CABOOL – At full strength, the Houston Lady Tigers were too much for Liberty to handle.
Behind a pair of 13-0 runs and strong play from their two freshmen, the Lady Tigers cruised to a 41-27 victory Saturday night in the opening round of the Class 3 District 10 tournament.
Third-seeded Houston (10-14) lost its regular-season meeting with Liberty by three points in mid January. But the Lady Tigers were without starters Kendra Welch and Sarah Pierce.
With both guards back in the lineup, Houston led by eight at halftime and stretched its advantage to 19 points late in the third quarter.
“That’s a team that is scary because they are so tall and physical,” Houston coach Brent Kell said. “Our defense was pretty good in the fullcourt. We got some turnovers and easy baskets that helped.”
Junior center Holly Thomas scored 13 points to lead Houston, which won its 10th game of the season. Freshman Erica Keeney scored eight, and fellow freshman Sarah Pierce added seven.
Despite playing their first varsity season, Keeney and Pierce have been key cogs for the Lady Tigers. They proved their worth in their first postseason game.
“It was probably – both of them together – their best game of the year,” Kell said. “A lot of times you get freshmen that play weak with the basketball in their hands. But they both play physical. That’s why they are able to play varsity.”
Awaiting Houston in Wednesday’s 7:30 p.m. semifinals is second-seeded Conway, which cruised past Willow Springs Saturday night. The Lady Bears, who only have two upperclassmen and start three freshmen, are inexperienced but talented.
Kell said the key to beating Conway and advancing to Friday’s title game is handling its fullcourt pressure. The Lady Bears apply multiple trapping defenses over the entire court.
“If we handle their pressure and get past the first wave of their press, we’ll be shooting good shots – sometimes layups with nobody on you,” Kell said. “
Houston didn’t get its first points until Welch fed Thomas almost four minutes into the game. But the basket sparked a 13-0 run that put the Lady Tigers ahead 13-4.
Pierce beat the halftime buzzer with a basket in traffic to make it 18-10 and spark another run of 13 unanswered points. Five different players scored for Houston at the beginning of the third quarter as the Lady Tigers took a commanding 29-10 lead.
Houston struggled at times offensively, but the Lady Tigers grabbed a season-best 18 offensive rebounds. Keeney had 10 rebounds.
Houston 7 11 11 12 – 41
Liberty 4 6 4 13 – 27
HOUSTON – Pounds 1 3-5 5. Honig 1 0-0 2. Welch 1 2-2 5. Thomas 5 3-4 13. Harper 1 0-2 2. Pierce 3 1-2 7. Keeney 2 4-4 8. Totals 14 13-19 41.
LIBERTY – Goff 2 0-0 6. Riddle 3 4-4 10. Layman 0 1-6 1. Stephens 3 0-0 6. Spencer 0 4-4 4. Totals 8 9-14 27.
3-pointers: Houston 1 (Welch); Liberty 2 (Goff 2).