Saturday, November 13, 2010

SPORTS>>Scribner takes career forward as new Trojan

By todd traub
Leader sports editor

It is likely that Lonoke standout Asiah Scribner won’t get a lot of playing time at UALR this season.

But that’s a good thing — for Scribner and the Trojans.
UALR opened the year with a home game against Davidson on Friday trying to build on a landmark 2009-10 season that saw the Trojans win their third consecutive Sun Belt Conference West Division championship and reach the NCAA Tournament for the program’s first time.

UALR (27-7, 17-1 last season) upset Georgia Tech in the first round before falling to Oklahoma and returns four players who started last year, including preseason conference player of the year Chastity Reed.

The lone departed starter is Cabot guard Kim Sitzmann, playing professionally overseas after graduating, so that probably means Scribner will be biding her time behind the veterans.

“She’s done well,” UALR coach Joe Foley said. “It’s hard to evaluate right now because there are six freshmen and she’s playing with five other freshmen and seven upperclassmen.

“And of those upperclassmen there are four starters coming back. They’re playing against a darn good basketball team every day.”

Scribner made three 4A state finals appearances with Lonoke and helped the Lady Jackrabbits to the semifinals last season. She averaged 16.1 points, 10.2 rebounds and 2.1 steals a game and was selected The Leader player of the year.

She signed with UALR a year ago during the early NCAA signing period.

“Asiah has got a lot of athletic ability,” Foley said. “She’s a good-sized kid. Long arms, a long kid. That’s her attributes. She’s a very good athlete, a very smart kid. She’s catching on quick.”

Foley finds himself where most successful coaches would like to be, in charge of a program with overlapping classes of veteran returnees and talented newcomers. That gives him the option of letting the young players practice and learn while the upperclassmen carry the show.

“That’s exactly it,” Foley said. “For years we’ve been having to bring kids in every year and they have to come in and start immediately. We kind of had to grow them and we’re not having to do that this year for the first time.”

Foley said Scribner, 6-1, who already knows how to play close to the basket and projects as a No. 4 player, could use the extra time to work on her outside shot.

“She gets that down it will open up a lot for her,” Foley said.

And Scribner, like most recruits out of high school, must adapt to UALR’s motion offense, something Foley has favored since his days at NCAA Division II Arkansas Tech.

“The hardest thing is being able to play all over the floor,” Foley said. “Asiah’s played inside her whole high school career. Just like most kids she’s been assigned a spot and now all of a sudden they have freedom to play all over the floor.

“You’ve got o keep great spacing and know who to screen for. That’s very hard for a kid.”

But Foley expects Scribner to grow into her role and grow within the Trojans’ offense and the college game.

“I think she has a chance to be a very good college player,” Foley said. “She’s an extremely good worker, an extremely good kid and we’re tickled to death to have her.”

SPORTS>>Alma finishes Beebe’s run

Special to The Leader

Beebe had the yards, but Alma had the points Friday night in a 34-14 victory for the Airedales at Bro Irwin Stadium in Beebe.

The Badgers (6-5) had 369 yards — including 308 yards on the ground — compared to 323 total yards for the Airedales.

The difference came in Alma’s ability to take advantage of a short field and a kickoff return for the team’s first score.

Big plays ruled the second quarter after a defensive battle in the first. Beebe struck first with a 51-yard touchdown pass from Scot Gowen to Chase Weatherly early in the second to give the Badgers a 7-0 lead.

That lead lasted only seconds as Alma’s playmaker Isaac McCoy returned the kickoff 70 yards for the tying touchdown.

McCoy did the damage again later in the quarter, setting up his 1-yard touchdown plunge with a 23-yard reception. Alma kept the 14-7 lead until halftime.

“I thought we did a decent job on McCoy,” Beebe coach John Shannon said. “But he’s a great player and he’s going to make some great plays.”

The Badgers held McCoy in check through the second half, allowing the senior just five yards in the half.

