Tuesday, February 21, 2017

SPORTS STORY >> Jackrabbit girls give CAC tough time in final

Leader sports editor

What was shaping up to be a thrilling showdown between the best player in the state and one of the best all-around athletes was ruined by officiating when the Lady Jackrabbits met Central Arkansas Christian in Stuttgart on Saturday in the championship game of the 4A-2 District tournament.

CAC won the game 55-47, but did not pull away until the waning moments, finishing the game on an 8-0 run over the last 1:47 of play.

The first half featured one player from each team putting on a show of highlight reel plays.

CAC’s 6-foot sophomore guard Christyn Williams, who is being recruited by NCAA women’s dynasty UCONN, and Lonoke’s Keiunna Walker were unstoppable.

Lonoke (17-8) took a 30-28 lead into intermission, but Walker went into the locker room with two fouls, while Williams had only one.

Williams had 19 of her team’s 28 points, as well as four rebounds and three steals. Walker scored 23 first-half points, and added two rebounds and two steals.

But Walker was hit with her third and fourth fouls less than three minutes into the second half. She took a seat on the bench until five minutes were left in the game, and was fouled out just a few moments later. Williams was not called for another foul the rest of the game.

The third foul call on Walker was controversial, as most present at Stuttgart High thought it should have been a charge on Williams. The fourth foul, Lonoke coach Heath Swiney did not take issue with.

“She fouled, and it wasn’t a smart foul because it was 70 feet from the goal,” said Swiney. “What I was most proud of, though, was how we played toe-to-toe with them the whole second half without Keiunna out there. We executed extremely well. We were patient and we got the open looks we were looking for. We just missed a few down the stretch, and that happens.”

Lonoke trailed 33-31 when Walker picked up her fourth foul and sat down, but CAC could not pull away. CAC tried to take immediate advantage of Walker’s absence, and went to its press that hurt Lonoke so much in their previous meeting at the Gina Cox Center.

It didn’t work this time, and the game went into the fourth quarter tied at 39 apiece.

Mia Brown opened the fourth quarter with a nifty pass to Kaley Woodruff, who scored on a backdoor layup for a 41-39 Lonoke lead. After a CAC miss, Maddie Pool hit 1 of 2 free throws for a 42-39 Lonoke lead.

CAC (27-2) missed again and Kennedy White got the rebound, but Williams thwarted a chance to extend the lead. She got a steal and passed to Jenna Davis for a layup. She then got another steal, and this time took it the length of the court herself for a layup that put the Lady Mustangs ahead 43-42 with 5:10 left in the game.

After a Woodruf miss went out of bounds, Williams scored again for a 45-42 lead and Walker finally re-entered with 4:20 remaining.

She scored just 20 seconds later, but Williams answered right back to make it 47-44 with 3:40 to go.

Walker was hacked at the other end with no call, but a series of misses at both ends left the score 47-44 until Woodruff hit another 3-pointer with 1:58 remaining to tie the game.

They were the last Lonoke points of the game.

After Davis’ layup gave CAC a 49-47 lead with 1:47 left, a series of Lonoke possessions ended in missed shots, and CAC made six-consecutive free throws down the stretch to set the final margin.

Williams finished with 34 points and nine rebounds. Davis added 11 for CAC. Walker led Lonoke with 27 points.

Both teams will take part in the 4A-East Regional this week in Cave City. CAC will host District 3’s fourth-place team, Harrisburg, at 4 p.m. today. Lonoke will face Highland at 7 p.m. tomorrow.

Other first-round games include eStem Charter taking on Cave City, and Pocahontas facing Heber Springs. First-round winners qualify for the Class 4A state tournament to be held next week in Nashville.