Sports Sunday Correspondent
CATOOSA — The basketball-playing Lady Zebras were running at full throttle Friday night and Hayley KnifeChief was in the driver's seat.
Claremore roared past Grove, 66-42, and advanced to the girls finals the Port City Classic high school tournament.
KnifeChief scored a season-high 28 points as Claremore improved to 8-2.
Claremore faced Bartlesville, a 43-35 winner over Broken Bow, in the tournament's Saturday night championship game.
Backing the three-year starter KnifeChief was an 18-point performance by Audra Skimbo. The Lady Zebras also received outstanding bench help from the non-starters.
"We certainly got some quality minutes from our bench tonight," Zebra coach Mark Campbell said. "I feel we are coming together and playing like I expected we could before the season started.”
As the scoring twins, KnifeChief and Skimbo, were taking charge on offense, a rapid stream of Zebra defenders kept Grove on the outside looking in.
Most of Grove's points came from beyond the three-point arc. The Lady Ridgerunners attempted 17 treys, hitting nine. From inside the line, Grove made only six of 19 shots to go with three of four free throws.
Claremore, on the other end of the court, connected on 25 of 50 shots. It was the same percentage for the long ball. The Red and White dropped in six of 12 treys with KnifeChief recording four of them.
She thought she should have had a fifth one.
The 5-9 senior ripped in one from the left corner as the first-quarter buzzer sounded. The officials wiped it off, saying the ball didn't leave her hand in time.
In the long run, the decision cost Grove.
"I thought I got it off in time," KnifeChief said. "It sort of made me mad."
So, what did she do about it?
She came right back and hit three straight baskets, including two treys, early in the third quarter. Instead of Claremore holding a 16-14 edge, KnifeChief made it 24-14. She actually started a 14-0 run for the Zebras. Skimbo was right in the mix, too, following KnifeChief with six points in a row herself.
Grove finally stopped the bleeding when Cassidy Bowen hit a three 1:05 before the third quarter ended. She was one of two Ridgerunners in double figures. She had 12 behind Lauren Iverson's 16.
A knee to the face was the only thing stopping the game's top scorer. It came with 3:24 to play.
"I was getting up off the floor when one of their players accidentally kicked me in the face," KnifeChief said. "I am really sore right now."
Told that she had 28 points, she was able to smile and added: "That's my season high. I believe I had 31 or 32 sometime last year, but this is the most for this season."
Going to his bench early, Claremore used 14 different players. Campbell was able to get a total of 47:20 minutes of game time for his non-starting performers.
As she did in the tournament's opening 65-40 victory over Skiatook, Skimbo scored the game's first four points. Claremore led all the way. The widest margin was 28 points, coming on three occasions in the fourth quarter.
The defeat dropped Grove to 8-4.
In the consolation bracket, Tahlequah handled Catoosa, 48-30.
CLAREMORE 66, GROVE 42
Grove 12 7 12 11 — 42
Claremore 16 20 19 11 — 66
Grove — Iverson 16, Bowen 12, Pogue 4, Bassett 3, Deaton 3, Jeffries 2, Maxson 2, Creason 0, Wheeler 0, Summerfield 0, Seawright 0.
Claremore — KnifeChief 28, Skimbo 18, Logan Froese 6, Lauren Froese 5, Johnson 3, Walker 2, Wood 2, Barnoski 2, Milone 0, Davis 0, Garroutte 0, Dunlap 0, Post 0, Delozier 0.
TAHLEQUAH 48, CATOOSA 30
Tahlequah 16 12 12 8 — 48
Catoosa 8 8 5 9 — 30
Tahlequah — Atkins 22, Bowen 11, Clinton 6, Riggs 4, Girdner 2, Hamilton 2, Hix 1.
Catoosa — Chesney 7, Dill 6, Magness 5, Hurt 4, Loomis 4, Brown 2, Robison 2.