Members of the Houston High School girls basketball team might have received plenty of gifts this holiday season, but one thing they didn’t get was a victory at the 7th annual Mountain Grove Holiday Tournament.

Seeded 13th in the 16-team event, the Lady Tigers were defeated 59-41 by No. 4 Willow Springs in a first-round contest last Saturday, and then fell 41-30 to 12th-seeded Gainesville in a consolation bracket contest on Monday morning.

“We were disappointed that we didn’t play better,” said Lady Tigers head coach Brent Kell. “We felt like we had some momentum coming into the tournament, but for one reason or another it just didn’t carry over into it our game against Willow Springs and our game against Gainesville.” 

In the first round matchup with fellow South Central Association foe Willow Springs, the Lady Bears built a 15-5 lead in the first quarter, but the Lady Tigers hung around and trailed by only one more point at halftime, 33-22.

Houston pulled a little closer after the break and Willow Springs held a 43-35 lead at the end of the third period.

Then in the fourth quarter, the Lady Tigers cut the deficit to 43-38 when sophomore forward Karlee Curtis stole the ball at midcourt and scored on a 5-foot shot from the lane.

But that was as close as Houston got, as the Lady Bears went on a 15-1 run and were on top 58-39 after senior Alyssa Von Allmen sank a free throw with 2:28 to go in the game.

Sophomore forward Olivia Crites led the Lady Tigers in scoring in the contest with 11 points, while Curtis finished with 9 and senior guard Jaden Stell added 7. Three players scored in double figures for Willow Springs, as juniors Ashlyn Jones and Keena Lowe had 14 points apiece, while junior Liz Sheehan added 12 (including 7 in the first quarter).

“It was a very physical game – they bring a lot of physicality and we didn’t match it,” Kell said.

The Lady Bears outrebounded the Lady Tigers 41-25, including 16 offensive boards that resulted in 18 second-chance points.

“They were bigger than us,” Kell said, “but you still can’t allow a team to push you around the way that they did.”

On Monday, Houston was ahead of Gainesville at halftime, 19-18.

But with 6-foot senior Elizabeth Kinworthy leading the way, the Lady Bulldogs took control after the break and led 33-23 at the end of the third quarter.

Crites again led the Lady Tigers in scoring with 11 points, while Stell had 7 again and junior guard Hannah Dzurick sank two treys in the second quarter and added 6.

Kinworthy led all scorers in the contest with 15 points (including 8 during Gainesville’s decisive third quarter run), while senior guard Shayla Wages had 13 for the Lady Bulldogs and junior guard Hallee Donley nailed three 3-pointers in the first half and added 11.

Houston began the game with a strong defensive push and forced Gainesville to turn the ball over several times, but the Lady Tigers were unable to capitalize.

“We felt like we should’ve had a least a 10 point lead after the first quarter,” Kell said, “but we had too many empty trips after they committed a turnover or missed a shot. We have to do a much better job of passing and catching and shooting the basketball.”

Houston had opportunities in both contests, but fell short each time.

“For some reason, we’ve forgotten how to catch the ball and we’re making too many low passes,” Kell said. “An off-target pass leads to a poor shot. We have people wide open, but we have to reach for the pass because it’s either too low or too high and it takes us out of rhythm.”

The tournament’s championship game was set for Wednesday afternoon of this week.

The Lady Tigers (3-5) will get the 2021 portion of their season going with games on back-to-back days next week, hosting a South Central Association conference contest against Mountain Grove on Monday in Hiett Gymnasium and then traveling to Newburg for a nonconference game on Tuesday.

“We feel like we’re playing pretty good defensively, but we have to improve on the offensive end,” Kell said. “We’re going to keep working hard, have a positive attitude and try to improve on those parts of the game.”