BROKEN ARROW — Goliath-like Tulsa East Central was stunned and staggering for most of three quarters against the upset-minded Ada Lady Cougars late Thursday night at the Class 5A State Tournament in Broken Arrow.

But the top-ranked Lady Cardinals refused to fall, using a relentless defense and huge size advantage to ultimately rally past coach Jeff Maloy’s young guns, 61-49.

Tulsa East Central will meet No. 4 Claremore — who easily disposed of No. 5 Woodward 51-29 — in tonight’s 7 p.m. semifinals in a rematch of last year’s title game, while No. 11 Ada reluctantly bowed out of the state tournament with a 20-7 mark.

Ada led by as many as seven in the second quarter and was still on top by four after two Molly Maloy free throws made it 36-32 at the 2:35 mark of the third period.

But the high-octane Lady Cardinals scored the next 14 points to take the lead for good and forge their first double-digit advantage of the game at 46-36 with 6:21 to play.

“I thought for about three and a half quarters it was anybody’s game,” said Jeff Maloy.

The Lady Cougars clawed back, getting to within four at 47-43 on a Joy Barrick coast-to-coast layup after a rebound and again at 49-45 on a 17-foot jumper by Molly Maloy at the top of the key with 2:52 left.

However, a tenacious Tulsa East Central defense led to a 12-4 charge to end the game and seal Ada’s fate. The Lady Cougars would end up with 29 turnovers in the contest.

“Basketball is a game of spurts and it went back and forth the whole game. It was just sad that it ended with them having the last spurt,” Maloy said. “We’re down six (late in the fourth quarter) and we’re looking for one more run and they end up making it.”

A see-saw first half saw Ada bolt to a 9-5 lead only see the Lady Cardinals respond by scoring the next nine points.

Molly Maloy helped AHS answer by scoring six of her game-high 17 points in an 8-0 Ada run to put the locals on top 17-14.

After East Central tied the game at 18-18, the Lady Cougars got seven unanswered points from four different players — a jumper by Megan Foley, two free throws apiece from Barrick and Maloy and another charity toss from Lauren Whitworth — to grab a 25-18 advantage, their biggest of the game. Included in that AHS surge was a technical foul on East Central coach Sammy Mack.

“It was sad in the locker room, but they left it all on the floor tonight. We had a chance to win, a good chance. We just didn’t get it done in the last three minutes,” Maloy said.

The Lady Cardinals, who feature three starters that stand at least six feet tall, out-rebounded Ada, 30-15, in their 39-22 second-half spree after trailing in the battle of the boards (22-21) at halftime.

East Central shot a dismal 4-of-27 from 3-point range and 9-of-35 from the free throw line, including a 4-of-14 clip in the final eight minutes.

The Lady Cardinals entered the game by averaging an eye-popping 95 points per game throughout the playoffs. Included in the dominant postseason run was a 97-17 win over Northwest Classen, a 93-42 win over Durant and a 93-53 win over Tulsa Kelley.

“I didn’t think we came out intimidated one bit. I don’t know if we ran out of gas, or they just got a spurt at the end,” Maloy said. “But I was pleased with our kids’ effort. We ended the season on a good note.”

Senior Joy Barrick went out on a superb fashion with a strong, all-round performance that included 15 points, 13 rebounds and four steals. She was also 6-of-7 from the field.

“What a way for your senior to end her career. She had a tremendous game,” Maloy said. “She’s the type of senior that you love to have as a coach. I was just really proud of her.”

Freshmen Jourdan Clark (six points and six rebounds) and Howard (four points and seven rebounds) were also solid for the Lady Cougs. During one fourth-quarter rebound, Howard was shooting free throws and her four teammates were in the back court preparing to play defense. She missed, but still knifed her way through four Lady Cardinals and secured the carom.

The Lady Cougars, who were making their first state appearance since 2001, shot 16-of-33 (48.5%) compared to 24-of-60 (40%) for the Lady Cardinals.