Districts

The Houston Lady Tigers are playing their best stretch of basketball this season. Coach Brent Kell is hopeful the momentum will carry over into this weekend’s district tournament.

The eighth-seeded Lady Tigers face No. 9 Alton at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in a play-in game of the Class 3 District 2 tournament.

The boys’ game is identical. The No. 8 Tigers play ninth-seeded Alton at 1 p.m. Saturday in a play-in game. Both contests are at Cabool High School.

After starting the season with losses in nine of their first 11 games, the Lady Tigers (8-16) went 6-5 to conclude the season. That stretch included double-digit victories Friday and Saturday night against Thayer and Liberty — teams that had beaten Houston by double digits earlier in the year.

“We’re playing our best basketball of the season,” Kell said. “Even though we lost Monday at Laquey, we are playing pretty darn well.”

Houston is led by senior forward Erica Keeney, who is averaging team-highs of 17 points and 9.5 rebounds per game. But Kell said it’s the team’s perimeter players who may be most important.

In Friday’s victory against Thayer, sophomore Amber Sillyman knocked down a career-best five 3-pointers. The following night against Liberty, senior Tory Burgess drained four 3s in the third quarter alone.

“Boy, that’s what we’ve been after all year,” Kell said. “Tory and Amber have really started shooting the ball like I knew they could. It opens up the inside even more because now they have to honor that outside threat.”

The Lady Tigers have not faced Alton this season. Kell said the two were “almost identical type teams.” He believes his team has an advantage on the interior with Keeney, Alexa Ichord and Elizabeth Hayes.

Despite being undersized at 5 feet, 6 inches tall, Keeney has proven to be a tough matchup for opponents. The three-year starter has scored more than 1,000 points in her career and averaged nearly a double-double the past two seasons.

“I’ve had head coaches talk about how well she jumps and how strong she is,” Kell said. “I’ve often said if she was 5-9 or 5-10, she’d be first team all-state probably three years in a row. It would be scary if she was that tall.”

The Tigers have endured a difficult season with a young, inexperienced lineup. They have managed just three victories — but one was a 57-55 win in late December against Alton.

Coach Dustin Kirkman, who earned his first career victory that night, said protecting the ball against Alton’s fullcourt pressure will be important for the Tigers (3-20) to repeat their previous victory. Houston no longer has Curry Van Horn, the team’s starting point guard who scored 11 points and along with Weston Walker, handled the ball against the Comets’ press.

“It will be a big key to see if Weston handles the pressure,” Kirkman said.

There were 12 lead changes and 10 ties the first time Houston and Alton played. It was also physical. There were 55 combined fouls — leading to 64 free throws — and five players fouled out.

The Tigers, who complete their regular season tonight (Thursday) against Stoutland), snapped an 11-game losing streak with a 64-62 win last week against Cabool. They lost a four-point decision to Mountain Grove on Thursday before consecutive losses to Ava and Seymour.

“We’ve had a couple good games back-to-back, even though we haven’t come out on top,” Kirkman said.

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