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Northside basketball teams finally christen new arena as both Lady Bears, Grizzlies pick up wins against Cabot

"It had a lot to do with us sticking together, and there was times where we almost broke, but we stayed strong and stuck together and pulled it out."

By Buck Ringgold | Photos by Karen Schwartz

FORT SMITH — After numerous delays to the official opening of Northside's new basketball arena, there was another one prior to tipoff of Tuesday's girls game.

The clock on the scoreboard malfunctioned, causing the start of the game to be delayed by several more minutes.

"It was a lot of worry," Lady Bear senior forward Haitiana Releford said. "At the beginning of the game, it kind of threw us off because of the technical difficulties we had with the technology, and we thought we were going to have to get moved to (Northside's former facility) and we didn't want it, so we kind of lost focus."

Fortunately for Releford and the Lady Bears, they regained it in time to win their long-awaited opener at their sparkling new edifice. Plus, the scoreboard was in working order to finally display the fruits of their labor; not to mention their patience.

Northside hit some big fourth-quarter shots in pulling away from Cabot, as the Lady Bears bounced back from their only loss of the season with a 50-44 win in 6A-Central action.

"It's just been a long day, been a long week trying to get ready and trying to make sure everything's on top and in proper working position," Northside coach Rickey Smith said. "Then we ran into an issue; the clock worked great during the JV game. So, we stand around for a long time.

"We looked tired, and that's all of the emotion of being all hyped up. ... They were in the locker room and so excited and I get that, but we about forgot the main thing was the main thing, to win the game."

Northside's arena did open in October for two days of the state volleyball tournament. But at the time, the scoreboards had yet to be installed and the chair-back seats had yet to arrive.

Then earlier this month, when the arena was finally finished, Northside was to have opened the place by taking on Conway. But that game was postponed due to Conway having COVID-19 issues.

Finally on Tuesday, the Lady Bears (17-1, 4-1) got to play in their new home. They actually got off to a strong start.

Northside freshman Zoey Bershers scored on a put-back 15 seconds in for the first basket in the facility. Moments later, she hit the first 3-pointer at Northside Arena for a 5-0 lead, a lead which later became 7-0.

The Lady Bears continued to lead throughout the remainder of the first half, going into halftime up 22-14. Senior Ashya Harris then opened the second half with a 3, extending the lead to double digits.

But the Lady Panthers fought back and got within a point near the end of the third quarter. They finally pulled even at 33-all to begin the fourth as sophomore guard Blyss Miller launched a 3.

Northside responded on the next possession, as Bershers made a jumper in the lane.

Then after Cabot was called for a shot clock violation, Northside's Karys Washington launched a 3 from the left wing, making it 38-33.

The Panthers closed within four, 40-36, on a 3 from sophomore guard Jenna Cook with more than five minutes left. But Northside's Khassidy Warr answered with a 3 of her own.

Cabot made one more push, getting a one-possession game and having a chance to tie the score in the final minutes. A shot was missed, however, and Bershers grabbed the rebound.

That led to Harris launching a 3 with 2:04 left, giving the Lady Bears more breathing room, 48-42.

"We hit some big, big, baskets, so we needed them; we needed every one of them," Smith said. "But we'll learn from it, we'll grow; they're 16-, 17-year old kids, we'll get better.

"The emotions were high and we didn't play well; the kids know that, but Cabot had a lot to do with that, so give them credit. I'm not going to take anything away from them because they played really well."

Releford, one of the few Lady Bears back with experience from last season's 6A state championship squad, led Northside with 16 points.

"It had a lot to do with us sticking together, and there was times where we almost broke, but we stayed strong and stuck together and pulled it out," she said.

"We felt pressure (to win the first game at the new arena), but it was just another basketball game, so we had to go out and play."

Warr was also in double figures with 12 points, and she made three 3's.

Cook and Laylah Reese, a junior, each scored 12 points and junior Carly Madar added 11 for the Lady Panthers (11-7, 2-3).

Northside 67, Cabot 53 (BOYS)

Like the Lady Bears, the Grizzlies were eagerly anticipating finally getting a game in their new showplace.

They opened up a sizable lead by halftime, and after the Panthers made a late push, Northside (10-10, 3-2) put things in hand with a 14-2 run.

"Yes, it was a long wait, but we finally got in here and just really glad to be able to play a game," Northside coach Eric Burnett said. "It was a beautiful sight to walk into the gym and see these people in here. ... For us to be able to play this game (Tuesday), I was really, really excited about it.

"I told (the players pregame), 'Fellas, we're getting ready to make history.' I told them (Monday), 'Someone's going to be the first person to score, first person to get a dunk in the gym, and making history by being the first team to win in the new arena,' so there was a lot of great stuff happening (Tuesday)."

Northside opened up an 11-6 lead at the end of the first quarter and built it to six at halftime, 32-26. The Grizzlies then went up by 10 after three quarters, 44-32.

Cabot (5-13, 1-5) got to within six near the midway point of the fourth. Then, with 3:30 left, the Panthers made it a five-point game, when junior guard Gavin Muse made a steal and went in for a dunk, cutting Northside's lead to 53-48.

But on the ensuing possession, Northside sophomore Marco Smith drained a 3-pointer to regain momentum for the Grizzlies.

Moments later, they went up by 10, when Smith received a lob pass from teammate Luke Young and slammed it home.

Later, Dae'Marion Savoy converted a three-point play and Jayvion Smith's steal and coast-to-coast layup allowed Northside fans to leave the new arena in good spirits. Northside eventually led by 17 in the closing seconds, 67-50, as a result of its pivotal 14-2 spurt.

"I thought we made plays when we had to; that's what I was really happy about," Burnett said. "Some guys came off the bench, like Zavion Zeffer, who did a phenomenal job.

"I thought Marco Smith; I saw him relaxed (Tuesday) and play, and he had the first dunk in the gym, he hit a 3, he got some blocks; I just thought he did a good job. Then Luke Young started off the game and had the first four points for us, so I was just happy for the guys, especially for those ones to be part of the first in this new arena."

Northside also got four players in double figures, with Smith leading the way with 15 points. He also hit two 3's.

Young had 14 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. Zeffer had 13 points and Smith 12 on 5-of-6 shooting.

Cabot's Jarrett Coleman, a junior forward, led all scorers with 18 points.