NORMAN — Tulsa East Central has Claremore’s number.
Three times last season, East Central defeated the Lady Zebras.
Saturday night, it happened again.
This time, it was for the biggest prize yet.
It was for the ultimate No. 1.
East Central put down the Lady Zebras with an overtime blitz and captured its second straight Class 5A high school girls basketball state championship.
The Lady Cardinals posted a 58-51 decision Saturday night in the Lloyd Noble Center and deprived Claremore of its fourth gold ball in five seasons.
This was a showdown of the last two state champions. And, they battled their way around the court in a showdown befitting champions.
Claremore came marching back from a double-digit deficit with the grit and determination of a championship warrior.
Even when they fell behind again in the final two minutes, the Lady Zebras picked themselves up off the mat and used Lauren Froese as a boost.
But all the rallying eventually took its toll on the Lady Zebras.
East Central struck suddenly and decisively in the overtime period, using its team quickness to finally wear down the Lady Zebras.
In the four-minute extension, four Lady Cardinals scored, and East Central won every confrontation.
As overpowering as Claremore was in its second-half comeback, East Central was just as dominating in the overtime.
Even while committing 25 turnovers in the face of the pesky Zebras, East Central just continued to attack.
Relentless and forceful, East Central did not give in to the pressure applied by Claremore.
Natosha Rice, 6-1 senior, collected five of her 12 rebounds in the overtime.
Logan Froese gave Claremore the first lead of the overtime before a three-point play by Mercedes Daniels pushed East Central ahead, 49-48, at 2:57.
Rice rebounded Claremore’s next miss, and then rebounded a teammate’s short shot to score at 2:20.
That seemed to take the Lady Zebras right out of their game.
They did not score again until Hayley KnifeChief threw in a desperation three-pointer at the buzzer.
Things started out with quite a different tone. There were three ties in the early going before East Central broke things open with a 10-1 run to close out the first
period. The Lady Cardinals were sitting comfortably atop a 16-7 lead at the first pole.
They opened the second quarter with six straight points and a 15-point spread. By halftime, Claremore had reduced that number to nine — 25-16.
In the third period, KnifeChief and Audra Skimbo combined for all of Claremore’s 18 points and they vaulted into a 34-32 leadership role by the start of the fourth. KnifeChief and Skimbo connected on eight field goals without a miss.
East Central bounced off the floor in the fourth, thanks to six points from Nolisha Markam.
The Lady Cardinals opened a six-point lead midway through the period and still had a 46-43 advantage when Daniels scored at 1:45.
Lauren Froese jumped up and threw down a three-pointer, Claremore’s first of the second half, with 53 seconds remaining to pull even at 46.
East Central could not take advantage of the time remaining, because the Lady Zebras boosted the defensive effort to a pulsating level.
East Central looked in vain for a winning shot, and with time running out, Ta’Vionna Davis launched a half-hearted shot that fell short and an overtime period was next.
A year ago, East Central eliminated Claremore in the state semifinals, 60-48.
In two other meetings, East Central registered 58-49 and 70-44 victories.
The two teams did not play this season.
Claremore finished its run at 21-7.
East Central finished at 22-7.
EAST CENTRAL 58, CLAREMORE 51
East Central 16 9 7 14 12 — 58
Claremore 7 9 18 12 5 — 51
East Central — Rice 13, Williams 13, Daniels 11, T.Davis 8, Markham 8, Holdman 3, B.Davis 2.
Claremore — Skimbo 16, Logan Froese 13, KnifeChief 11, Johnson 7, Lauren Froese 3, Milone 1.