FORT SMITH — Conway's Lady Cats (19-2, 6-1) absorbed their first 7A Central loss Tuesday night, 49-47, to Fort Smith Northside (18-2, 6-1) after series of exchanges in the final quarter.
At the halfway point of the conference race, Conway, Northside and North Little Rock are all tied for first.
A jumper by junior Sara Bershers with 14.2 seconds left turned out to be the game-winning shot. Jazzlyn Coleman hit a free throw for a two-point cushion with 4.5 seconds left. Conway missed a halfcourt shot at the buzzer.
"If we want to be in the conversation at all for a conference championship, we had to have this one," Northside coach Rickey Smith said. "But I honestly didn't know if we were that caliber of a team yet or not. We've still got some tough road trips; we've got to go to (Little Rock) Central, we've got to go to Conway, we've got North Little Rock, so I'm just going to enjoy this win (Tuesday), try to win as many of them as we can and see what happens from this point on."
In a game that lived up to the advance billing, the Lady Bears) and Lady Cats dueled for the lead throughout the fourth quarter. Conway went up by four early in the fourth before Northside tied the score. The Lady Cats then went back up by three on a basket and free throw by Cardrina Nolen, but Northside got to within a point, 47-46, on Jersey Wolfenbarger's jumper with 2:28 remaining. That score stood going into the final minute. Conway got the ball after the Lady Bears missed a 3-point attempt.
But Northside senior guard Brenna Cooksey forced a travel, and the Lady Bears regained possession. With the clock ticking away, Bershers received a pass from Sydney Green, took a couple of steps into the lane and released a shot. The ball bounced a couple of times before going through, putting the Lady Bears in front, 48-47, with 14.2 seconds left.
"Coach has been preaching, 'Get to the high post, get to the high post, you're right up in there when they swing the ball,' and then I went there and I just happened to just hit the shot," Bershers said.
Conway missed a 3 on the other end, and Northside's Jazz Coleman came down with the rebound and drew a foul with 4.2 seconds left, sending her to the foul line on a one-and-one situation. She made the first for a two-point lead.
Bershers led the Lady Bears with 17 points, 11 coming in the first half. Wolfenbarger added 16 points, nine of those coming in the final quarter.
The Lady Cats shot only 33 percent, including eight of 26 from 3-point range. Asiyah Smith led with 16 points. Myia Yelder and Reagan Roetzel added 12 each.
"Big ballgames like that comes down to one possession and (Tuesday) that one possession bounced our way," Smith said. "I told (Bershers) coming out of the huddle, 'Sara, we've got to have you, you've got to make a play,' and she stepped up big when we had to have it."
The Grizzlies remained tied for first with a 71-57 victory, winning at home on Tuesday as coach Eric Burnett made his return to the Northside bench.
Burnett, who led Northside to the 7A state championship last season, had been out for several weeks on a personal leave of absence. Tuesday's game was his first to coach the team in conference play.
After Conway tied the score at 24-all late in the first half, Northside (15-6, 6-1) ended the half with four straight points to take a 28-24 lead at the break.
Senior guard Isaiah Joe then opened the second half with five straight points, including a 3, as the lead grew to nine points, 33-24. The Wampus Cats got to within six, 37-31, but Northside senior Kentrell Jacobs had five points in a 6-0 run, including a 3.
The Grizzlies went up by 14 points by the end of the third, 47-33, on a basket from sophomore Noah Gordon.
Joe and Jacobs each finished with 21 points, and both also hit three 3's. Jaylin Williams added 12 points and six rebounds as well for the Grizzlies.
Kylen Milton led Conway with 14 points. Christian Williams and Terry Clardy added 13 each.
St. Joseph girls
At Morrilton, St. Joseph's girls powered to a 65-29 victory over Sacred Heart.
Alexis Roach had 24 points, 19 rebounds and four assists for the Lady Bulldogs. Piper Mullaney had 17 points as the Lady Bulldogs shot 65 percent from the field.
Brianna Wells had eight rebounds. Emily Briggler had 11 assists. Brooklyn Kordsmeier added four assists.