A dominant showing at the Pine Bluff Convention Center during last week’s state tournament has earned the Jacksonville Lady Red Devils a shot at the 5A state championship.
Standing in their way are the Paragould Lady Rams, the top seed from the tough 5A-East Conference.
The Lady Rams beat up on the DeQueen Lady Lions in the first round, then escaped Vilonia with a 38-35 win in the second round.
Playing the South’s top seed, Watson Chapel, in the semifinals, Paragould proved to be too much in a ten-point win.
"They’re a bigger team than what we’ve been playing," said Jacksonville coach Katrina Mimms. "They present a different kind of challenge that we’ll spend the week trying to prepare for." Paragould is a senior-laden group, with four starters playing their final high school game this week. The fifth starter is junior Sydney Layrock, a near six-footer who scored 17 against Watson Chapel.
"I don’t think we really have a star," said Paragould coach Jay Cook. "We need all five of those girls out there. Without Sarah Dicus, we don’t get it done. Without Carson Gill, we’re not where we are."
At 5-4, Gill is by far Paragould’s smallest starter, but also the most tenacious. She plays guard like an inside linebacker at times.
Against Watson Chapel, Layrock made a pair of three-pointers, but was also working down low and drawing fouls. She was seven of nine from the line while leading the team in scoring.
Savannah Walker will do most of her work in the paint, while guard Rachel Dicus has a three-point touch. Sarah Dicus and Gill are slashers who can take up the slack in scoring if needed.
While Paragould has the all-around size, Jacksonville’s 6-2 Jessica Jackson is unlikely to be held in check by any one player. The Lady Rams will be forced to double-team and send help when Jackson has the ball, allowing open lanes for the quick Shakyla Hill and Markela Bryles to get to.
Tiffany Smith is probably the top three-point shooter for Jacksonville, while Keke Alcorn can come off the bench.
— Chad Matchett