Down 30-15 at halftime, the Claremore Lady Zebras could’ve panicked against Coweta, but instead they pieced together a second-half comeback for the ages.
Behind Kaleigh Cox’s game-high 19 points and a feisty full-court press, the Lady Zebras pulled together with one ‘heartbeat’ and gutted out a 45-40 win over the Lady Tigers in Metro Lakes Conference play Friday night at the Claremore High School Gym.
“I rode those five starters the whole second half and they are completely exhausted,” first-year Claremore head coach Stephanie Shaw said on her players resiliency in overcoming adversity.
“If their gas tank isn’t empty after that defensive performance, it should be.”
Shaw’s coaching philosophy in the final 16 minutes was to get after Coweta with a stifling full-court press.
“We had to trap them make or miss, and attack on defense no matter where the ball went,” Shaw said.
In the first half, Coweta converted five three-pointers for 15 of their 30 points.
The pressure, however, got to the Lady Tigers as Claremore’s defense held Coweta to 10 second-half points and no three-pointers.
According to Cox, “we had a different fire in us after halftime. We knew if we pulled together as a team and got after them, we could come out on top.”
Claremore’s starting five after halftime — Cox, Anna McGuire, Bailey Steckline, Monica Taylor and Ashlyn Glenn — outscored Coweta, 30-10 in the final two quarters, and narrowed the gap to 36-29 at the end of the third quarter.
Cox tallied 15 of her 19 points in the first three quarters, including seven in the third quarter alone.
“Kaleigh reminds me a lot of myself,” Shaw said. “Plays with so much fire and never quits. She really took charge out there.”
After Glenn’s basket in the paint from McGuire made it 36-31 to open the fourth quarter, Cox answered with a short-range jumper to narrow Coweta’s lead to 36-33 with 7:14 left.
Claremore continued to chip away at the deficit and got within 39-37 on Cox’s 10-foot jumper with 4:49 left.
But, with 3:48 remaining in the game, Taylor’s three-pointer raised the roof in the gym and gave the Lady Zebras the 40-39 lead.
“When Monica (Taylor) let go of that three, I knew it was going in,” Cox said.
Shaw added that Taylor’s lone trey was ‘huge’ as the Lady Zebras improved to 6-1 in conference.
“Our goal tonight was hold them (Coweta) to 38 points, and we gave up 40,” Cox said.
Along with Cox, Glenn scored 8 points and McGuire had 7. Taylor also contributed with 5.
Courtney Haas led Coweta with 11 points and Kaitlyn Norton had 10.