Alma couldn’t capitalize on a Beebe fumble on the opening drive of the second half, but the miscue might have cost the Badgers some points. Beebe was moving the ball at will against Alma, driving from its 23 to the Airedales 37 on just four plays before the fumble stalled the drive.

The teams traded punts until the Badgers came up with a big fourth down play that set up the tying touchdown. Michael Kirby picked up 27 yards on fourth-and-one from the 28 late in the third quarter.

Gowen scored on the next play to tie the game 14-14.

The Badgers tried to keep the momentum with an onside kick, but it was shanked and Alma was left with starting field position at the Beebe 47.

Beebe forced Alma into a third-and-long situation, but the Airedales struck with a 31-yard touchdown play to take a 21-14 lead.

After trading punts and turnovers on downs, Beebe had the chance to stop Alma again.

This time the Badger defense needed a stop on fourth-and-three with 3:36 remaining in the game. Alma quarterback Brady Bradley rolled left, snuck through a seam in the defense and raced 30 yards for a touchdown to put the Airedales ahead 27-14 with the extra point kick blocked.

Alma scored again in the final minute after Beebe turned the ball over on downs deep in its territory.

Jay Holdway led Beebe with 20 carries for 130 yards. Kirby had 100 yards while carrying eight times.

“I’m very pleased with our season and how our guys worked hard and never gave up,” Shannon said.

“We lost our first three games, then fought back and almost won the conference.”

SPORTS>>Jacksonville rips Sheridan in first-round playoff game

Leader sportswriter

Big plays on both sides lifted Jacksonville to a 31-7 victory over Sheridan in the first round of the Class 6A state playoffs Friday at Jan Crow Stadium.

The Red Devils (7-4) stopped Sheridan’s offense in the red zone twice and scored on both of their trips inside the 20. The rest of their points came on long runs and a 23-yard touchdown pass from senior Logan Perry to Aron Smith with 2:11 left for the final margin.

“We took what they gave us,” Red Devils coach Rick Russell said. “We were worried about their blitz off the edges. We wanted to win this football game. We did what we thought we needed to do.

“The offensive line did a great job of protecting the football and put is in position to make some first downs, and we turned those first downs into touchdowns.”

The Yellowjackets (4-7) kept Jacksonville’s offense off the field with sustained drives, but missed on their first scoring opportunity midway through the first quarter when the Red Devils stopped them on downs at the Jacksonville 6.

Sheridan had another first-and-goal at the Red Devil 5-yard line early in the fourth quarter before two failed runs and two incompletions gave it back to Jacksonville.

“I thought that was part of the difference; I thought their big plays was obviously another part,” Sheridan coach Louis Campbell said. “Bottom line is, they didn’t have to convert —they could score from long range, and we didn’t. We had two of them down there inside the 10, and didn’t get any points from either one of them.”

Senior running back Antwone Mosby put the Red Devils offense on his back in the second half with 151 of his total 194 rushing yards. That     included a 62-yard run to open Jacksonville’s first possession of the third quarter and set up a first down at the Sheridan 12.

Smith ran it up the middle two plays later from 10 yards out to give the Red Devils a 19-7 lead.

Mosby struck again with 9:45 left to play with a 60-yard run, this time giving Jacksonville a first down at the Sheridan 19. A motion penalty set the Devils back five, but Perry called his own number on first down and took it 24 yards to make it 25-7.

Sheridan’s offense had its moments, gaining 191 total yards. Junior quarterback Jake Smith had a 14-of-25 performance through the air for 105 yards.

But the Red Devils clamped down on the run, holding senior fullback Charles Fletcher to 42 yards on 13 carries and Smith to 32 yards on 16 carries.

Red Devil sophomore Jacarius Jordan led Jacksonville’s secondary with a pair of critical pass breakups, including one on the goal line in the first quarter on a play that could have tied the game.

“He had a great week of practice,” Russell said of Jordan. “He was focused, he makes all our calls in the secondary – just a tremendous job. The way he prepared in practice this week was the way he played tonight.”

