On Monday of last week, the Houston High School girls basketball team won its first South Central Association conference game of the season, prevailing at Mountain Grove, 48-40.

But on Monday of this week, the Lady Tigers were defeated in their second SCA game, falling 60-55 at Thayer.

Playing cohesively on both ends of the floor throughout most of the contest at Mountain Grove, the Lady Tigers dominated the action in the first half and led 28-14 at the break before the young Lady Panthers squad managed to reduce the deficit in the second half.

Junior forward Olivia Crites led Houston’s offense by scoring a game-high 19 points, tossing in 11 in the first half and 8 more in the fourth quarter, while going 5-for-5 at the free throw line. Two other Lady Tigers scored in double-figures, as junior guard Aliyah Walker sank two 3-pointers in the first half and finished with 12 points, while senior guard Hannah Dzurick added 10.

Freshman forward Raylee Stenzel led Mountain Grove in scoring with 11 points, while junior forward Reagan Hoerning had 9, sophomore guard Campbell Welch had 7 and sophomore guard Kaily Wake added 6.

SIX IS ENOUGH

The following night, Houston fell 49-40 in a home game against Newburg.

The visiting Lady Wolves came to Houston with only six players, but that turned out to be plenty.

The contest featured lots of contact from the opening tip to the final horn, Newburg continuously bodied-up to the Lady Tigers on both ends of the floor.

The two teams matched each other evenly in the first half, trading baskets and short scoring runs on the way to an 18-all tie at the break. Newburg then got a bit of an edge and led 34-28 at the end of the third period, and increased the advantage by another 3 points in the fourth.

HHS junior forward Olivia Crites dribbles near the free throw line during the second half of the Lady Tigers’ loss to Newburg last week.

The Lady Wolves started fast and were ahead 6-0 after senior forward Claire Affolter sank two foul shots with 4:40 left in the first quarter. But Houston responded with an 8-0 run and took the lead when Crites made two free throws with 33 seconds remaining in the period.

The Lady Tigers led 16-12 after sophomore guard Angie Smith hit an 8-foot shot from the left baseline with 2:30 to go in the second quarter, but Newburg then scored 6 unanswered points and held an 18-16 advantage with 52 second showing. With only 3 seconds left in the half, Crites grabbed and offensive rebound and connected on a put-back shot from the middle of the lane to knot the score at halftime.

Crites led Houston’s balanced scoring in the game with 9 points, while Smith, Walker and junior guard Katie Jo Chipps each had 6. Dzurick and junior forward Karlee Curtis scored 5 points apiece for the Lady Tigers, while junior guard Maddy Riley nailed a 3-ball in the fourth period and finished with 3.

Affolter led Newburg in scoring with 19 points, while sophomore guard Halle Roach had 10 and sophomore forward Mary Rosa added 9.

The Lady Wolves were ranked sixth in the most recent Class 2 poll.

HHS junior guard Aliyah Walker eyes the basket between Newburg defenders Halle Roach, left, and Bailey Brookshire.

Last Saturday, Houston fell 88-53 to Ellington at the annual Van Buren Shootout. During her high school days, HHS head coach Lindsey Vermillion was a star guard for Van Buren.

Ellington came into the contest ranked fourth in the most recent Class 2 poll.

The Lady Tigers’ game at Thayer was their eighth in a stretch of 14 days. Statistical information from the contest was not available by press time.

“We have been extremely busy,” Vermillion said, “but I think the girls are handling it well. I just keep reminding them to get plenty of sleep and we try to get into the gym and get shots up as often as we can.

“When we played at Mountain Grove, I feel like we started to look like ourselves at the beginning of the game. I felt like we looked rejuvenated with a couple days of rest. We had a few defensive breakdowns toward the end of the game, but we didn’t let that keep us from winning.”

The Lady Tigers (9-6, 1-1 SCA through Monday) head for Mountain View on Thursday of this week for an SCA matchup with Liberty.

Houston travels to Dora next Thursday (Jan. 20) to face the Lady Falcons for the third time this season. The Lady Tigers won the first two matchups, including a 76-70 overtime victory in the championship game of the Fordland Invitational Tournament in early December and a 59-50 triumph in the second round of the Mountain Grove Holiday Tournament in late December. Dora senior guard Cassidy Hambleton scored 55 points in the first game and 40 in the second.

“We’re still trying to put the pieces together,” Vermillion said, “and I feel we are getting very close to doing that. At this point in the season, we have to keep learning how to read each other on the floor. We need to keep working on pushing the ball and playing Lady Tiger basketball and not the basketball our opponent is playing.

“We need to work on not playing to the level of our competition and playing Lady Tiger basketball, and I feel we are getting there. We just have to keep pushing and use adversity as a positive instead of a negative.”

Houston won’t play another home game until Ava comes to town on Feb. 3.

HHS sophomore guard Angie Smith makes a move to the basket while being guarded by Newburg senior Claire Affolter.

Doug Davison

Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Contact him by phone at 417-967-2000 or by email at ddavison@houstonherald.com.

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