Improved defensive play in the second half made the difference for Fairland’s girls during their 55-44 victory over Bluejacket Saturday in the Girls’ Blue championship game.

“We did things right in the second half,” Fairland coach Brandon Lierle said. “We started hitting some shots and the defense picked it up a little bit. That’s what we needed to do.

“In the first half, we gave up some easy ones to the Ayres girl (6-1 junior post Lauren Ayres). We didn’t do a very good job on her, so I told the girls in the second half that we were going to sink and double to make it tough on her.”

It worked for the most part: Ayres had nine points in the first half on shots in the paint. She had 10 in the second half, but six came on 3-point bombs in the final 81 seconds.

By then, Fairland had iced the victory, giving the Lady Owls their first Northeastern A&M High School Basketball Tournament title since 2004.

Bluejacket was looking for an unprecedented 19th NEO title dating back to 1970. It was the first time the Lady Chieftains had reached the title since 2005, when they lost to Picher-Cardin 54-47.

“We were pretty lazy for a while in the first half, but we hooked up and played really hard in the second half,” Lierle said. “We’ve come a long ways in the last two weeks. We’re just going to get better and better, then see what happens. Playoff time is coming up.”

The game was nip-and-tuck in the first half, the second quarter especially — there were seven lead changes and one tie.

A free throw by Cheyanne Hall with 40.3 seconds left until intermission gave the Lady Chieftains a 20-19 advantage.

Emily Shelton hit two free throws with 32 seconds left in the half, giving the Lady Owls the load for good.

Fairland held a 15-5 edge in the third quarter then held on as Bluejacket held a 19-15 edge over the final eight minutes.

“The girls were angry about getting second,” Bluejacket coach Michael Schnatz said. “I told them losers are excited while the losers are upset.”

Suezann Pascoe had 12 points to lead Fairland’s scoring. Ashlee Davis added nine.

Sam Williams joined Ayres in double figures with 12 points.