Houston sophomore Shelby Cremer puts up a first-half shot in traffic Saturday against Alton.

CABOOL – The Houston Lady Tigers put together their best performance in their biggest game of the season. At least the biggest thus far.

Seeded sixth in the Class 3 District 10 tournament, Houston built an early lead behind its sizzling shooting and stayed in front with poise at the free-throw line to knock off third-seeded Alton 65-51 Saturday night.

Even as his team struggled down the stretch of the season – losing six straight before beating Cabool last Thursday – coach Brent Kell said he felt his team could be a factor in the postseason.

“We just hadn’t put our best basketball together yet,” he said. “When this team does, they can be dangerous.”

And now they will be favored to make the championship game.

Instead of facing second-seeded Mountain Grove on Wednesday, the Lady Tigers (9-15) will square off with No. 7 Willow Springs in the district semifinals. The Lady Bears beat Mountain Grove 60-57 in the game before Houston’s upset win.

Top-seeded Licking, which cruised past Cabool, was the lone favored team to win in the first round. The state-ranked Lady Wildcats play fifth-seeded Hartville, which beat No. 4 Liberty, at 6 p.m. Wednesday. HHS and Willow Springs follow that contest.

The championship game is 7 p.m. Friday.

“We feel like we can win this thing,” Kell said. “Anything can happen in districts when you get here because there is a lot of pressure on those teams up top.”

The Lady Tigers’ 1-2 scoring punch of Sarah Kelley and Kylee Elmore led the way offensively. Kelley was 7-for-9 from the floor and 7-for-7 at the line en route to 21 points. Elmore scored 20 and led HHS with eight rebounds and two steals.

The duo had plenty of help.

Senior Sydney Cremer scored 10 points on her 18th birthday, Abby Casper scored eight and Shelby Cremer added four. Casper and Shelby Cremer joined Elmore with five points assists.

Houston, which led by nine at the half, shot a season-best 66.7 percent from the field and only missed one of its 16 foul shots. Kelley, Elmore and Sydney Cremer were a combined 15-for-15 at the line.

“To beat a team this caliber, you need a lot of players to chip in,” Kell said. “It was a total team effort.”

Alton shot 32.7 percent and was 4-for-22 from downtown against the Lady Tigers’ 1-3-1 zone defense. Alex Mills led the Lady Comets with 22 points.

Houston took the lead for good on Elmore’s 3-pointer with three minutes left in the first quarter. Ahead 23-20 midway through the second quarter, the Lady Tigers got a pair of baskets from Kelley and an Elmore score to lead 29-20 at the break.

Alton (21-5) got within five points early in the fourth quarter. But Houston maintained – and built – on its lead at the free-throw line. The Lady Tigers made all 14 of their fourth-quarter attempts to account for a big chunk of their final 18 points.

“I am awfully proud of our kids,” Kell said. “They felt good about the game. They just executed and did a great job.”

BOX SCORE

Houston       17     12      18      18      –      65   
Alton    14    6    20    11    –    51 

HOUSTON (65) – Kylee Elmore 20. Shelby Cremer 4. Abby Casper 8. Sydney Cremer 8. Sarah Kelley 21. Kaylea Preheim 2. FG 24. FT 15-16. F 12. (3-pointers: Elmore. Fouled out: none).

ALTON (51) – Hailee Erickson 7. Celsie Benson 5. Chandra Hollis 3. Jenna Woodside 10. Shelby Cooper 2. Alex Mills 22. Keanna Friesz 2. FG 18. FT 11-13. F 19. (3-pointers: Erickson, Benson, Hollis, Mills. Fouled out” Hollis).

Saturday’s scores

Licking 71, Cabool 35

Hartville 62, Liberty 52

Willow Springs 60, Mountain Grove 57

Houston 65, Alton 51

Wednesday’s games

Licking (23-2) vs. Hartville (13-12), 6 p.m.

Willow Springs (4-19) vs. Houston (9-15), 7:30 p.m.

Friday’s game

Championship, 6 p.m.

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