It might not have been the prettiest game. Season-openers seldom are.
But it was a win. And wins have a tendency to become a little better looking further on down the road.
On Thursday night, the 13th of December, virtually halfway through the month, Claremore’s Lady Zebras finally tipped off their high school basketball season.
They overcame a case of First Night Jitters and were able to take care of Springdale, Ark., Har-Ber, 57-43, at Will Rogers Junior High.
Now, the Second Night follows quickly.
They return tonight to play another Arkansas traveler, Fort Smith Southside, in the title game of an impromptu tournament.
Claremore and Southside play at 6:30 p.m., again in the Will Rogers Junior High gym.
Southside rode the dominating inside play of 6-4 Chelsea Jones to a 55-48 victory over Bixby in Thursday night’s first game.
All four teams were entered in the Union Holiday Hoopla tournament in Tulsa. But the tournament was cancelled on Wednesday, and Claremore coach Mark Campbell hurriedly made plans to host the other three teams in a tournament setting.
With Claremore’s wrestling Zebras scheduled to stage their own tournament today and Saturday in the high school gym, Campbell opted to play at the junior high.
He might have played anywhere, just for the sake of playing a game.
His season-opener was scheduled for Nov. 30, with Bixby. But, Bixby was still involved in the football playoffs at that point, so the season was put on hold.
Another “opener” — with Coweta on Tuesday — was called off. And, the Union tournament, of course.
Campbell jokingly told his players that the Bixby postponement would mean that the season would not begin until after Christmas.
“I was just kidding, but it was almost a reality,” Campbell said with a laugh Thursday night.
Campbell, coaching his 13th season-opener with the Lady Zebras, but the first at the Class 6A level, was in a jovial, almost playful mood.
He had three girls score in double figures, and the team played better down the stretch after heeding his halftime advice.
That helped his demeanor considerably.
Campbell was not in the best of moods when he entered the Lady Zebras’ locker room at halftime, sitting on a 27-22 lead.
“I went in there, and I said, ‘I wouldn’t pay three bucks to watch you all. There’s no way,’” he said.
“‘That’s ridiculous. You don’t act like you know what you’re doing,’” he told his players.
In the third quarter, with four players taking part in the scoring, the Lady Zebras hit half their shots from the field, forced Har-Ber into six turnovers, and expanded their lead to 46-32.
“After the game, I said, ‘Well, if you played like you did in the second half, I’d pay $1.50,’” Campbell said, again a smile creasing his face.
He might have devalued the Lady Zebras just a bit with his humor, but they cashed in with a decent showing after halftime.
And it was the work of his front-line trio. Six-foot senior Amanda Walker scored seven of her 13 points in the third period to rejuvenate the Lady Zebras. Logan Froese, 6-foot junior, checked in with six of her 18 and 5-11 senior Audra Skimbo added four of her 19.
The Claremore lead hit 14 midway of the period, and crested at 16 twice in the final 90 seconds.
Into the fourth, the lead reached 17 when Skimbo converted a conventional three-point play with three minutes remaining.
Froese and Skimbo were the lone Zebras to score in all quarters. Froese topped the rebounding efforts with nine.
Senior Kim Peek led Har-Ber with 17 points, the only Wildcat to score in all periods. She hit three 3-pointers.
Walker and Cassidy Bowen counted the only treys on the Claremore ledger.
The Lady Zebras might not have been spectacular from the field, hitting 23 of 61 attempts, but they were perfect from the free-throw line, making nine of nine.
Har-Ber was 20 of 57 from the field, and attempted only one (failed) free throw.
Because the Lady Zebras had been awaiting the season-opener for so long, Campbell was expecting the inevitable.
“I knew they’d be tight,” he said. “I told them before the game, ‘Now, girls, listen. You’re going to be tight. You’re going to be tense. And if you don’t learn to relax right now, you’re going to be sucking air. It’s going to hurt you. You’re in shape, but you’re going to be hurting.’”
Sure enough, when Har-Ber called the first time out in the opening period, the Lady Zebras were gasping for air as they huddled around Campbell.
Collectively, he looked his players in the eyes, and said, “See, I told you so.”
He added, “You need to relax.”
They must have listened.
The third-quarter scoring suggests that they did.
“When you’re tight and tense, that does it to you,” Campbell said.
What he did not need to say was, “When you’re loose and relaxed, you play better.”
The Lady Zebras played a different second half Thursday night. A better second half.
And now, the season that would not start is underway with a flourish.
After playing Thursday night and Friday night, the Lady Zebras have games scheduled Monday night and Tuesday night.
Southside 55, Bixby 48
Chelsea Jones scored 16 of her 20 points in the second half and powered Southside past Bixby.
Bixby managed a 13-8 first-period lead, but the Lady Spartans had no answer for the 6-4 Jones once she started going inside.
CLAREMORE 57, HAR-BER 43
Har-Ber 7 15 10 11 — 43
Claremore 14 13 19 11 — 57
Springdale Har-Ber — Peek 17, Carlock 8, Westmoreland 6, Smith 4, Bender 2, Duerr 2, Andrade 2.
Claremore — Skimbo 19, Froese 18, Walker 13, Bowen 3, Davis 2, Barnwell 2.
SOUTHSIDE 55, BIXBY 48
Southside 8 14 18 15 — 55
Bixby 13 7 12 16 — 48
Fort Smith Southside — C.Jones 20, Buckleman 12, Rainwater 7, Stocking 6, Hindman 5, Stiles 3, M.Jones 2.
Bixby — Walsh 12, DeWare 11, Cornellius 10, Bittle 9, Harris 4, Hanus 2.
Claremore 57, Springdale Har-Ber 43
Fort Smith Southside 55, Bixby 48
5 p.m. — Bixby vs. Springdale Har-Ber
6:30 p.m. — Claremore vs. Fort Smith Southside