By BEN JOHNSON
The District 5A-3 race just got a little tighter.
Claremore waltzed into Lady Tiger Field and coasted to a 6-2 victory over Tahlequah on Thursday afternoon in a clash of the top two teams in 5A-3.
Claremore — who entered the day two games back of Tahlequah in the standings — smacked 10 hits and sprinted to an early 3-0 lead, which the Lady Zebras clung to until posting three more runs in the sixth frame.
“This is the game we circled before the season, and it was our measuring-stick game,” Claremore coach Jim Sherl said. “This is probably the best team in (Class) 5A, and we just want to see how we measure up and how we do.”
The Lady Zebras (17-6, 8-2 District 5A-3) fared just fine.
Tahlequah, on the other hand, mustered only five hits and only put together a brief offensive rally with a two-run third inning.
“We don’t throw strikes, we don’t make plays and we don’t hit the ball,” Tahlequah coach Matt Cloud said. “You’ve got to win two out of those three, and we lost all three of them. We didn’t do anything better than they did.”
The Lady Tigers endured only their second loss of the season, dropping to 26-2 overall and 9-1 in the league play.
Claremore set the tone from the get-go when Madison Bright reached base on a fielding error by Tahlequah third baseman Lainey Wallace. Bright would score later in the inning when Tahlequah pitcher Lindsay Wade walked Hailey Seago with the bases loaded.
Then, in the second inning, it was a two-out walk to Bright that landed Wade in trouble again. Bright scored a few seconds later on Stephanie Schivally’s triple to left field, and Krista Wolfe followed with a RBI single.
From there, Claremore would never relinquish its advantage.
“This game is so much about momentum,” Sherl said. “When we come out and score early and then go get them out and come score again, that gets all the momentum going our way. Makes our kids feel better about themselves.”
Claremore pitcher Ally Johnson baffled Tahlequah hitters all game long, throwing 54 of her 74 pitches for strikes. She logged seven strikeouts while issuing two runs (both earned) on five hits.
In a losing effort, Wade needed 138 pitches to get through seven innings. Five of the six runs she allowed were earned, and her seven strikeouts were canceled out by five walks.
“They took advantage of walks,” Cloud said of Claremore. “I guess they’re the team to beat.”
Tahlequah will play at McAlester on Monday, while Claremore continues in 5A-3 play Tuesday against Grove.