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story.lead_photo.caption NWA Democrat-Gazette/ANDY SHUPE Fayetteville guard Connor Barnett (3) looks to pass around Fort Smith Northside forward Jaylin Williams in a game played earlier this season. Northside is 2-0 in the 6A-Central after winning its second consecutive road game Tuesday at Little Rock Central. The Grizzlies will host Little Rock Catholic tonight in their first home game of the season.


Grizzlies rolling without Joe





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When four-star guard Isaiah Joe graduated and took his game to Arkansas, a lot of people thought the Grizzlies would struggle this season.

Those people obviously didn't know Northside very well.

The Grizzlies (11-5, 2-0 6A-Central) are rolling again after winning their second consecutive road game to open conference play Tuesday night. Noah Gordon's corner 3-pointer at the buzzer lifted Northside to a 46-44 win at Little Rock Central.

"To get two wins on the road against two really good teams is huge for us," Northside coach Eric Burnett said. "Boo (Travis) was able to penetrate and kick it down to Noah in the corner, and he knocked it down."

The Grizzlies will finally play at home game tonight when they host Little Rock Catholic. Northside has played a tough nonconference schedule that Burnett said prepared his team for the tough 6A-Central.

"No doubt playing the teams we have all on the road has been a big help," Burnett said. "I think it's a big reason we've won the two road conference games. Our kids know how to go on the road and win."

The Grizzlies have leaned on Jaylin Williams, who scored 12 Tuesday, and Travis, a leader on the semifinalist football team who brings a physical mentality to the team. Travis had 11 points in the win at Central. Northside's 6-foot-6 Braylon McKinney is drawing Division I looks, and Gordon has been a big plus on the perimeter.

Burnett said the 6A-Central is shaping up to be a dogfight to the end.

"If you're not prepared or play a bad game, you can get beat real easy in this conference," Burnett said. "There are no easy games. And not only can you get beat, you can get beat by 15 or more. There are just a lot of good teams, and you better be ready every game."

-- Chip Souza • @NWAChip


Highlanders lean on experience

Eureka Springs has one of the more experienced teams in the area with five seniors, and the Highlanders are using that to the tune of a 20-5 record.

Garrett Cross, a 6-foot-5 senior, leads the Highlanders, but he has plenty of veteran players around him, coach Brian Rambo said. Cross has one triple-double this season and came close again Tuesday night in a 75-36 win against Haas Hall-Fayetteville. Cross had 23 points, 11 assists and 9 rebounds in the win as the Highlanders improved to 3-1 in conference play.

"Garrett has been playing well for us, but our whole team has been playing at a high level," said Rambo, who is in his eighth season at Eureka Springs. "We are deep this year."

Eureka Springs is hopeful of landing a Class 2A regional tournament in its gym that opened about 6 years ago. That would be a huge boost for the program, Rambo said.

"We have a great facility, and this is a great town to host a regional tournament," Rambo said. "We have plenty of hotels and plenty of restaurants, so hopefully it will work out where we can host."

The Highlanders have battled through a rash of injuries this season with Carter Drennon missing about 15 games with a foot injury, Matthew Lester sitting a few games with a broken nose and Griffin Taylor battling through a separated shoulder.

"We played well despite the injuries," Rambo said. "It seems like when we lose someone, we've had others step up, but we're hoping that we won't have any more down the stretch."

The Highlanders have won six straight games since falling to Deer 62-51 on Dec. 13. Eureka Springs will travel to Cotter on Friday.

-- Chip Souza • @NWAChip


Rebounding improves for Fayetteville

Rebounding was an important factor on Tuesday when Fayetteville defeated Rogers 69-53.

That's good news for Fayetteville because the Lady Bulldogs no longer have the luxury of a 6-foot-1 athlete patrolling the middle. Jasmine Franklin is now a freshman starter at Missouri State, where she's averaging 9.7 points and 6.8 rebounds per game.

