Houston seniors, from left, Krista Scott, Shelby Cremer, Makayla Koch and Sarah Kelley celebrate with the first-place plaque after beating Salem 63-56 Friday night to win the Lady Bulldog Invitational.

CABOOL – The Houston Lady Tigers entered the season with titles on their minds. One down. And they hope more to come.

Behind swarming fullcourt pressure and a milestone moment for senior Sarah Kelley, second-seeded HHS knocked off No. 1 Salem 63-56 Friday night to win the Lady Bulldog Invitational.

“This group of kids is pretty focused on their goals. That goes a long way in reaching them,” Lady Tigers coach Brent Kell said. “Knocking off a team like this that has had a lot of success is a step in the right direction.”

With the bulk of last year’s 20-win team remaining, Houston (5-1) set preseason goals of 20 victories, a conference title and district title. Beating Salem – the defending South Central Association champions – in the first matchup of the season makes those goals attainable.

HHS basketball

Sarah Kelley receives the game ball Friday night after scoring her 1,000th career point. Kelley reached the milestone in the second quarter.

The lone loss thus far for the Lady Tigers, ranked 10th in Class 3, was in the season opener to seventh-ranked Fair Grove.

“They’re focused and they want it,” Kell said. “I don’t feel like we’ve played our best basketball yet.”

HHS clinched the championship with a pivotal six-point swing to begin the fourth quarter.

After Salem concluded the third quarter with a 7-0 run to tie the game, the Lady Tigers got the lead right back. Junior Abby Casper knocked down a 3-pointer on the first possession of the fourth quarter and following a turnover on the ensuing inbound play, Kelley drilled a triple from the right wing to make it 48-42.

HHS never trailed again.

“I thought we came out really focused,” Kell said. “I was worried because we weren’t focused in practice yesterday. I probably yelled as loud as I’ve ever yelled in my life at one point.”

Kelley scored 10 of her 20 points in the first half to lead three players in double figures. Sophomore Kaitlyn Root scored a career-best 14 points and Casper added 11.

The Lady Tigers protected their lead by going 11-for-18 at the free-throw line in the fourth quarter.

Kelley became one of just a handful of players in Kell’s tenure to score 1,000 career points when she converted a left-handed layup while being fouled with 2 minutes, 15 seconds remaining in the first half. Kelley made the free throw.

“She’s a matchup nightmare for most of the people we play,” Kell said. “It just goes to show you that hard work pays off. She works hard at every aspect of her game. I’m so proud she was able to do that.”

BOX SCORE

Houston 12 22 8 21 – 63

Salem 14 14 14 14 – 56

HOUSTON (63) – Kaitlyn Root 14. Shelby Cremer 4. Abby Casper 11. Stephani Crewse 3. Makayla Koch 2. Sarah Kelley 20. Jaydin Ramsey 2. Emily Shea 2. Alyssa Hayes 5. FG 21. FT 17-27. F 16. (3-pointers: Kelley 2, Casper, Crewse. Fouled out: none).

HHS basketball

Seniors Shelby Cremer, left, and Sarah Kelley celebrate as the final horn sounds in the championship game of the Lady Bulldog Invitational.

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