The Thomas More Prep-Marian girls had been making a habit of starting slow and then being forced to claw back in their first few games.

The trend was reversed for the Monarchs in Friday's home opener against Oakley.

TMP got out to a strong start and remained in control through three quarters before overcoming a rough fourth frame to hold off the Plainsmen 45-37 at Al Billinger Fieldhouse.

“We’ve been starting off real slow this year,” TMP-Marian coach Rose McFarland said. “We dig ourselves in a hole and then we fight back. Today our focus was to start out quickly and get a good run going early, and we did that. Then at the end we got tentative. … But you know what, we hung on. Just happy to have that win.”

The Monarchs (3-3, 2-0 MCL) built a double-digit lead in the first quarter, led 27-19 at halftime and pushed the advantage to 40-26 at the end of the third quarter. But the Monarchs scuffled through a five-point fourth quarter, allowing Oakley to creep back within six with just over a minute left. The Plainsmen had two chances to draw closer inside the final minute but TMP came up with a pair of stops and senior point guard Jillian Lowe hit two free throws to push the lead back to eight.

“It’s a learning experience,” McFarland said. “We did some things we shouldn’t have done. We took a couple quick shots there at the very end and then didn’t handle their pressure as well as we should have … But that’s why we’re here — we’re learning. It’s hard to emulate those things in practice and it was nice to get out there tonight against them.”

Sophomore Kyleigh Allen and junior Adell Riedel paced the Monarchs with 11 points each while senior Emily Schippers and Lowe added eight and seven points, respectively.

“This was probably our most complete game shooting from the outside,” McFarland said. “We’ve been struggling shooting a little bit. Emily Schippers has been shooting pretty good from the outside, but tonight Kyleigh hit some big shots. Adell was hitting shots. Jillian’s been handling the ball and having to get the ball in the hands of the right people. And I thought our inside people stepped up and played much better than they’ve been playing.”

Oakley’s Jordyn Lowrie scored a game-high 13 points and blocked several shots. 

McFarland expects it to be a strong year for the MCL as a whole.

“We know we got a target on our back, because we’ve done well since we’ve been in the league,” she said. “I think everybody’s gunning for us. But that’s what makes it fun. We just have to step and be ready for every game.

“I think our league is more balanced this year than it’s ever been. The teams are getting better. It’ll make the season more competitive, and I think that will help all our teams in our conference at the end of the year when we all go into postseason.”

TMP-Marian 45, Oakley 37

Oakley … 8 … 11 … 7 … 11 … — … 37

TMP-Marian … 17 … 10 … 13 … 5 … — … 45

Oakley — Lowrie 13, Johnson 7, Shellito 6, Renner 3, Allison 3, Kohlman 5.

TMP-Marian — Shippers 8, Lowe 7, Lane 3, Riedel 11, Allen 11, Wasinger 5.