot in Lonoke’s defense.

Game three was a key turning point. Lonoke built a big lead early, and fended off a late rally by the Eagles. The margin was 12-6 and then up to 17-9. Lonoke went from that eight-point lead to trailing 21-20 before scoring the last five-consecutive points. Pool broke Prep’s serve with a nifty tip into a defensive hole.

Hallum then took serve and Young hit long to give Lonoke the lead back at 22-21. Pool got another block before Hallum placed a perfect serve on the back right-corner line for an ace. Yet another block by Pool ended the game, and gave Lonoke the momentum to build the big lead in game four.

Lonoke travels to Jacksonville Lighthouse for a 1A/4A District 9 game on Thursday. Lighthouse plays its home games at North Little Rock Apostolic Church, 4314 Landers Road.