Sports Sunday Correspondent
NORMAN — For the second night in a row, Claremore waited until the second half to take things in control.
This time, the Lady Zebras outscored Midwest City Albert,12-2, during the game's final seven minutes.
The result produced a 45-35 win over the Lady Titans Friday night in the semifinals of the Class 5A high school girls state tournament, and sent Claremore into Saturday night’s championship game in the Lloyd Noble Center. Claremore was seeking its fourth championship trophy in five years.
Against Noble in a 53-28 quarterfinals victory Thursday, Claremore blew the game open in the third quarter. Friday night, it took a little longer.
If Carl Albert scouted the Lady Zebras the night before, they might have ignored Erica Johnson. Afterall, she scored only two free throws against Noble. If the Lady Titans did overlook her, it was a huge mistake.
Johnson led all players with 15 points.
"Erica was just great tonight," Zebra coach Mark Campbell said. "She hit some threes early and some big free throws at the end. Plus, she was able to slip in the back door and get some baskets. She had a super game."
Another senior, Hayley KnifeChief, joined Johnson in the late Zebra charge. The two accounted for all but two of the fourth-quarter points. KnifeChief, limited to a single field goal in the first three periods, scored six points down the stretch.
"That's Hayley. She does what it takes to allow us to win," Campbell said.
Carl Albert, entering the contest with a 21-4 record, was down six points at halftime. The Titans went ahead, 31-30, at 2:47 of the third quarter on two free throws by Jourdan Clark.
Although outscored, 13-8, in the third, Claremore recovered to retake the lead with two free throws of its own. Johnson and Logan Froese each hit one, Froese's making the score 32-31 with 13 seconds remaining in the quarter.
As the final eight minutes started clicking off, it appeared a wild finish was in the making. Johnson made it a two-point game at the start by once again hitting the second of two free throws. Albert's Kylie Mayes knotted the score at 33 when she connected with a short jumper at 7:01.
Froese followed with a layup to break the deadlock. Her basket put the Zebras back in front, this time for good.
A race to the end was over. The wild finish never happened. Claremore's foe scored only one more time, another Mayes bucket. It pulled the Titans back to within 37-35, but the game's final eight points went on the Zebras' side of the scoreboard.
A pair of three-pointers by Desiree Bradley and another by Clarke paced Carl Albert in the 13-8 third quarter. Bradley paced the Titan scorers with 11 points. No one else had more than eight.
Audra Skimbo had 10 Claremore points. Six of them came in the second quarter as the Zebras, down 14-12 at the end of the first, went on an 11-0 run. This allowed Claremore to take a 24-18 edge at half.
CLAREMORE 45, CARL ALBERT 35
Carl Albert 14 4 13 4 — 35
Claremore 12 12 8 13 — 45
Midwest City Carl Albert — Bradley 11, Mayes 8, Clark 5, Webster 4, Hicks 4, Tollison 3.
Claremore — Johnson 15, Skimbo 10, KnifeChief 8, Logan Froese 6, Milone 3, Lauren Froese 3.