The Red Devils took the lead two plays into the game when junior utility back D’Vone McClure broke a draw play open for a 50-yard touchdown run with 11:02 left in the first quarter. Aaron Shore added the extra point to make the score 7-0.

McClure finished with nine carries for 73 yards and had another 34 yards on five catches.

The Yellowjackets threatened on their second drive when they drove from the Jacksonville 43 to the 6, but could not convert on fourth down. Smith tried to find Josh Miller in the end zone, but Jordan broke up the play and almost came down with an interception and nothing but clear field in front of him.

The Red Devils overcame the poor field position and marched 94 yards in nine plays, highlighted by a 28-yard run by Braylin Thomas to give Jacksonville a first down at the Sheridan 41-yard line.

Mosby got the last three carries, gaining 18 yards to the 24 on his first, and a sideline infraction penalty against the Yellowjackets moved it half the distance to the 12. Mosby then ran for five yards and finished it off with a three-yard rush up the middle to put Jacksonville up 13-0 with 11:18 left in the first half.

Sheridan struck before the end of the half on a 54-yard drive that still consumed 6:40 and was capped by a six-yard keeper by Smith with 56 seconds left in the half. The Yellowjackets lined up three receivers in a stack formation to the left, and Smith bootlegged to the right for the score.

The Red Devils had 444 yards of total offense.

Jacksonville will face 6A-South No. 2 seed Pine Bluff next week in the state quarterfinals.

“It’s one week at a time,” Russell said. “Sheridan was a lower seed, and they gave us all we wanted. We’re going to expect to win; we’re going to prepare to win, and have an offensive and defensive game plan ready.”

SPORTS>>Boasting bushel of basketballers

Leader sports editor Todd Traub

It was a quiet first day of the early basketball signing period for area schools.

But it could just be the calm before the storm.

Searcy’s Jamal Jones signed with Ole Miss on Wednesday, but other than that, local schools had few players sign NCAA Division I letters of intent. That doesn’t mean, however, th
at central Arkansas is lacking talent.
In fact, the local area may be one of richest for competitive boys high school basketball in Arkansas.

“There are a lot of good players in this area,” said North Pulaski coach Ray Cooper while watching several of those players at last Saturday’s jamboree at Jacksonville. “A couple are really high D-I players in this tournament. It’s going to be a good year for basketball in this area.”

Cooper said the level of competitiveness was evident in North Pulaski’s jamboree matchup with Jacksonville, which had the feel of a regular season game.

“We have these teams who are normally from the area and the kids know each other,” Cooper said. “They have an understanding, so they come out, even in a jamboree; I’m looking at the intensity of the jamboree and its’ really high at the beginning of the year.”

After last season Cooper sent his son Aaron off to Missouri State and he figures senior forward and team mainstay Bryan Colson is going to “play somewhere” after high school. Sophomore Dayshawn Watkins has already turned in a strong showing at Arkansas Razorbacks coach John Pelphrey’s camp.

Jacksonville coach Vic Joyner had seven players from his 2009 6A state championship team go on to play college basketball at some level and returning senior Raheem Appleby stands a chance to do the same.

Cabot’s Adam Sterrenberg is entering his sophomore season at Arkansas State, and then there is Archie Goodwin, the Sylvan Hills standout rated by some recruiting gurus as one of the top three guards in the state.

“The coaches have come in and have said this is a hotbed,” Sylvan Hills coach Kevin Davis said. 

“Memphis has come in and said ‘We have got to recruit this Little Rock area, this is some great basketball.’ Memphis coming over and saying that, that speaks well for us. Goodwin has been contacted by a dream lineup of basketball powerhouses that includes North Carolina, Kansas and Kentucky.

Goodwin, who averaged 22 points a game last season and scored 22 in four quarters of action at the jamboree — after flying in that morning from a visit to Kentucky — will not only sign with a marquee school next year, he is helping Sylvan Hills elevate its program profile.

