North freshman Tia Balknight stands about 4-foot-11 on the basketball court.
While her height does not intimidate opponents, her shooting ability certainly catches their attention.
Balknight attempted to shoot a 3-pointer with 18 seconds remaining with a tie score Monday night against visiting Garfield. She was fouled in the act of shooting and made two out of three free throw attempts to lift the Vikings to a 57-55 win.
“Sabria [Meadows] passed me the ball,” Balknight said. “I wanted to hurry up and shoot the ball and see if I was going to make it.”
Balknight led the Vikings (4-9, 3-6) over the Golden Rams (2-11, 2-6) with 15 points and five steals. Her biggest moment came with 18 seconds remaining.
“I was scared because we were tied up,” Balknight said. “I didn’t know if I was going to make all of them.”
North 5-2 senior Keishawnna Burts said she was proud of Balknight.
“She is one of the better freshmen on our team who stepped up and has started varsity a couple of games,” Burts said. “We expect her to do something spectacular. Her getting fouled and making free throws just set the tone for a victory.”
North coach Kenny Thomas was impressed by Balknight’s willingness to take the shot.
“That was probably the biggest shot of the season so far, strictly because she had the confidence to take it,” Thomas said. “She has the talent to make every free throw that she shoots. The fact that she is a freshman that has the confidence to shoot the 3-pointer in the first place, rather than pulling it out and trying to get it to Sabria or somebody else is impressive. She wanted to make that 3 for game, and that gave her confidence to knock down those free throws.”
Burts, a Division II state qualifier in the 400 and 200 meters in each of the past two track and field seasons, was coughing on and off throughout the game as she battles a cold. She finished with 14 points, seven rebounds, seven steals and four assists
“That is what I have been waiting for all season,” Thomas said. “Every game that we play, she is by far the most athletic and by far the fastest person on the court. She beats every coach we have in the line drills. She is ridiculously fast.
“When she runs full speed, it is like a train and nobody can stop her.”
Senior Khrystian McCalister paced Garfield with 31 points, 17 rebounds, three blocks and three steals.
North led 14-12 after one quarter, 29-22 at halftime and 41-39 following three quarters. Garfield faced a double-digit deficit multiple times, but fought back.
“I thought we did a great job of battling back,” Garfield coach Dave Nash said. “We went down in the first half and I think earlier in the year we roll over and the game is over. We have been working on mental toughness and working hard. We know the other team is going to have a couple of runs. We just battled through that and put together some runs.”
Sophomore Da’nae Veal had 10 points and nine rebounds for North. Meadows, a junior, added six points, five rebounds, four steals and three assists.
North senior Ciera Stubbs, freshman Taya Balknight and senior Teona Balknight combined for 12 points.
Junior Shayna Smith, freshman Kayln Williams and senior Autumn Brown scored six points each for the Golden Rams.
“I am just glad my team didn’t give up,” Burts said. “We just kept playing through the fourth quarter. Whether it be a minute left, 50 seconds left or 30 seconds left, we didn’t give up. We kept playing defense and offense, and just pulled through for the win.”
Michael Beaven can be reached at 330-996-3829 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the high school blog at http://www.ohio.com/preps. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/MBeavenABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.