By BEN JOHNSON
Tahlequah needed a win and some help to at least retain a piece of the Metro Lakes Conference crown on Friday night. The Lady Tigers were triumphant, 57-50, in front of an on-edge crowd at the TMAC, but some assistance from Skiatook fell short.
By the end of the evening, Tahlequah had handed the league title over to Collinsville. But the silver lining for the Lady Tigers was the opportunity to ruin Claremore’s chances at the conference championship.
“Well, that’s good,” said Tahlequah coach Chad Walker, whose team could have enjoyed a share of Metro Lakes Conference gold, but Collinsville blasted Skiatook, 40-27, to win the league outright.
Tahlequah, ranked seventh in Class 5A, atoned for an early-season loss to No. 16 Claremore by attacking early. The Lady Tigers (14-9, 9-3 Metro Lakes Conference) took control and expanded an 11-8 lead into a 19-11 advantage after Claremore’s Anna McGuire picked up her second foul.
During that time, Whitney Wright took over and wrecked havoc for the Lady Zebras (12-10, 9-3). The junior guard tallied 21 points on a 9-of-10 shooting effort from the floor.
“I feel like there is [more responsibility on me to score],” said Wright, who also recorded four rebounds and three assists. “I think (Walker) relies on me to go to the goal a lot, and he pushes at me to go back the way I came and drive. I’ll make my free throws and do my best, and that’s what he pushes me to do every day.”
Said Walker of Wright’s season-high scoring performance: “She did a good job. I get on her a little bit because of some silly turnovers sometimes, but we all have silly turnovers. She’s done a really good job for us this year. We’ve used her as both a guard and a forward, and she’s done a really good job.”
Claremore coach Stephanie Shaw said her club did an atrocious job of covering Wright — and every other Tahlequah player.
“I thought, one, our defense was terrible,” she said. “It’s funny, I told the team that we’re now 0-7 any time we give up more than 50 points, because we have a hard time scoring and we know that. For the seventh time this year, we’ve proven if we give up for than 50 points that we’re going to lose.”
After Tahlequah took a 30-19 edge into intermission, the two conference rivals went back and forth in a sloppy, haphazard third quarter, which resulted in as points as turnovers (13).
“The whole third quarter, we were too busy making the extra pass instead of making an open shot in the paint,” Walker said. “We were just turning it over...and maybe with Senior Night we were just letting things slip our minds.”
Making a late-ditch attempt to climb back in the contest, Claremore got some help from Walker during the early stages of the fourth quarter. At the 7:04 mark, Walker received a technical foul, allowing Ashlyn Glenn — who led Claremore with 12 points in the game — to make two free throws before draining a field goal to cut Tahlequah’s 10-point lead to 37-31.
“That guy T’s me up for yelling ‘bulldog,’ which is our press-breaker,” Walker said. “I thought that was pretty sorry of him. But I wasn’t happy with the officiating anyway.”
Luckily, Walker had Alissa Haley to bail him out. The senior guard drained one of her four made 3-pointers in the game, extending Tahlequah’s lead back up to 10 (41-31) with 6:23 to play.
“When Alissa hit that,” Wright said, “it boosted our confidence”
Hadley tossed in 13 points for the Lady Tigers, while Randee O’Donnell added 10 points and six rebounds.
Hadley’s trey was part of a 7-0 run, which helped Tahlequah balloon its lead to 44-31. Then, a little less than three minutes later, Hadley buried her final 3-pointer of the night to give Tahlequah a 48-38 lead.
From there, Tahlequah — which made 46.2 percent (18 of 39) of its field goals — would cruise to another double-digit lead, with Claremore performing cosmetic work on the final score with two Cherokee Gott 3-pointers inside the final 90 seconds.
The Lady Zebras suffered through a horrid shooting exhibition. Glenn was 4 of 10 from the floor, and that was Claremore’s best shooter. As a club, the Lady Zebras were 19 of 55 (34.5 percent) from the floor and 7 of 26 (26.9 percent) from beyond the 3-point arc.
“It’s very disappointing when they came in as flat as they did,” Shaw said. “It’s disappointing when that’s how you close out the regular season.”
Claremore will open up 5A playoff action against Tulsa Memorial at Edison on Thursday. Tahlequah will be back at home on the same night, opening postseason action against Coweta.
“I think this win,” Wright said, “helped us a lot going into the playoffs.”
Tahlequah (girls) 57, Claremore 50
Cla 11 8 6 25 -- 50
Tah 19 11 7 20 -- 57
Claremore (12-10, 9-3): Ashlyn Glenn 12, Anna McGuire 10, Cherokee Gott 9, Kaleigh Cox 9, Reynolds 4, Taylor 3, Johnson 3.
Tahlequah (14-9, 9-3): Whitney Wright 21, Alissa Hadley 13, Randee O’Donnell 10, Girdner 6, Beaston 4, Carnes 2, Blevins 1.