“I was telling Archie’s parents that same thing,” Davis said. “It’s a great place. I wouldn’t have him anywhere else and for parents and kids to come in and see that, that’s big.”

Then there are the conferences.

Sylvan Hills and North Pulaski, the state runner up in 2009 and a state semifinalist last year, battle in the 5A-Southeast, which also includes Little Rock’s Mills University Studies, the 2004 state champion.

Last year the conference lineup included 5A state champion Little Rock McClellan, which split the season series with North Pulaski in a season-long duel for No. 1 in the state rankings on its way to the final in Hot Springs. McClellan was reclassified into the 7A/6A-South this season.

“We’re in a tough conference,” Davis said. “Basketball is a funny game. You’ve got to come out and execute and play every night.

“Arkansas has some phenomenal coaches.  I know some of these guys. I know what they do and we should be proud of who we coach against.”

Jacksonville and Searcy play in the 7A/6A-East, along with metro area teams and perennial state championship contenders Little Rock Hall, which it beat in the 2009 state final, and Little Rock Parkview. Hall won the championship last year and in 2008 while Parkview took the most recent of its many state titles in 2006.

In the past five years, in fact, teams from the three local, large-school conferences have produced seven state champions.

With that in mind, Joyner said the Red Devils wouldn’t be able to take a night off in conference play.

“We’re still in a rebuilding mode,” Joyner said. “Hall lost one, Searcy, those guys have been starting since their 10th-grade year. All of them are there. West Memphis, got all of them kids there. Marion, combined with Turrell, got three Division I’s; all them guys are there. Mountain Home — everybody back.

“Now, the league will turn over next year then we’ll be a little more strong. But right now everybody in the conference but us is at their zenith right now so we’ve got a serious, serious uphill battle.”

SPORTS>>Cabot steamrolls Heritage

By todd traub
Leader sports editor

When Cabot hung onto the ball, things went pretty well Friday night.

The Panthers overcame a case of early butterfingers to score all of their points in the first half in a 31-13, first-round 7A playoff victory over Rogers Heritage at Panther Stadium.

Cabot outscored Heritage, plagued by a few turnovers of its own, 24-6 in the second quarter and shut out the War Eagles in the second half.

“That was a good win,” Cabot coach Mike Malham said. “I don’t care what their record was that was a good win.”

The Panthers fumbled away their first possession but went on to grind out 417 rushing yards as six ball carriers gained 40 or more.

Andre Ausejo led with 104 yards. Mason James gained 46 and scored two touchdowns, James Haley rushed for one score and gained 90 yards and tight end Rod Quinn carried only twice but scored on a 70-yard reverse.

Will Hidalgo added a 38-yard field goal in the closing seconds of the first half, which ended up capping the scoring.

“That was big right before the half getting that three-score lead,” Malham said.

The victory was all the more heartening for the Panthers because they were without several key players because of injuries. Starting quarterback Zach Craig and running backs Spencer Smith and Jeremy Berry were among those missing.

“We had about three of them to play double duty because of the injuries but it’s do or die now,” Malham said. “There ain’t no tomorrow.”

The Panthers’ focus on pass defense in the summer 7-on-7 leagues and against non-conference opponents like high-flying Pulaski Academy paid dividends.

Greg Phelps and James each intercepted Heritage quarterback Reed Brown, with James’ play at the Cabot 5 with less than six minutes left all but wrapping up the victory.

“We’ve been snake bit with that all year,” Heritage coach Perry Escalante said of the turnovers.

Phelps also recovered a fumble and Ethan Covington recovered an onside kick.

“The defense played really good,” Malham said. “That’s a pretty good offensive team right there that they held to 13 points.”

The Panthers’ defensive front and linebackers made Brown pay for just about every one of his 256 yards, hitting him on release several times, forcing him to scramble and throw on the run and sacking him once.

“He’s a tough kid, you know, what can you say?” Escalante said. “Three-year starter. Put up some big numbers for us.”

Cabot travels to Fort Smith Southside for a second round game next week.

