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Jackrabbits back among the elite after run to title game

HOT SPRINGS — The Lonoke Jackrabbits may not have come away with the ultimate prize at last week’s state championship game, they did prove they were back among the elite programs in Class 4A.

The Jackrabbits last made the state tournament in 2009 when they advanced to the second round a year after winning the state title under former coach Wes Swift, who left for Jonesboro following the 2009 season.

He was replaced by Dean Campbell, who was Swift’s assistant and Junior Jackrabbits coach for several seasons. He was a key to the Jackrabbits winning the state title in 2008, beating Hamburg in the finals for the Jackrabbits’ fifth state championship. It was an easy decision for the school board to promote Campbell to head coach.

The next year, the Jackrabbits made it to the regional tournament but it was a struggle because there wasn’t as much talent from which to choose; that’s not an indictment on the players. They worked extremely hard.

In 2011, Lonoke failed to make postseason play; in 2012, the Jackrabbits returned to the regional tournament but lost in the first round. In 2013, Lonoke played well most of the season but again, fell in the first round of the regional tournament and did not make the state tournament for the fourth consecutive season.

Everything seemed to come together during the 2013-14 season. First, there was the opening of the Gina Cox Center, which played host to the Class 4A state tournament this year. Second, the Jackrabbits were loaded with seniors and lots of them. Third, it was just destiny that Lonoke would succeed and the seeds for this year’s team were planted in 2011.

In 2011, the Lonoke Junior Jackrabbits, coached by Heath Swiney, won the 4A-2 district tournament, beating Southside Batesville 40-33 in the championship game. In the title game, Jamel Rankin led Lonoke with 12 points. Darrius McCall, Cedric Cooney and Tykel Gray had eight points each. Rankin, McCall and Gray were all starters on this year’s state runner-up team; Cooney was the sixth man. Lonoke’s leading scorer Blake Mack practiced with the junior high team in 2011 but did not play. The Junior Jackrabbits were 23-3, winning 14 consecutive game to end the season.

Coach Campbell even said recently that his staff, which includes Swiney, were pointing towards this season after the junior high ran the table in the district tournament in 2011.

During the state tournament, Lonoke held off a late rally to beat defending state champion Pottsville in the first round then pulled away from both Central Arkansas Christian and Nashville to advance to the state title game.

Against Brookland, the Jackrabbits fell behind early but made a game of it in the second half, cutting the Bearcats lead to three points after trailing by 13. However, Brookland made enough plays late in the game to win 60-50.

Despite the loss, as anyone can see, the Lonoke Jackrabbits are back and will continue to be a force in Class 4A as well as the rest of the state. The community, school and everyone connected with Lonoke athletics are proud of what the 2014 Lonoke boys basketball team did this season. Go Jackrabbits.

Mark Buffalo is the editor of the Lonoke Democrat. His e-mail address is mbuffalo@lonokedemocrat.com.

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