Brent Kell felt his team was destined to win the district championship.
He’s at a loss to explain why the Houston Lady Tigers didn’t.
Flat from the get-go and struggling from the field through three quarters, Houston couldn’t make up a 16-point deficit as the Lady Tigers lost 49-41 Saturday night to top-seeded Seymour in the Class 3 District 10 final.
Kell said it was a difficult defeat to swallowing knowing his team didn’t play its best.
“I really felt like this team was destined to move on,” Kell said. “For one reason or another, we didn’t play the game we needed to play. I can’t put my finger on why.”
Seymour (22-5) advanced to face Fatima (14-13) in Wednesday’s sectional at the University of Missouri-Rolla.
With a starting lineup of three underclassmen, Houston wasn’t supposed to be in position to win the program’s second-ever district championship. But expectations rose as the Lady Tigers (16-10) came together to earn a share of the SCA title and the district’s second seed.
“We had a really good season and maybe exceeded expectations, at least as people looked on from the outside and maybe even myself,” Kell said. “We just wish it was still going.”
Houston was sharp in its first two district games, even with a handful of players under the weather. But the Lady Tigers struggled mightily against Seymour. They missed open shots, gave sharpshooter Laura Gavin four wide-open 3-pointers and didn’t get a single point from Holly Thomas and Lexie Malam — the team’s top two scorers — until the fourth quarter.
All were factors in a flat championship showing.
“We didn’t play as well as we should have. Sometimes that happens and you don’t know why,” Kell said. “We just weren’t in the game the way we needed to be mentally.”
Senior Trezha Malam scored 20 points in her final game and sophomore Kendra Welch had nine before fouling out. They were the only Lady Tigers to score through the first three quarters. Thomas, the team’s leading scorer, scored all six of her points in the final 2 minutes, 19 seconds and Lexie Malam finished with five.
“I’m not going to blame anybody,” Kell said. “It was all of us.”
Behind a rowdy student section — featuring fans dressed as a gorilla, Spiderman and scuba diver, as well as checkered and spiked hairdos — the Lady Tigers rallied from an early deficit and led 10-9 when Welch drilled a transition jumper.
But that was Houston’s last lead.
Seymour, which won its 11th consecutive game, scored 14 of the next 16 points for a double-digit advantage and led by 16 entering the fourth quarter.
Trezha and Lexie Malam hit consecutive 3-pointers to cut the deficit to 10, and Seymour’s lead shrunk to eight when Trezha Malam nailed a baseline jumper with 4:33 to go. Houston got as close as seven on Trezha Malam’s conventional 3-point play with 1:06 left, but three Seymour free throws stretched the lead back to double figures.
Kell said the Lady Tigers’ game plan was to shut down Gavin and Amber Cook with their zone defense at the expense of giving their teammates open looks. But the duo combined to score 30 points.
“The big thing was not knowing where Gavin was all the time,” Kell said. “We didn’t execute our game plan in that sense. She got three wide-open looks and that was disappointing because that was our focus point.”
Their championship aspirations gone, the Lady Tigers were visibly overcome with emotion as they left the court. Kell said it was especially hard for seniors Trezha and Lexie Malam.
“When we said goodbye to the seniors, it was very emotional,” Kell said. “Those two were our leaders all year long and we’ll miss them.”
Houston 10 7 4 20 — 41
Seymour 14 11 12 12 — 49
HOUSTON (16-10) — TMalam 7 3-4 20. LMalam 2 0-2 5. Honig 0 1-2 1. Welch 4 0-0 9. Thomas 3 0-0 6. Moore 0 0-2 0. Totals 16 4-10 41.
SEYMOUR (22-5) — Coday 2 4-7 8. Gavin 5 4-4 18. Lansdown 1 1-2 3. Bunch 2 2-2 6. Zimmerman 0 2-2 2. Cook 3 5-6 12. Totals 12 17-23 49.
3-pointers: Houston 5 (TMalam 3, LMalam, Welch); Seymour 4 (Gavin 4).