A showdown for control of the South Central Association slipped away from the Houston Lady Tigers.

HHS couldn’t hang onto a six-point advantage entering the fourth quarter and lost to Salem 63-57 Monday night inside Hiett Gymnasium.

Although the Lady Tigers (14-5, 3-1 SCA) aren’t completely out of the conference title race, they’ll need help to share part of the crown. Salem moved to 4-0 with three SCA games to go.

“The girls were pretty upset. They were in tears in the locker room,” HHS coach Brent Kell said. “They really wanted to win this game.”

Houston was in position to do so.

Sarah Kelley’s conventional three-point play and a jumper by sophomore Kaitlyn Root put HHS ahead 44-38 after the third quarter. But the advantage disappeared as Salem, the fifth-ranked team in Class 4, went on a 15-2 run to start the fourth and clinch the comeback victory.

Kelley led the Lady Tigers with 22 points. Abby Casper added 10.

Payton Curley, who scored 18 of Salem’s first 25 points to start the game, finished with a game-high 30 points.

Kell said he and assistant coach John Jordan discussed switching to a box-and-one defense. But because the team had played Saturday night and didn’t have enough practice time to install the gimmick defense, they decided against it.

“Curley is a load,” Kell said. “She’s a special player.”

Some of the sting was taken away afterwards as Kell, who is retiring at the end of the season, was greeted by many of his former with a surprise ceremony. Many shared their favorite memories from his 30-year career at HHS.

This year’s team made a preseason goal to earn Kell the conference crown in his final season. But unless Salem loses one of its last three SCA games –– at Cabool and home against Willow Springs and Thayer –– they will come up just short.

“I appreciate my players,” Kell said. “They gave it their all, we just came up short.”

BOX SCORE

Salem 16 12 10 25 – 63

Houston 19 7 11 20 – 57

HOUSTON (57) – Kaitlyn Root 8. Shelby Cremer 6. Abby Casper 10. Makayla Koch 3. Sarah Kelley 22. Jaydin Ramsey 6. (3-pointers: Casper 2, Ramsey 2. Fouled out: none).

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