File photo by Rick Nation
FORT SMITH — It’s hard to imagine that there’s ever been a better high school girls basketball player than Jersey Wolfenbarger of Fort Smith Northside. She’s 6’4” or 6’5”, can handle the ball, rebound the ball, pass it well and shoot the lights out and she’s been great since her freshman year. In fact, she hit the winning shot for Northside as a freshman and a sophomore in the State finals.
The coaches of the 6A-Central Conference and the 6A classification overall, including Bryant’s Brad Matthews, are glad she’s finally a senior.
On Tuesday, behind 32 points from Wolfenbarger, Northside’s Lady Bears forged a 73-54 win over Matthews’ Lady Hornets to improve to 19-1 on the season and 9-0 in the Central Conference.
The Lady Bears broke out to a 16-2 lead to start the game and held a 20-5 edge at the end of the first quarter.
“We got off to a slow start, a little timid,” acknowledged Matthews. “Then, I think, we saw some shots fall.”
Indeed, for the rest of the game against Northside’s primary rotation of players — Wolfenbarger never left the floor until the final two minutes of the game — the Lady Hornets were right with them. Bryant’s first-year players continued to show they’re getting more comfortable playing big-girl competition.
In fact, in the final seconds of the third quarter, the Lady Hornets were within 12. They trailed by 15 with 3:30 left in the game.
Freshman Brilynn Findley, more assertive than she’s been so far, scored 17 points to lead Bryant. Junior Parris Atkins and sophomore Natalie Edmonson had 16 each.
For Northside, senior Tracey Bershers, a tough 6’2” post who’s been tough on the opposition since she was a sophomore, finished with 14 points and nine rebounds. Senior Jalyn Ford had 14 as well.
“They’re really good,” said Matthews of the Lady Bears. “I’ve been coaching girls in this state a long time. I’ve been in this league a long time. Wolfenbarger is as good as anybody this state’s ever produced. That team is as talented as any team that I’ve seen. If they don’t win a State championship — I’m not sure anybody but Covid can beat them because they are talented and skilled and big and shoot it well and rebound it well.”
But he acknowledged that his team took important strides forward.
“I thought our kids fought,” he said. “We were better offensively, better flow, and the shots went in. You know, losing is not good and it’s never acceptable but we are seeing spurts where we can play with good teams. And even though we’re young and even though we’re inexperienced, it’s February. Those spurts have to be longer and longer and longer. Tonight, we had a little bit of a longer spurt. That’s a good thing to see.
“The important thing is that we practice well on Wednesday, practice well on Thursday, the coach concluded. “That’s where you see the most growth, when you can take growth and double down on it in practice.”
The Lady Hornets hope to play the Mount St. Mary Academy Belles on Friday.
On Tuesday, Wolfenbarger had 12 of her points during the first-quarter rush. Bryant’s lone basket in the first seven minutes of the game was a driving jumper by Findley. In the final minute, however, Edmonson hit the first of her four 3-pointers and, even though Khassidy Warr hit two free throws and Wolfenbarger hit a layup off a steal before the quarter was over, it appeared that the lid was off the basket for Bryant.
And to start the second period, the Lady Hornets went on a little run of their own, 9-0. Edmonson drove the baseline and hit a pull-up pop. Atkins found room to drive and she too pulled up for a jumper in the lane that fell. She added an offensive rebound basket before Findley fed Edmonson for a 3 that suddenly had the Lady Hornets within 6 at 20-14.
Bershers got Northside going again with a 3 from the top of the key. A jumper in the lane by Wolfenbarger and a three-point play by Warr pushed the lead back out to 28-14.
Edmonson drilled another triple off another assist by Findley and Atkins added a mid-range jay to trim the margin to 9.
But Wolfenbarger led a late charge as Northside ended the half on an 11-5 run. She had 7. Findley’s 3 and a basket by Lauryn Taylor off a feed from Atkins accounted for Bryant’s points.
So, it went to half with Northside up 39-24.
Again, however, the Lady Hornets started the third quarter well. Findley fed Edmonson for a bucket. Off a Northside turnover — the Lady Hornets forced them into 17, though they committed 23 themselves — Atkins went to the free-throw line and converted twice, cutting the lead to 11.
Ford interrupted but Atkins fed Taylor for another bucket inside to make it 41-30.
Though the Northside advantage was expanded to 18, Findley got hot from 3, hitting three of them as the Lady Hornets stayed in the game. A layup by Atkins with :08 left cut the Lady Bears lead to 56-44 but a 3 by Ford at the buzzer extended the margin and the best the Lady Hornets could do in the fourth quarter was trade baskets until a late spurt by the Lady Bears that had them up 73-51 going into the final two minutes. Edmonson hit another triple for the last points of the game. Northside subbed in with 1:13 to go.
LADY BEARS 73, LADY HORNETS 54
Score by quarter
BRYANT 5 13 19 10 — 54
FS Northside 20 19 19 15 — 73
LADY HORNETS (8-7, 1-5) 54
Atkins 6-13 4-4 16, Edmonson 6-13 0-0 16, Findley 6-14 1-2 17, Muse 0-5 0-0 0, L.Taylor 2-5 0-1 4, Knight 0-0 1-2 1. Totals 20-50 (40%) 6-9 (67%) 54.
LADY BEARS (19-1, 9-0) 73
Wolfenbarger 14-24 1-4 32, Harris 1-2 0-0 3, Ford 6-9 1-1 14, Massey 1-3 0-0 2, Ks.Warr 2-4 4-5 8, Bershers 5-10 2-2 14, Hartgraves 0-1 0-0 0, Washington 0-0 0-0 0, B.Taylor 0-0 0-0 0, Dotson 0-1 0-0 0, Reese 0-0 0-0 0, Johnson 0-0 0-0 0, Km.Warr 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 29-54 (54%) 8-12 (67%) 73.
Three-point field goals: Bryant 8-22 (Findley 4-8, Edmonson 4-8, Muse 0-5, Atkins 0-1), FS Northside 7-15 (Wolfenbarger 3-5, Bershers 2-4, Ford 1-3, Hartgraves 1-2, Dotson 0-1). Turnovers: Bryant 23, FS Northside 17. Rebounds: Bryant 7-20 27 (Findley 0-7 7, Atkins 0-6 6, L.Taylor 2-3 5, Muse 1-3 4, Edmonson 0-1 1, Knight 1-0 1, team 3-0 3), FS Northside 8-23 31 (Bershers 0-9 9, Wolfenbarger 2-2 4, Massey 1-3 4, Harris 1-2 3, Ford 1-0 1, Hartgraves 0-1 1, Dotson 0-1 1, team 2-1 3). Team fouls: Bryant 9, FS Northside 9.