Rebounding has become more of a team effort this season for Fayetteville (9-2, 2-0), which lists 10 guards and four forwards on its roster.

"We've lost a couple of games because of rebounding, and we've been really stressing the issue," Fayetteville coach Vic Rimmer said. "Everybody needs to block out and use good technique because we don't have Jasmine down there to clean that up. We rebounded well and got on the offensive glass against Rogers."

Hatianna Releford, a 5-foot-9 freshman, is more of a wing player who has taken over the center position. Others are expected to help inside, including Sasha Goforth, a 6-foot-1 guard who led Fayetteville with 24 points in the victory over Rogers.

"Sasha doesn't doesn't mind getting in there and grinding it out," Rimmer said.

Fayetteville will host Van Buren tonight before traveling to Bentonville on Tuesday for a big game between conference leaders in the 6A-West. Rebounding will again be a factor against Bentonville, which is led by Maryam Dauda, a 6-4 sophomore who scored 17 points in a 61-35 victory over Van Buren on Tuesday.

-- Rick Fires • @NWARick


Sanders returns to form for Lady Warriors

Lakyn Sanders has had a successful return following two knee surgeries at Lamar, which leads the 3A-4 Conference with a 6-0 record.

Sanders scored 19 points on Tuesday when Lamar handed Atkins its first league loss, 51-39. She had 29 points in a victory over Clinton and 20 in a win over Hector.

Sanders is a junior point guard who averaged 14 points as a sophomore and 17 points as a freshman. She was only cleared to play days before Lamar began practicing in October. Her return has been a major factor for the Lady Warriors, who are 14-2 overall heading into tonight's conference game at Two Rivers.

"Lakyn does a great job with the ball in her hand," Lamar coach Brandon Schluterman said. "She's scoring points, and she's a really good passer. We've got three really good guards with Lakyn, Aspen Williams and Amber Brown."

Sanders, who initially tore her anterior cruciate ligament in April 2017 while playing AAU basketball, averages 18 points per game for Lamar. Williams averages 11 and Brown 10 points per game for Lamar, which used a third-quarter surge to break open a tight game against Atkins on Tuesday.

"We went on a 9-0 run to start the third quarter," Schluterman said. "We outscored them 14-4 in the quarter and had a 10-point cushion to play with."

-- Rick Fires • @NWARick


Seasoned Lady Leopards off to strong start

Alpena advanced to the Class 1A state quarterfinals a year ago, and the Lady Leopards look to be ready for another postseason run, returning four starters from that group.

Alpena is off to an 18-4 start and leads the 1A-1 Conference with a 6-0 mark. The Lady Leopards start three seniors, a junior and a sophomore, but coach Larry McKinney said great balance offensively and depth are strengths.

Senior Abby Dean is one of the team's top scorers, but she has plenty of help to carry the load offensively, McKinney said.

McKinney said the group's work ethic is what makes them special.

"The thing I like about them is the effort they put forth," McKinney said. "They go hard all the time. They just like to play.

"I'll play nine pretty consistently. It's rare that you have that situation. But we're not very big, and that hurts us at times. I think we're a lot better than we were. Those sophomores have matured a little bit, and the seniors are playing as well as they've ever played."

Whitney Coffelt and Alex Hill are part of a strong sophomore group, who went 44-1 over the last two seasons in junior high. They also moved up to the varsity at the end of the year last season and got some state tournament experience.

-- Paul Boyd • @NWAPaulB


Bearcats overcoming adversity

Booneville has been without the services of 6-foot-9 senior Logan Bradley for the past six games, but that hasn't slowed the Bearcats at all.

Booneville is off to a 16-1 start and has won 15 straight games, including a 47-46 nail-biter against Paris on Tuesday.

The Bearcats trailed by six with two minutes to go but found a way to win thanks to a pair of late baskets by Noah Reyes, who helped Booneville's football team claim a Class 3A state title in December.

