VINITA — Claremore got about as good a start to the second half as it could've asked for.
Sparked by senior Keith Watson, the Zebras quickly turned a seven-point halftime deficit into a one-point lead behind an 8-0 run in the opening moments of the third period. Watson scored six of his 17 points during that spurt, and Claremore appeared to have all the momentum.
Then a series of unfortunate events suddenly shifted that energy back to Stilwell, where it would stay for the remainder of the contest. The Indians used that impetuses to capture a 62-52 victory in the Vinita Big Dawg Shoot-Out championship Saturday night.
“Any time you lose, it’s hard,” Claremore coach Tommy Nolan said. “Especially when you have a group that fights so hard and has come so far in a short amount of time. But we talk about it every day. We talk about adversity and how you respond to adversity, and our kids will bounce back; they’re resilient. We’re already itching to get back in the gym.”
After Watson gave Claremore a 27-26 lead, the teams traded one-point advantages until Codey Petree sparked an offensive frenzy the Zebras struggled to match.
The 5-foot-9 junior scored eight-consecutive points via a pair of free throws, a three-point play and a 3-pointer, and Tyrus Teehee followed with a three-point play of his own to make it a 39-29 spread.
Parker Hardage answered with four straight points to cut the deficit to six early in the fourth, but Stilwell wasn’t done with its run of big plays.
This time it was Cayden Lee doing the damage, giving the Indians their third three-point play of the past four scoring possessions.
Watson answered with his own three-point play to keep Claremore within striking distance, but to no avail. The Zebras couldn’t get closer than six points the remainder of the period.
Petree finished with 14 points, but he was neither the first nor the second leading scorer on his team. That honor belonged to Teehee and Lee, who tallied 18 and 17 points, respectively.
Jase Lagers came in just behind Watson on the Claremore stat sheet, logging 14 points. Kort Seidel and Michael McHugh, who combined for 36 points in the Zebras’ semifinal victory over Lincoln Christian, were held to seven points total.
Despite the loss, Nolan said his team is eager to improve after reaching the program’s first tournament championship since 2019.
“We’re really happy with winning two, but obviously want to win three,” Nolan said. “Any time you’re in a tournament, you want to win the tournament. But at the same time, we came in as a four- or five-seed and surprised some people by beating a pretty tough Vinita team and turning around and beating a really good Lincoln Christian team, so it’s definitely something we can go back and build on.”
LADY ZEBRAS FINISH FOURTH
In a rematch of a season-opening 40-17 loss to Grove, the Claremore girls showed vast improvements.
The Lady Zebras stayed competitive throughout the contest thanks to 21 points from freshman Hope Bump, though they ultimately suffered a 47-40 setback in the third-place game of the Big Dawg Shoot-Out.
The 23-point increase in offensive production was certainly a positive coach Michael Hughes and his staff hope to build on in the coming weeks.
Claremore trailed by seven at halftime, but Grove managed to double that advantage in the third thanks to nine points from Baylee Gregg and a 6-of-8 free-throw performance. Anna Bacon added five points during the period as well.
Gregg finished with 12 points, but Elliot Greer led the Lady Ridgerunners with 18 points. Bacon added 11 points.
Bump led a comeback effort in the fourth, scoring eight of her points during that stretch, but it wasn’t enough to overcome Grove’s scoring depth.