By Leland Barclay | Photos by Tommy Land
HOT SPRINGS — Turnabout is fair play.
Northside finally turned the tables on its old nemesis, besting Fayetteville, 52-51, in double overtime at Bank of OZK Arena at the Hot Springs Convention Center on Thursday morning for the Class 6A girls basketball championship.
Northside (26-2) completed a season-long run at the top of the state’s largest classification.
“We’ve taken everybody’s best shot,” Northside head coach Rickey Smith said. “They had the weight of the world on their shoulders.”
The championship is the Lady Bears’ eighth.
The game was defensive throughout between two teams that have mostly been in the same conference for the past 40 years but were separated this year — Northside to the 6A-Central and Fayetteville remaining in the 6A-West.
The win also earned a bit of revenge for Northside, which lost the championship to Fayetteville 10 years ago in a similar type game.
“We had a two-point lead, double overtime, and they had the ball out of bounds under their basket,” Smith recalled. “Callie Berna hit a three to beat us at the buzzer. So, it took us a while to get back to beat them in double overtime.”
Thursday, Haitiana Releford scored on a drive to the basket with 9.6 seconds left to put the Lady Bears up, 52-51.
Northside forced a turnover after Fayetteville (19-7) inbounded under its basket and tried to go the length of the court.
“They did a great job utilizing their strengths: speed and quickness,” Smith said. “They’re fun to watch because they pass it and share it, and they’re very hard to guard.”
Northside jumped to a 6-0 lead with Releford beginning the game with a three-point play and a driving basket followed by a free throw by McDonald’s All-American Jersey Wolfenbarger with 6:01 left in the opening quarter.
The rest of the game was a struggle for both teams, offensively.
“It’s hard to shoot in this arena,” Smith said. “We play in an older gymnasium. Then the tension of being in a state championship game and the pressure — we just couldn’t get into a flow offensively.”
Northside led 14-9 after a quarter, the score was tied 23-23 at halftime, and Fayetteville took a 35-29 lead into the fourth quarter.
Fayetteville’s Loren Lindsey, who made a three-pointer to close the third period, added a driving basket to start the fourth as the Bulldogs opened a 37-29 advantage, the largest lead of the game for either team.
Northside answered with a 9-0 run to take a 38-37 lead.
Releford swished a three-pointer, Khassidy Warr scored off a putback and then fed Releford for a layup followed by another putback by Tracey Bershers with 4:43 left.
The score was 40-40 after regulation, and the teams managed a single basket each in the first overtime, but Wolfenbarger fouled out in the first overtime for Northside.
Warr made a three-pointer for Northside to start the second overtime for a 45-42 lead but Lindsey answered with a three-pointer for Fayetteville to tie the score at 47-47 with 1:48 left.
Two free throws by Releford and a lone free throw by Bershers had Northside up 50-47 with 1:15 to go.
Fayetteville again answered with a driving basket by Wynter Beck with 56 seconds to play.
Northside turned the ball over, and Caroline Lyles made two free throws with 22.7 seconds remaining after Warr fouled out.
That set up Releford’s winning drive.
“She just lowered her head and went to the basket,” Smith said. “I’m very proud of her. All of our kids stepped up, defensively. I know how frustrated they were. Nothing was going our way, offensively.”
Bershers, a senior, was named the game’s Most Valuable Player with 16 points and 13 rebounds.
“Hard work gets you the championship,” Bershers said. “The coaches and the administrators pushed us to be our best on and off the court.”
Releford had 20 points for Northside. The Arkansas-bound Wolfenbarger managed just seven points and had seven rebounds, struggling through a 1-for-19 night from the field.
“I’m proud of Jersey,” Smith said. “In the huddle, she was coaching me as hard as she was her teammates. She could have had her head down, but she wanted to win for her teammates.”
Beck had 13 points for Fayetteville with Claudia Bridges, Lindsey and Lyles chipping in 10 points apiece. Beck also had 11 rebounds, as did Sabrina Saitta.
The game had seven ties and six lead changes.
Ford, Bershers and Releford played all 40 minutes for Northside. Saitta and Lyles played all 40 for Fayetteville.
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