At this week’s eighth annual Mountain Grove Holiday Tournament, the Houston High School girls basketball team came away with two wins and two losses.
Seeded fourth in the 16-team event, the Lady Tigers topped No. 13 Plato 58-47 in a first round game on Monday and then downed No. 5 Dora on Tuesday, 59-50. But Houston fell 55-44 to top-seeded Salem in a semifinal contest on Wednesday, and suffered a 51-44 defeat at the hands No. 7 Willow Springs in Thursday’s third-place game.
GOOD ENOUGH FOR A ‘W’
The Lady Tigers started off the tournament looking a bit flat and out-of-sync much of the way against Plato, but their fast-paced and athletic style ultimately proved too much for the Lady Eagles.
Houston led 18-13 at the end of the first quarter and 29-19 at halftime, and then outscored Plato 29-28 in the second half.
Junior forward Olivia Crites tossed in 9 points in the second period and led the Lady Tigers in scoring in the game with 16 points, while junior guard Aliyah Walker sank a trio of 3-pointers and had 15. Sophomore guard Angie Smith hit two treys and finished with 14 points for Houston, while junior forward Karlee Curtis added 8.
Plato senior Cara Couch led all scorers in the contest with 21 points, while senior Kara Copley had 9 and senior Ramsey Crews added 8.
A ONE-GIRL SHOW
The game against Dora was all about dealing with the Lady Falcons’ offensive juggernaut known as senior guard Cassidy Hambleton.
Using a mix of short buckets on slashing drives and long-range bombs, the 5-5 Hambleton racked up 40 points as she single-handedly accounted for 80 percent of Dora’s points total. She knocked down five 3-pointers during her onslaught and she went 9-for-10 from the free throw line.
Despite Hambleton’s presence, Houston controlled the contest most of the way, dominating the boards and causing turnovers on the defensive end, and scoring numerous points in transition. After the Lady Tigers led 51-37 at the end of the third quarter, Dora went on a 10-0 late in the final period (with Hambleton scoring all 10 points) to close the gap to 57-50 with 25 seconds left.
But as time ran down, the Lady Falcons were forced to foul and Houston made a couple of free throws to protect the lead.
Crites led the Lady Tigers in scoring again with 17 points, while Curtis fought hard in the post to score 13 (including 10 in the first half), Dzurick had 10 and Smith added 9.
Only two other players scored for Dora, as junior guard Chesney Luna had 9 points and senior forward McKenna Miller sank a foul shot to add 1.
The win was Houston’s second over Dora in a tournament game this season, as the Lady Tigers beat the Lady Falcons in overtime in the championship game at the Fordland Invitational in early December. Hambleton dropped 55 on Houston in that game, and this time HHS head coach Lindsey Vermillion kept fresh legs on her by rotating Walker, Dzurick and Smith to guard her. She was still able to score a bunch of points as her teammates set screens for her and cleared out so she could employ her ball-handling skills to more or less go 1-on-5, or shooting from deep when defenders gave her an inch.
The two teams will meet yet again Jan. 20 at Dora.
TWO GOOD QUARTERS
The Lady Tigers got off to a fast start against Salem, leading 8-2 when Smith sank a layup on a fast break with 6:08 to go in the first quarter. Houston then held a 17-10 advantage at the end of the period after Walker drained a 3-ball with 9 seconds left.
But things were very different in the second and third quarters, as Salem turned up the heat on both ends of the floor and Houston went quiet. The Lady Tigers from Dent County outscored their namesakes from Texas County 16-4 in the second period and 23-8 in the third to take a commanding 49-29 advantage into the final eight minutes.
But Houston didn’t quit and displayed high energy on both ends of the floor in the fourth quarter. The Lady Tigers reduced the deficit under double-digits when Smith made a layup on a fast break to make it a 50-41 game with about 3 minutes left, and then trailed 50-42 after a free throw by Dzurick with 2:28 to go.
But as the seconds ticked way, the spirited comeback attempt fell short and Houston’s tournament championship hopes were dashed.
Crites finished with 12 points to lead the Lady Tigers in scoring, while Smith had 10, Dzurick had 8 and Walker and junior guard Katie Jo Chipps added 5 apiece.
The Lady Tigers never led in the third-place game against Willow Springs, but threatened to overtake the Lady Bears on multiple occasions.
As the turnover bug bit Houston, Willow Springs jumped out to an 11-2 lead early in the first quarter and held a 16-8 advantage at the end of the period.
The Lady Tigers then grabbed the momentum and went on an 8-0 run to open the second period featuring 3-pointers by Walker and Smith and a basket from the lane by Crites after an offensive rebound.
But the Lady Bears responded with a 7-0 run and led 25-16 with 3:07 remaining after a pair of free throws by senior guard Ashlyn Jones.
After trailing 29-19 at halftime, Houston chipped away at the deficit again in the third period. When Dzurick connected on a fast break layup and Walker drilled a trey, the Lady Tigers had cut the deficit to 33-30 and then trailed 37-32 going into the fourth quarter.
Willow Springs once again pulled away and led 45-34 after a 3-pointer by Jones with 6:37 to go. Houston once again crept closer and cut the margin to 47-41 after a 3-point play by Crites with 1:09 left, but the Lady Bears survived.
Crites again scored 12 points for the Lady Tigers, while Curtis had 11, Walker had 9 and Dzurick added 7.
Senior forwards Sheena Lowe and Liz Sheehan each scored 15 points for Willow Springs, while Jones finished with 14.
Third-seeded Mansfield won the tournament, beating Salem 48-39 in the championship game.
The Lady Tigers (8-3 through last week) begin the January portion of the schedule with a busy stretch that kicked off with the season’s first South Central Association contest Monday at Mountain Grove and continued with a Tuesday home game against Newburg. Houston will play road games Saturday at Van Buren and Monday at Thayer.
Incredibly, the matchup with Newburg (No. 6 in the latest Class 2 rankings) is Houston’s only home game in the entire month.
To view a photo gallery from the Lady Tigers’ games in the Mountain Grove Holiday Tournament (with the option to purchase photos), click here.