By George Mitchell
FORT SMITH — Northside and Stilwell (Okla.) are still looking for their identity for the 2022-23 season. Still, the Lady Bears overcame their inconsistencies to win their opening round of the 2022 Taco Bell Tournament of Champions on Thursday night at Northside High School.
Northside defeated Stilwell 58-34. The Lady Bears face Sapulpa (Okla.) on Friday in the semifinal round. Carl Junction (Mo.) takes on Bergman in the other game in the winner’s bracket.
The Lady Bears started each half strongly but allowed Stilwell to climb back into the game in the second and third quarters.
“This is the most consistently inconsistent team I’ve coached,” said Northside coach Ricky Smith. “We’re more like riding a roller coaster. One minute we’re up on top, and the next minute, we’re like, ‘What?’ We’ll go for a few minutes without scoring.
“We have some that have never played at Northside before, and they don’t understand our program's intensity and expectations, so it’s all new to them. It’s like a baby colt running in the Kentucky Derby. It’s a talented baby colt but still the Kentucky Derby.”
Northside has one senior on the roster (Karys Washington). It starts one junior (Dakya Foster) with three sophomores, as the team is largely comprised of sophomores (nine out of 15 players are sophomores).
“You know, if we could have just scored in the first half, I felt like we could have been ahead or right with them,” said Stilwell head coach Michael Cone. “We came out in the third quarter and felt like [Northside] overpowered us. We couldn’t match them, got into a big hole, and couldn’t get out of it.”
Northside built leads in the first and third quarters. The Lady Bears were up 13-2 late in the first quarter when Stilwell outscored them the rest of the way to get within four at halftime, 22-18.
“We talked about how we were coming back there at halftime, but we’re still trying to find out who we are,” Cone said. “Trying to find who can score, step up and knock down some shots.”
The Lady Bears came out in the second half to dominate both sides of the court and were up 49-23 early in the fourth quarter. Stilwell had a 7-0 run in the fourth and cut Northside’s lead 49-30, but Cherish Blackmon got the Lady Bears back on track with her put-back with 3:25 remaining in the game.
“I thought we came out in the third period and played really, really well. We woke up and got the transition, hit some shots,” Smith said. “It allowed us to rest some players ahead of the next two games.”
Northside sophomore Erianna Gooden scored a game-high 21 points and five rebounds. Washington added 17 points and five rebounds, while Blackmon finished with six points and seven rebounds. As a freshman, Gooden averaged 10.7 points and 5.6 rebounds a game.
“We’re a little inconsistent with our focus and attitude,” said Gooden, playing in her second Tournament of Champions. “We tried to play different people in the fourth quarter. We’re still looking for those who can step up and be ready to play [Friday] and the rest of the tournament."
Stilwell was paced by Snowed Watie’s eight points and five rebounds, while Winds Holmes, who averaged four points a game last season, added seven points. Waite, a three-year starter for Stilwell, led her team in points, steals, and assists the past two seasons.
Stilwell finished in Oklahoma's Class 4A quarterfinals last season, and Northside was the Class 6A state runner-up in Arkansas.
“I didn’t feel like we were intimidated at all,” Cone said. “We must come out ready to play hard and battle until the end.”
Bergman 53, Jones (Okla.) 45
Both teams battled through 15 lead changes and seven ties, but a fourth-quarter run put Bergman ahead for good to win the opening game of the Taco Bell Tournament of Champions.
Bergman senior Maddi Holt led all players with 17 points and six rebounds, while teammates Ruby Trammell and Kiersten Lowry added 16 and 15 points, respectively.
Jaelen Maples paced Jones with 13 points. Junior Sofi Woodson had 12 points and a team-high five rebounds. Boston Berry added 11.
Carl Junction (Mo.) 52, Southside 47
The Mavericks made a late run but could not get any closer in the second game Thursday.
Carl Junction led 43-27 after three quarters.
Destiny Buerge led Carl Junction with 31 points and seven rebounds. Teammate Kylie Scott added 10.
Southside’s Peyton Yaffe and Sophia Neihouse had 12 points each.
Sapulpa (Okla) 71, Lamar 42
Oklahoma State signee Stailee Heard led with 26 points and 18 rebounds to advance to Friday’s semifinal game.
Sapulpa led Lamar 12-9 after the first quarter but outscored the Warriors 59-33 the rest of the game. M. Hall had 11 points for Sapulpa.
Sophomore Kori Sanders had 21 points and hit four three pointers to lead Lamar.