For much of the first half of a Missouri State High School Activities Association Class 3 District 10 Basketball Tournament game against Hartville last Saturday in Houston, the host Lady Tigers seemed to have rediscovered the form that led to significant success during the early part of this season.
But after trailing by 9 points at halftime, the third-seeded Lady Eagles snatched the momentum after the break and went on to beat No. 6 Houston, 43-37.
Hartville led 8-7 after a back-and-forth first quarter that featured multiple ties and lead changes.
The Lady Tigers then went on a 7-2 run to open the second quarter, taking a 9-8 lead on a short bank shot by sophomore guard Angie Smith, going ahead 11-8 when Smith stole the ball on Hartville’s end of the floor and took it the distance for a layup, and holding a 14-10 advantage after a 3-pointer by junior guard Katie Jo Chipps with 5:36 left in the period.
When junior guard Aliyah Walker buried a 3-ball with 2:33 to go, Houston was on top 22-15. Then when Smith finished a fast break with a layup with 11 seconds remaining, the Lady Tigers enjoyed their biggest lead of the contest at 24-15.
The first half saw Houston display the energy and defensive tenacity that became team trademarks in December, while Smith provided the offense by pouring in 13 points (including 9 in the second quarter).
But when senior forward Mckinley Sanders knocked down a short shot with 2:05 left in the third quarter, the Lady Eagles had erased the deficit and the score was tied at 29.
After the two teams entered the final 8 minutes deadlocked at 31-all, Hartville took the lead again at 34-31 on a 3-pointer by junior guard Molly Brown with 6:10 to go in the game. The Lady Eagles used crisp ball movement to effectively run the clock down, and the Lady Tigers eventually ran out of time.
Smith led Houston in scoring in the contest with 17 points, while Chipps had 6 and junior forward Karlee Curtis added 5.
Sanders led Hartville’s offense with a game-high 26 points, sinking a 3-pointer and going 11-for-17 from the foul line in the process.
The Lady Tigers have experienced third quarter woes several times during the season.
“We looked really good during the first half but our nemesis is the third quarter right now – has been the whole season,” said head coach Lindsey Vermillion. “We’re getting so close to putting four quarters together.”
The Lady Eagles were defeated by second-seeded Mansfield in a semifinal game on Monday, 52-44, while No. 1 Licking beat Liberty 67-51 in the other semifinal. The district championship game is set for 7 p.m. Thursday (Feb. 24).
Houston was scheduled to host Salem on Wednesday of this week in a South Central Association conference game postponed from last week due to wintry weather, but as of press time, the contest was in doubt for the same reason.
After going 8-3 in 2021, the Lady Tigers (12-13, 1-5 SCA) slumped to 4-10 in 2022, coming up short in six of their last seven outings.
Vermillion is in her first season guiding girls hoops in Houston.
“This season has been a roller coaster,” she said, “but I’ve only had one summer with them. I’m ready to get back in the gym and start working for amazing things next season. We’re not going anywhere, so I am excited to get back in the lab.
“The girls know me better now and I know them, so I think you can expect great things and results in the next few years. I’m proud of the girls this season; coming in as a new coach I’m sure was nerve racking for them and me. It took a couple months to settle in and to build trust and relationships. I’m so excited for the upcoming season and to go to work in the off season.
“When the season comes knocking, it’s going to ask you what you did all summer, so I’m ready to rock n roll this off season.”
To view a photo gallery from the Lady Tigers’ district tournament game against Hartville (with the option to purchase photos), click here.