CABOOL –– After saying farewell to his two seniors, coach Brent Kell huddled the rest of the team. He wanted them to absorb the sting of losing the district championship game.
“I told them to remember how this game made them feel,” Kell said following the No. 6 Houston Lady Tigers’ 59-30 loss Friday to top-seeded Licking. “You’ll either grow from it and you’ll work harder or you won’t.
“I feel like these kids will use the motivation they had at the end of the season and carry it on through the offseason.”
Houston’s surprising run through the postseason –– knocking off No. 3 Alton and No. 7 Willow Springs –– came to an abrupt end in the title game of the Class 3 District 10 tournament. State-ranked Licking began pulling away with an 8-0 run to end the first half and cruised to a 59-30 victory.
It was the second consecutive district championship for the Lady Wildcats, who faced Fatima in the sectional round Wednesday.
“Their experience paid off for them and our inexperience kind of hit us.,” Kell said. “We weren’t quite ready for that big of a stage.”
Licking’s 1-3-1 trapping halfcourt defense stymied the HHS offense. The Lady Tigers shot 39.3 percent from the field and committed 21 turnovers.
Freshman Abby Casper led Houston with 12 points on 4-of-7 shooting. The Lady Tigers’ two leading scorers –– Sarah Kelley and Kylee Elmore –– were held to six and five points. Neither scored in the second half as Licking built on a 13-point advantage.
“I felt like we held back instead of attacking them, which allowed their defense to cause us problems,” Kell said. “We played passively. We had to take some tough shots and weren’t able to make them.”
Bailie Osborne scored 24 points on 9-of-13 shooting and grabbed eight rebounds to pace Licking (25-2). Megan Smith hit three of the Lady Wildcats’ four 3-pointers and scored 22 points.
Houston (10-16) stayed within striking distance early. Elmore buried a triple to start the second quarter as the Lady Tigers pulled within two points. The deficit was five when Abby Casper picked up a loose rebound, sprinted the length of the court and layed in a left-hand layup to make it 23-18. But Licking scored eight unanswered points –– highlighted by triples from Smith and Chandra Hazen –– to take a 13-point advantage at the break.
“Good teams close the quarter or half strong,” Kell said. “We weren’t able to do anything about it.”
Licking steadily pulled further away in the second half. Osborne’s layin to beat the third-quarter buzzer made it 43-26. The advantage ballooned to 23 points as Smith hit a jumper, then converted a layin on consecutive possessions with 5 minutes, 40 seconds remaining.
Despite the ending, Kell was pleased with his team’s journey through the postseason. After struggling down the stretch of the regular season, Houston won consecutive games to reach the district championship game for the first time since the 2007 season. The Lady Tigers won their last and only district title in 2004.
With Sydney Cremer and Kaylea Preheim the lone seniors on the team, Houston is eligible to return the bulk of its lineup next season.
“The experience we gained from playing in the big game should pay off for these kids in the future,” Kell said.
HOUSTON (30) – Kylee Elmore 5. Shelby Cremer 1. Abby Casper 12. Sydney Cremer 4. Sarah Kelley 6. Kaylea Preheim 2. FG 11. FT 7-11. F 14. (3-pointers: Elmore. Fouled out: none).
LICKING (59) – Laken Kebblewaite 2. Hali Littrell 2. Megan Smith 22. Bailie Osborne 24. Chandra Hazen 3. Tyanna Bisker 6. FG 20. FT 15-17. F 12. (3-pointers: Smith 3, Hazen. Fouled out: none).
Licking 59, Houston 30
Licking 65, Hartville 45
Houston 53, Willow Springs 42
Licking 71, Cabool 35
Hartville 62, Liberty 52
Willow Springs 60, Mtn. Grove 57
Houston 65, Alton 51
Hartville 70, Liberty 67
Hartville 80, Mtn. Grove 43
Liberty 88, Licking 75
Hartville 94, Houston 63
Mtn. Grove 49, Alton 48
Liberty 87, Cabool 54
Licking 60, Willow Springs 40