The youth movement that was the Houston High School girls basketball team’s 2019-2020 season concluded Saturday at Mountain Grove, as the Lady Tigers fell 53-48 to Liberty in the first round of the Missouri State High School Activities Association Class 3 District 4 tournament.
Sixth-seeded Houston had the No. 3 the Lady Eagles on the ropes for much of the game, leading by 9 points early in the third quarter and holding a 1-point advantage going into the final period.
“Our effort was there and the girls played their rear ends off,” said HHS head coach Jim Moore.
After a cleanly played first quarter, Liberty (of Mountain View) led 15-13.
But the Lady Tigers made shots and protected the ball in the second period, and went into halftime with a 28-24 advantage.
When junior guard Jaden Stell nailed a 3-point shot early in the third period, Houston was up 31-24. Moments later, the Lady Tigers built the game’s largest lead when freshman forward Karlee Curtis finished a fast break with a bucket to put Houston up 33-24.
But the Lady Eagles then put together a 10-0 run, and led 34-33 with 1:50 left in the quarter after a short basket by 6-foot senior Kaitlyn King and a free throw by freshman guard Chloe Kelts.
Houston regained the lead on a driving bucket in the lane by sophomore guard Hannah Dzurick, but Liberty came out on top after a hotly contested fourth quarter. The Lady Eagles went ahead 47-42 after King sank a shot from the low blocks with 4 minutes to go, but the Lady Tigers closed the gap to 47-46 when freshman guard Katie Chipps made two free throws with 2:05 left.
As time ran down, Houston missed a couple of shots that might have made a difference.
“The girls really executed our game plan,” Moore said. “They were extremely aggressive in the first half, and even in the third and fourth quarter. But our youth showed again and we got a little bit tight late. We have to learn how to win, but tonight was a huge step forward. We got drilled by them earlier in the season, but this time we had them on the run for most of the game.”
Dzurick finished with 19 points to lead Houston in scoring, while Stell had 14. King led all scorers in the game with 24 points, including 11 in the fourth quarter.
Houston’s starting lineup in the contest featured two juniors, a sophomore and two freshmen, and Moore used three reserves, all freshmen.
Meanwhile, Liberty had three senior starters and relied mostly on upperclassmen. The Lady Eagles beat the Lady Tigers 72-43 in a South Central Association conference game in January.
“They made a couple of big plays late, and you have to credit them for that,” Moore said. “We had opportunities toward the end, but the ball came off of our hands and we missed a couple of shots. But I’m so proud of the girls and I think we took a giant step toward growing up and becoming the team we know we can be.”
UP-AND-DOWN FINAL WEEK CONCLUDES UP-AND-DOWN SEASON
Prior to the district tournament loss, Houston (8-17, 1-6 SCA) played three SCA games last week. The Lady Tigers split two at home, losing to Salem 54-20 on Monday and beating Willow Springs 68-58 on Wednesday, before falling 33-25 Thursday at Mountain Grove.
“I know the season’s over,” Moore said, “but I didn’t have to say goodbye to anybody in the locker room and that’s really exciting. We can’t wait to see what happens in the future.”