Jan. 20—It was a thrilling display of both defensive prowess and offensive fireworks for Claremore.
The Zebras secured a hard-fought 51-44 win over Class 2A No. 6 Fairland in the NEO Tournament "Norse" bracket semifinals on Friday night, setting the tone early with stifling defense while limiting the Owls to only 12 points in the first half.
Teegan Mann played a pivotal role in Claremore's first-half dominance, contributing nine points, all from beyond the arc. Despite the offensive focus on Mann, the Zebras went into halftime with a slight 18-12 lead.
The second half witnessed a shift in offensive dynamics for Claremore, though.
Rex Clark found his rhythm in the third quarter, exploding for eight of his 10 points during that period. Eli Rodgers and Mann added to the offensive surge, both knocking down crucial 3-pointers.
However, Fairland showcased resilience in the third quarter as well, mounting a comeback led by Carson Schertz.
The Owls outscored the Zebras 19-14 in that period, with Schertz contributing nine points and MarKeen Webb adding six. As a result, Fairland remained within striking distance at 37-31 heading into the fourth quarter.
Schertz continued his offensive onslaught in the final period with another 10 points, finishing with 24.
Despite his efforts, the Owls struggled to match Claremore's offensive explosion, particularly from Rodgers and Will Jones.
Rodgers delivered a standout performance in the fourth quarter, scoring 10 of his 13 points, including three crucial 3-pointers. Jones, initially limited in the scoring department, erupted for seven points in the final period, contributing to the Zebras' offensive surge to finish with nine points.
Rodgers and Mann combined for eight of the team's nine 3-pointers, hitting four each and providing the offensive spark needed to secure the victory.
With this win, Claremore improved to 9-5 on the season and advanced to the tournament championship game. The Zebras will face Class 3A No. 7 Roland, boasting a 14-1 record, in a highly anticipated showdown at 9 p.m. on Saturday.
A victory would mark Claremore's second tournament championship of the season, following its earlier success in the Gravette Holiday Classic.