Saturday, October 21, 2017

SPORTS STORY >> Jackrabbits take thriller from SBHS

Leader sports editor

The 4A-Central Conference tournament in Heber Springs didn’t go the way the Lady Jackrabbits wanted, but it ended well. A slew of missed serves led to a 3-1 loss to a twice-conquered CAC team in the semifinals, dropping Lonoke to the third-place match against Southside-Batesville.

On Wednesday, that match had a little bit of everything except a Southside win, as Lonoke (26-6-3) pulled out a 3-0 victory, including a thrilling marathon in game two. Scores of the match were 25-17, 38-36 and 25-20, all for the Lady Jackrabbits.

Going into Tuesday’s semifinal match, Lonoke had beaten CAC 2-0 in a tournament, 3-0 in a full match at CAC, and then made it six-straight games by winning game one. But the service errors became a huge factor and the Lady Mustangs won the next three games to pull off the upset.

There were still a lot of missed serves on Wednesday, but there was also a lot of offense and a lot of aces for which the Lady Southerners could never find an answer.

“We did respond well,” said Lonoke coach Laura Park. “We were really disappointed in the way we played and losing to a team we had beaten already. But I was proud of the way they put that behind them and came back to play pretty well tonight.”

After entering the tournament as the No. 1 seed, Lonoke will now carry the No. 3 seed into the state tournament that will be held at Southside-Batesville.

“Losing to CAC made it a tougher pathway, but the girls know you’ve got to play the best eventually anyway,” Park said. “In fact, one of my seniors made the comment before this game, we may have to take a three or four seed, but it just means get the No. 1 seeds out of the earlier. And she wasn’t being cocky. She was just making the same point, that we have to play the best anyway.”

Game one, the widest margin of Wednesday’s match, was played almost entirely without senior outsider hitter Keiunna Walker, who took a ball to the face early. She sat the rest of game one, but the Lady Jackrabbits didn’t miss a beat.

Junior Brooke Hill stepped in and the Lady Jackrabbits cruised through the opener. Seniors Kennedy White and Kayla Shelton led the way at the net through game one, but it was back-to-back aces by junior Emily Armstrong that stretched Lonoke’s lead to its largest up to that point at 14-7.

The largest margin of the game came on a kill by White that made it 18-9 and forced Southside’s second timeout. Sydney Hallum and Gracie Mason later served aces, and yet another ace by Armstrong closed out game one.

Armstrong started game two exactly the same way she ended game one, with another ace, but her next serve was into the net, and Southside scored the next five points in a row. The Lady Southerners (22-6-1) maintained a lead between four and six points until a tip kill by Hallum cut it to 18-15. The margin then stayed at least three until another kill by Hallum cut it to 21-19. With senior Lindsey McFadden serving, Lonoke took its first lead of game two.

A kill by Walker made it a one-point deficit. A net violation tied the match and a kill attempt that sailed long gave the Lady Jackrabbits a 22-21 lead. Neither team led by more than one from then until point 38. The Lady Southerners had the advantage nearly the entire extra play, but Lonoke wouldn’t yield.

Southside had 10 match points to just three for Lonoke, but the Lady Jackrabbits got their final match point on a block by White. Hallum then placed a serve where Southside had to scramble just to get it back across. That allowed Lonoke to set up an attack, and Walker finished it off with a huge kill that landed inside the Southside attack line to end the game.

The Lady Southerners scored the first point of game three, but Lonoke got the next three and never trailed again. Southside got to within one when Walker stepped under the net into Southside’s court, but Kennedy White got two kills and another big block to put Lonoke back in control with a 17-13 lead.

The Lady Jackrabbits finished with 41 kills and 12 aces as a team. Despite missing most of game one, Walker led the way at the net with 16 kills. Shelton had eight kills and three blocks. Armstrong had seven kills and four aces. White had six kills and three blocks. Hallum finished with four kills and three aces and Pool had three blocks.

Lonoke’s first-round match at state will be at 4 p.m. Tuesday against 4A-Northwest No. 2 seed Berryville. The Lady Bobcats are 28-6-1 this season, but have only lost twice this season to an in-state team. Each loss was to Shiloh Christian, one in the season opener on Aug. 22, the other on Thursday in the 4A-Northwest Conference tournament championship game.