MOUNTAIN GROVE –– The first step toward what would be a fairytale ending for their retiring coach –– and just the second ever district title in program history –– was an easy one for the Houston Lady Tigers.

Top-seeded HHS buried Mountain Grove with a 23-1 run to start Saturday’s game and advanced to the semifinals of the Class 3 District 10 tournament with a 67-28 victory.

“I couldn’t be more pleased with our desire and intensity on the defensive end,” Lady Tigers coach Brent Kell said. “What I liked is we didn’t give them a chance to feel good about themselves on their home court.”

Houston’s impressive district debut came not long after a disappointing loss. The Lady Tigers were beaten 49-48 at Liberty last Thursday in the regular-season finale.

“One of the things I love about this team is that they hate to lose,” Kell said. “They took that loss hard Thursday night, and we had a tremendous, aggressive practice that carried over into today.”

Houston (18-7) faced Licking on Wednesday in the semifinals. If the Lady Tigers won, they would play the Willow Springs-Ava winner at 5 p.m. Saturday in the championship game.

Senior Sarah Kelley scored 10 of her game-high 20 points in the third quarter to lead HHS. Kaitlyn Root added 10 points off the bench and Jaydin Ramsey hit two of the team’s five 3-pointers en route to eight points.

Ten different players scored for the Lady Tigers in the victory.

“We played 12 girls and everyone did something positive,” Kell said. “There are girls on our bench that I know can play. It’s just a numbers game, and they understand that.

“Everyone got some district action. I feel good about that.”

Houston took control from the get-go.

Ramsey hit a pair of early 3-pointers as Houston jumped ahead 8-1. The lead stretched to 17-1 on Kelley’s putback and a bucket from Alyssa Hayes.

Root converted an offensive stickback, Makayla Koch hit a jumper and Hayes scored in the post as the Lady Tigers went ahead 23-1 with 37 seconds left in the first quarter.

Mountain Grove didn’t get its first field goal until Mary Pursell’s 3-pointer with 11 seconds left in the first.

“I don’t remember us being anymore aggressive at anytime this year,” Kell said.

Houston led 30-12 before increasing the advantage even more with a 9-0 run to end the first half.

Krista Scott hit a 3-pointer to spark the rally. Kelley knocked down a jumper, Shelby Cremer converted a drive to the basket and Ramsey scored on the interior to make it 39-12 at the half.

BOX SCORE

Saturdays game

Class 3 District 10

Mtn. Grove 4 8 11 5 –– 38

Houston 23 16 19 9 –– 67

HOUSTON (67) – Kaitlyn Root 10. Shelby Cremer 7. Krista Scott 3. Abby Casper 5. Monica Hunter 2. Makayla Koch 4. Sarah Kelley 20. Jaydin Ramsey 8. Alyssa Hayes 2. Chloe Hunninghake 6. FG 26. FT 10-16. F 11. (3-pointers: Ramsey 2, Hunninghake 2, Scott. Fouled out: none).

Saturday’s scores

First round

Houston 67, Mountain Grove 28

Licking 52, Forsyth 45

Willow Springs 67, Hollister 48

Ava 56, Liberty

Wednesday’s games

Semifinals

(1) Houston vs. (4) Licking, 6 p.m.

(2) Willow Springs vs. (6) Ava, 7:30 p.m.

Saturday’s game

Championship, 5 p.m.

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