"We missed six straight free throws and still found a way to win," Booneville coach Ronnie Denton said. "I really believe we started peaking at the end of last year. We got some confidence and found our identity, learning to trust one another.

"That carried over all summer and into this year. If we can get around the illness and injuries, I think we have a chance."

Booneville earned a state tournament berth last year, just the second in school history, but lost in the first round to state runner-up Jonesboro Westside.

They were set to return all five starters, so there was reason for optimism, but 6-5 senior Mason Weaver has been out all season with a collapsed lung, and Denton is hopeful to get Bradley, who signed to play at Southern Arkansas, back soon.

The Bearcats are an experienced team, playing seven seniors regularly even without Weaver, Denton said.

Blakley Cobb, a 6-5 swingman, averages more than 18 points per game and almost eight rebounds per game. But Bradley adds almost 13 points and seven rebounds, along with 6-3 Grant Goers at 11.

"They can all score and drive and handle the ball," Denton said. "They've played a lot of basketball. They've won some close games and just don't get rattled."

-- Paul Boyd • @NWAPaulB


Tigers unbeaten in 3A-1 West

Charleston boys coach B.J. Ross said this year's team may be one of the best he's ever coached.

"We're just a well-rounded team," Ross said. "We may not have the best player, but we have at least one player in each role, and we're starting to click. We're getting good play out of everybody."

The Tigers (10-4, 6-0) remained unbeaten in 3A-1 West Conference play with a 76-55 victory over Waldron as they overcame a 42-point performance by junior Peyton Brown. Brayden Ross, the coach's son, had 31 points to lead Charleston, while Jacob Green had all of his 14 points in the first half.

"We knew the Brown kid would get his points because he does a good job of going to the free-throw line," Ross said. "We didn't want to get anybody in foul trouble, so we rotated two or three people in guarding him, and we had good play from our role kids.

"We're also a pretty big team across the front, and our guys do a good job of keeping people off the boards. There were no second shots in that game. It was one shot and done. And they couldn't stop Brayden, and we were able to take advantage of some mismatches."

Ross, whose team plays tonight at Mansfield, said the Tigers benefited by playing in the Coke Classic in Fort Smith over the Christmas break. Charleston went 1-2 during the tournament, with losses coming against Bryant and Little Rock Fair while defeating Texarkana (Texas) Pleasant Grove.

"We had to overdo our athletes because we had to play at 130 mph to keep up with them who play at 100 mph," Ross said. "But now, as we are getting back into conference play, the game has become a little slower. Our guys are able to see things better."

-- Henry Apple • @NWAHenry


Antlers claim 1A-1 Conference lead

Deer boys coach Elvis Middleton said his team had to battle through sickness during the NAC Tournament, but the Antlers are starting to get healthy again.

Deer used a strong second-half performance to earn a 68-61 victory Tuesday over The New School and took sole possession of first place in the 1A-1 Conference standings.

"We stepped up and played much better defensively," Middleton said. "When they started pressing us, we were able to get our transition game going and picked up some buckets.

"It was a good game, and we were glad to get out of there with a win. It could have gone either way, and I told our team after that game that good teams find a way to win."

Deer (18-7, 5-0) earned the win despite Dylan Smith being in foul trouble, having picked up three fouls in the first half and his fourth in the fourth quarter. Caden Young scored 17 of his 23 points in the second half despite missing all four 3-point attempts, and Johnny Smith added 13 in the second half to finish with 29.

"As a coach, you want to be happy about a performance, then you find something where your team could improve," Middleton said. "There were points where we could have stretched out our lead more, but we would give up an offensive rebound and a basket and let them right back in the game.

"But we're glad to be where we are at in conference play. But there's still a lot of games to be played."

Deer returns to 1A-1 Conference game against Jasper, which has only one conference loss.

-- Henry Apple • @NWAHenry

Sports on 01/11/2019


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