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North Little Rock holds off Northside rally in battle of state's top girls squads; Charging Wildcats boys roll without injured Nick Smith

North Little Rock led by seven points with less than two minutes to play but had to weather a late Northside run.

By Jeff Halpern | Photos by Tommy Land

NORTH LITTLE ROCK — No. 3 North Little Rock had to hold off a late rally to beat No. 2 Fort Smith Northside Friday night at Charging Wildcat Arena in a 60-58 victory.

Leading 57-50 with less than two minutes to play, the Lady Bears (16-1, 3-1 6A-Central) mounted a late comeback with Karys Washington making a three-pointer with the shot clock winding down to close it to 57-53. 

With 1:06 left in the game and 14 seconds left on the shot clock, North Little Rock (14-3, 2-1) avoided a turnover when it was awarded possession on the held ball. However, after a Northside timeout, Haitlana Releford rebounded a miss by North Little Rock’s Kyriana Jones and Northside’s Erianna Gooden missed a three pointer with 44 seconds left.

After North Little Rock called a timeout with 41.5 seconds left, Destine Duckworth inbounded the ball to April Edwards, who got it back to Duckworth where she was fouled with 35.8 seconds left. Duckworth made both free throws to put the Lady Charging Wildcats up 59-53.

With North Little Rock showing pressure, Garin Freeman founded Ashya Harris with 27.8 seconds left. Harris made 1-of-2 at the line to close it to 59-54. After a turnover, Amauri Williams fouled Gooden with 19.5 seconds left, who made both free throws to close it 59-56.

After a Northside timeout, Duckworth was trapped in the corner receiving the inbounds pass and quickly called timeout with 14.4 seconds left. This time, Duckworth got the ball into Freeman, who got it back to Duckworth, who dished off to Williams, who was fouled with 11.3 seconds left. Williams made 1-of-2 at the line to make it 60-56. Khassidy Warr made a basket as time ran out to set the final margin.

“We were going to have to get it in. We lost the possession arrow earlier. We have to do a good job of playing through it the pressure,” said North Little Rock Daryl Fimple. “We don’t get pressed a lot. The foul count was 7-3 at one time, so they could get away with being aggressive.”

Northside led most the game, going on an 8-2 run late in the first quarter to lead 21-16 at the end of the first quarter. Williams made two free throws with 2.6 seconds left in the first half to break a 32-32 tie and give the Lady Charging Wildcats a 34-32 halftime lead. They pushed the lead to 46-38 at the end of the third quarter before Ja’Miya Brown scored at the start of the fourth quarter to make it 48-38.

I’m really proud of my team,” said Northside Coach Rickey Smith. “We lost 4 starters off last year’s club and have new four players on the floor. To come down here and have a one-possession game late says a lot. We handed it to them on a out-of-bounds play and missed some free throws. 

“North Little Rock has a veteran club. This is the same team we beat in semifinals last year. I’m proud of the way our kids came back. The kids competed and continued to fight. We’ll learn from it. It’s frustrating to come down to one basket. It could have gone either way.”

Williams led the Lady Charging Wildcats with 11 points. Jones had 10 points. April Edwards had 10 points with eight coming in the first half. Duckworth had nine points and eight rebounds.

Harris led Northside with 16 points and three rebounds while making four 3-pointers. Gooden had 12 points. Gooden had nine points and 6 rebounds.

“Going to get tight, it always does,” said Fimple. “We found a way to scrap it together at the end. To win against Northside is unbelievable. You have a Hall of Fame coach (Rickey Smith) over there and kids who know how to win.”

NORTH LITTLE ROCK 86, FORT SMITH NORTHSIDE 56 (BOYS)

With Arkansas Razorback signee Nick Smith out with a turf toe injury the Charging Wildcats still had little trouble beating Northside Friday night.

Smith suffered the injury in Tuesday night’s victory over Conway and was on the bench with a walking boot. North Little Rock Coach Johnny Rice said he doesn’t know how long Smith will be out of action.

However, the Charging Wildcats (15-3, 4-0) showed they could win without him. Kel’el Ware totaled 33 points and 10 rebounds. 

“He’s a dominant player, and tonight he was going to be the No. 1 option.”

Tyler Frederick scored 23 points while making four 3-pointers and Corey Washington and 13 points and 10 rebounds in the victory,

Frederick exploded for 13 points in the third quarter when the Charging Wildcats increased a 38-25 halftime lead to 53-31.

“Ty has done that over the year, and it was great to see him do that tonight,” Rice said.

Sam Roper led the Grizzlies (9-10, 2-2) with 29 points while making 9-of-13 three-pointers.

“We hadn’t played without Nick all year, and we hope we don’t have to play without him for a while, but it was nice to open things up for some others and hopefully that will help us in the long run,” said Rice.

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