“They’re the No. 2 seed up there. They beat Har-Ber and that’s something we didn’t do earlier in the year,” Malham said.

A fumbled center-quarterback exchange ended Cabot’s first possession of the game and Heritage recovered at the Panthers 40 and cashed in with a quick scoring drive.

Brown hit Luke Oldham for a 37-yard completion to the 3, and a play later found Oldham in the back of the end zone as the War Eagles went ahead 7-0 with 6:06 left in the first quarter.

“It didn’t start off real good, did it?” Malham said.

Cabot counter-punched with a five-play scoring drive that featured a 44-yard keeper by Bryson Morris and a six-yard touchdown run by Haley that tied it with 2:10 left in the quarter.

Cabot took the lead on its next possession when James outran the defense 12 yards to the left pylon with 8:54 left. The score was set up when Haley ran 59 yards on a hidden ball play that had the War Eagles chasing several Panthers decoys out of the backfield while Haley got loose down the right sideline.

“I don’t know how he got that ball,” Malham said, keeping coy about the specifics of the play. “That was that old hidden — that’s just one of those sneaky plays. One of those trick plays.”
Heritage pulled within 14-13 on a five-yard scoring pass from Brown to Oldham, but Hayden Severs missed the extra-point kick with 7:45 left in the half.

After that it was all Cabot.

Quinn got a carry and went 70 yards down the right sideline to make it 21-13 with 3:57 left. Phelps intercepted a pass at the Heritage 43 and returned it to the 21, and a play later James scored from 14 yards out for the 28-13 lead with 1:11 left.

Heritage fumbled on a hook and lateral attempt after a reception and Phelps recovered at the 41. After a 16-yard completion by Morris, Hidalgo kicked his field goal with 20 seconds left for the 31-13 halftime lead.

Friday, November 12, 2010

EDITORIAL >>Keep eyes on lottery

Who Would Ever Have Believed It? Department: The first audit of the Arkansas Lottery Commission reveals that the agency ignores state financial rules, feathers the nests of top lottery officials and fattens the pocketbooks of the big gambling contractors.

A few legislators this week were shocked—shocked!—at the lack of fiscal controls (doing right with the public’s money) at the state lottery commission when they reviewed the first legislative audit of the two-year-old lottery.

The auditors found that the agency did not follow standard accounting rules, ignored state financial-control laws, gave millions of dollars in extra subsidies to the big international gaming companies without the prior approval of a legislative oversight committee as the law required, put an extra $29,184 a year into executive director Ernie Passailaigue’s state pension account above what the law allowed, reimbursed Passailaigue and other officials for travel expenses in ways that violated state laws and regulations, made improper retroactive payments to employees and, well, the list goes on.

One lawmaker remarked that the head of any other state agency that operated so haphazardly would be fired.

But that is the point. The state lottery is not like any other government agency. It was set up to be pretty much above the law, or at least to give the lottery officials and the governing commission as much latitude as they wanted. They wanted a lot.

You will remember that the constitutional amendment that established the lottery gave the lottery agency a high degree of independence from the usual tethers of government. Proponents said a lottery was a very special government creature that did not need to be restrained if it was going to have games and promote sales that would bring in the most money. The law did not spell out exactly what state controls the lottery could ignore, so lottery officials exercised as much freedom as they dared even after the enabling legislation passed by the General Assembly and signed by the governor sought to impose some of the controls that apply to other government agencies and employees.

We have long known what happens when you give a government agency “independence,” as they call it. The state Game and Fish Commission enjoys independence, created by the Constitution nearly 70 years ago. In 1998, it also got its own lucrative source of money, again protected by the Constitution, when voters amended the Constitution to levy a 1/8th of 1 percent sales tax to benefit the wildlife agency and the state parks and publicity program. No one could ever touch a dime of the money, which was dedicated forever to the wildlife agency. Gov. Mike Huckabee stumped the state promoting the tax.

