Not only did the North Little Rock Charging Wildcats avenge a loss to Fort Smith Northside in the 7A state title game last Thursday, but they also won their fourth championship in five tries.
Last year in the championship tilt, North Little Rock (26-5) lost to Northside, 50-49, in a heartbreaker. After a 9-9 deadlock in the first period, the Wildcats ended the first quarter with a 9-4 run to lead 18-13 at the half. The second quarter was the catalyst as North Little Rock held Northside to nine points and scooted out to a 34-22 halftime margin on its way to a 64-51 triumph.
“We wanted to get out to a fast start,” North Little Rock Coach Johnny Rice said. “We controlled the tempo, and I felt like we were in control most of the game. Defensively, we stopped them.”
Northside scored 69 and 78 points, respectively in its two state tournament games. North Little Rock holding the Grizzlies to 51 points was key for the Wildcats, and Northside’s Isaiah Joe, a Razorback signee, finished with 15 points.
“Any championship team we’ve had we’ve had something we hung our hats on and did every game,” Rice said. “This team’s was defense and making stops on defense. I’m so proud of the guys. The last three weeks they were locked in to what we were doing and wanted to accomplish. They knew their roles and accepted them and didn’t care. That made winning more special.”
Rice is extremely appreciative of senior Ray Fresh’s leadership. Captain of the team, Fresh does so much more than what shows up in the statistic box.
“He has been great the last month leading the team,” Rice said. “He defends the other team’s best player, and you don’t see what he does in the stats.”
Sophomore Moses Moody was named the MVP of the state tournament and finished with 16 points. Junior Collin Moore led the Wildcats against Northside with 22 points and 13 rebounds, and Spencer Simes contributed 11 points.
In his sixth year as the head coach, Rice has been to the state championship game five of those six years. The only time his teams didn’t go was the 2015-2016 year where North Little Rock didn’t even make the state tournament, and prior to that year won the state title three consecutive years. Each state title is special to him including this year’s.
“It hard to believe, but the way we practiced and played game-to-game was special,” he said. Its cool stuff and extra special (winning four titles) because I grew up in North Little Rock, went to school here and played here and coached seventh and eighth grade before coming to the high school.”