TULSA — An early lead built on terrific shooting all but evaporated in the fourth quarter Thursday and the Claremore Lady Zebras were forced to hold on — and hope — in the fading seconds against Tulsa Memorial.
Memorial had two shots — to win or tie — and missed both, allowing the Lady Zebras to escape with a 53-51 decision in the opening round of the Holiday Hoopla high school basketball tournament at Union’s John Q. Hammons Center.
The Lady Zebras were on cruise control in the third period, enjoying a 47-26 cushion with three minutes remaining.
Even as that comfort zone narrowed to 50-36 to start the final quarter, Claremore did not appear to be in trouble. Certainly not after hitting 22 of 39 shots through three periods.
But the Lady Zebras apparently lost their shooting compass in the fourth quarter.
Shots were scattered everywhere — except in the direction of the net.
Only Hayley KnifeChief could score. And she scored only once.
Her three-pointer at 5:40 was the one and only basket of the entire period.
It maintained the Lady Zebras’ lead, 53-42, but it would have to withstand a closing flurry if they were to advance to Friday’s second round.
It did, and they did.
Abby Jackson, at 5-4 the shortest of the Lady Chargers, shot Memorial back into contention with seven points in the final quarter.
While the Lady Zebras were misfiring, and committing four turnovers, Memorial inched closer.
Jackson hurled in a trey that pushed the Lady Zebras back on their collective heels with 16 seconds showing. The shot narrowed the Claremore lead to 53-51, but Jackson was fouled.
She missed her free throw and sophomore Logan Froese rebounded for Claremore.
A quick foul sent her to the line, but even there the Claremore shooting touch had gone cold.
Memorial’s Hillary Duncan rebounded Froese’s miss and set the stage for a pulsating finish.
Jackson, who finished with a game-high 25 points, launched one final three-point attempt while closely guarded.
It missed its mark, but fell into the hands of Duncan with two seconds left. She put up a shot from beneath the basket, but it, too, missed. When it bounded off the rim, it bounced right to Logan Froese who clasped both hands around the ball as the buzzer sounded.
The Lady Zebras converted only one of 10 shots in the quarter, and had gone scoreless for 5:40, and still came out a winner.
That’s because they were so sharp early on. In the second period, for example, the Lady Zebras hit eight of 11 shots.
But even the hottest of hands go cold, and the Lady Zebras’ hands froze up in the final heated eight minutes.
Logan Froese and Audra Skimbo counted 17 each for the Lady Zebras. Froese scored seven in the third period, and over the middle two quarters was six of seven from the field.
Froese and Skimbo had their way with the shorter Memorial defenders for the first three periods. The two Lady Zebras were virtually unstoppable inside the paint.
It showed in their scoring, but it also was reflected in their rebounding totals. Froese had 11 and Skimbo had eight. No one from Memorial could gather more than five.
KnifeChief was hardly a factor, except for her critical fourth-quarter trey.
She picked up two fouls in the opening two minutes and spent the remainder of the first half on the bench. She finished with nine points on three treys.
Claremore moved into Friday’s 4 p.m. semifinals against Fort Smith Southside. The Arkansas team defeated Bixby, 46-42.
CLAREMORE 53, MEMORIAL 51
Memorial 8 11 17 15 — 51
Claremore 18 17 15 3 — 53
Memorial — Jackson 25, Scott 12, Duncan 8, Hilliard 4, Brinkley 2.
Claremore — Logan Froese 17, Skimbo 17, KnifeChief 9, Barnoski 7, Johnson 3, Lauren Froese 0, Milone 0.