We have seen the fruits of that in recent months: a little more than one state car for every Game and Fish employee, salaries and benefits that are out of line with other agencies and a free-wheeling arrogance about freedom of information. 

We knew from the start that the lottery would take independence to a new level. The auditors’ exceptions are too numerous to mention, but a few will suffice.

The lottery contracts with big international gambling companies to run various legs of the lottery. 

The Legislative Oversight Committee, a group of legislators who look over the shoulder of the lottery commission and the director, is supposed to pass on the contracts first. After the oversight, lawmakers reviewed a contract to pay one gambling syndicate 1.75 percent of the sales for running the games, the lottery commission picked some more options from the company’s menu and paid it an extra $4.7 million last year. (The state paid the gambling companies a grand total of $20.5 million of the $224 million collected by the lottery for fiscal 2010. Scholarships got $82.8 million.) Passailaigue’s office explained that the legislative committee could easily see that the commission could choose some other options when it reviewed the proposed contract.

The lottery law for obvious reasons prohibits the payments of lottery prizes to members of the lottery commission, any of its employees or immediate family members of the commission. The commission had to set up a database of employees, commissioners and family members along with their addresses and social security numbers to check against abuse. But 75 percent of the employees, including Passailaigue himself, did not list their Social Security numbers, a few employees were not listed in the database at all or information about them was incomplete. The auditors said that could allow people to illegally collect prizes and jeopardize the fundamental integrity of the lottery.

 Passailaigue’s salary is $354,007 a year, one of the highest in all of government. The commission by law is to base its monthly state retirement contributions for him on the base salary of $141,603, but it based his pension contribution on the larger amount, resulting in an overpayment of $29,184 last year and, of course, a much fatter pension when he retires. The auditors recommended that the agency seek reimbursement.

The legislature will reconvene in January. It wouldn’t hurt to tighten the lottery law to see if the public can get some accountability and efficiency from the lottery, which so many people wanted. 

That might work no better than the current restrictions, but there is no harm in trying.

TOP STORY > >Cabot won’t take part in water plan

Leader staff writer

The board of the Lonoke-White Public Water Authority voted during a three-hour meeting on Tuesday to move ahead with a $55 million project to bring water from Greers Ferry Lake to the central part of the state without Cabot, one of the largest of its 11 members.
Woody Bryant, project manager, said the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is providing most of the funding, wants to move ahead with the project with the eight members that have signed contracts: Jacksonville, North Pulaski, Vilonia, Grand Prairie, Beebe, Ward, Austin and Furlow. Cabot, Lonoke and McRae have not signed.

The motion to proceed included the stipulation that Cabot could still participate at no extra cost if the Cabot Water and Wastewater Commission votes to stay in when it meets in regular session on Nov. 18.

The project will cost everyone a little more without Cabot, Bryant said, but everyone is aware of that and Vilonia, Austin and Beebe have already agreed to pay a little more to get the project under way.

Bryant is reluctant to say when the project will start, but he said it is possible that it will be under way by summer.

Bryant said without Cabot, the project will have to be scaled back. But the line, the most expensive part, will remain 24 inches. The treatment plant could be built smaller and added on to later as needed, he said.

If Cabot pulls out, this will be the second time. Cabot was one of the original members, but about 10 years ago, it pulled out in favor of using Central Arkansas Water as its long-term supplier of surface water.

The commission that now runs Cabot WaterWorks said last week that although having a backup supply of surface water might be desirable, Cabot doesn’t need the water. Members said they objected to having only one vote on the board of the Lonoke White Public Water Authority because members with fewer water customers could conceivably vote to charge them more for the water than others would pay.

Tad Bohannon, attorney for Cabot WaterWorks, also said last week that state law says cities can’t finance water projects for more than 20 years unless financing comes through the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission. The Lonoke White Project will be financed for 40 years through the USDA.

Bohannon repeated that objection during the Tuesday meeting of the LWPWA board, but Clint McGue, attorney for LWPWA, said he didn’t think the project financing was illegal.