At last week’s 31st annual Lady Lion Invitational Tournament at Mansfield, the Houston High School girls basketball team won 2-out-of-3 games to take the event’s third-place trophy.
Seeded second in the eight-team event, the Lady Tigers defeated Aurora 45-40 in a first round contest on Tuesday, but were then beaten by No. 3 Springfield Catholic in Thursday’s semifinals, 54-51. Houston rebounded to top fourth-seeded Dora in Saturday’s third-pace matchup, 59-54.
The Lady Tigers rode a stellar fourth quarter performance to beat Aurora. Houston trailed 24-18 at halftime and 33-29 at the end of the third period before finding their groove and outscoring the seventh-seeded Lady Houns 16-7 in the final 8 minutes.
The contest was the Lady Tigers’ first in more than two weeks, as a Jan. 13 South Central Association conference game at Liberty was postponed due to COVID-19 and a Jan. 20 nonconference matchup at Dora was canceled due to a “scheduling conflict.” Houston looked rusty in the first half, committing several turnovers and allowing several offensive rebounds while having trouble finding their shooting touch.
But after falling behind 26-18 early in the third quarter, the Lady Tigers got rolling and cut the deficit 33-29 when junior forward Karlee Curtis sank a five-foot shot from the baseline with just under a minute left in the period.
Houston then took control with a 10-0 run in the fourth quarter, holding the Lady Houns scoreless for more than half of the period.
The Lady Tigers’ full-court defensive pressure paid big dividends, and caused a crucial turnover with the scored tied at 33.
Sophomore guard Angie Smith led Houston in scoring with 14 points, while senior guard Hannah Dzurick had 12 and junior forward Olivia Crites and junior guard Aliyah Walker added 6 apiece.
Junior forward Ellie Creasey led Aurora in scoring with 15 points, while freshman guard Makena Hall had 9 and junior guard Payden Blevins added 7.
Assistant coaches Dan Narancich and Jacob Threewit guided Houston in the contest, as head coach Lindsey Vermillion was absent after recently having a surgical procedure.
A FREE THROW BARRAGE
The Lady Tigers got off to a quick start in the contest against Springfield Catholic, leading 21-16 at the end of the first quarter.
But the Lady Irish outscored Houston 18-9 in the second period and never looked back.
Crites poured in eight short-range field goals in the contest and led the Lady Tigers in scoring with 21 points, while Curtis had 9 and Walker added 7.
Sophomore Katie Galligos led the Catholic in scoring with 14 points, while senior Avery Ahlstrand and freshman Peyton Wiseman had 11 apiece and sophomore Olivia Swisshelm added 9.
The Lady Irish enjoyed a huge advantage at the charity stripe, sinking a whopping 21 foul shots in 27 attempts. Meanwhile, the Lady Tigers went 9-for-19 in a game that ended with a 3-point margin.
SAME OPPONENT, SAME OUTCOME
In the third-place matchup with Dora, Houston led 20-15 at after the first quarter, 35-31 at halftime and 46-36 at the end of the third period before holding on down the stretch.
Curtis led the early charge with 8 points in the first period and led the Lady Tigers in scoring with 15 points, while Walker sank two 3-pointers and had a season-high 14 and Crites added 12.
Dora’s offense was led by senior scoring machine Cassidy Hambleton, who nailed five treys and finished with 31 points.
The win marked the third time this season that the Lady Tigers had beaten the Lady Falcons in a tournament. The first was a 76-70 victory in overtime on Dec. 3 in the championship game of the Fordland Tournament, and the second was a 59-50 win in the quarterfinals of the Mountain Grove Holiday Tournament on Dec. 28.
In the three games against Houston this season, Hambleton scored a total of 126 points. She’s the Lady Falcons’ all-time leading scorer and is on pace to finish her high school career with more than 2,000 points.
Vermillion was back on the sideline in the games against Catholic and Dora.
“I was really pleased with the outcome, especially in the last two games,” she said. “The girls played together a lot better, with their energy up and talking to each other on defense. Even though we lost, I couldn’t have asked for anything better in that Springfield Catholic game.
“Life’s just not fair sometimes. That game came down to free throws.”
Top-seeded Mansfield won the tournament championship, routing Springfield Catholic in Saturday’s final, 60-40. The host Lady Lions beat Conway in the first round, 60-29, and then downed Dora in the semifinals, 52-38.
HOUSTON DROPS RIVALRY GAME
The Lady Tigers fell in a South Central Association game Monday at Cabool, 72-61.
The high-octane matchup between the county rivals was a physical affair from beginning to end, featuring lots of contact on both ends of the floor.
Houston started slowly and trailed 20-9 at the end of the first quarter. The host Lady Bulldogs extended the advantage to 32-16 on a 3-pointer by senior forward Morgan Aaron with 2:25 left in the second period.
But Cabool wouldn’t score again until the second half, while the Lady Tigers rattled off 10 unanswered points to cut the deficit to 32-26 at halftime.
Houston maintained the momentum in a wild, high-energy third quarter and pulled to within a point at 39-38 when Walker drained a 3-ball with 5:03 showing on the clock.
But Cabool withstood the threat and pulled away again, leading 52-45 after Aaron sank a 3-pointer with 10 seconds to go in the period.
The Lady Bulldogs built a 67-50 lead midway through the fourth quarter before finally winning by 11.
Curtis fought hard in the post and led Houston in scoring with a career high 26 points, sinking nine field goals from the lane and going 8-for-9 from the free throw line in the process. She accounted for most of Houston’s offense in the fourth period, scoring 12 points and converting 4-of-4 foul shots.
Smith scored 12 points in the loss, while Crites had a double-double with 11 points and 12 rebounds.
Senior point forward Hailey Shannon led Cabool in scoring, amassing 26 points in the second half and finishing with a game-high 30. The 5-9 three-season star athlete drilled three treys after the break and went 13-for-19 from the stripe. Aaron scored 15 points for the Lady Bulldogs (12-6, 3-1 SCA), while junior guard Maddie Gayer added 11 (including 8 in the first quarter).
“We had been playing well coming into this game,” Vermillion said, “but I think we got too relaxed and it caught up to us. We just have to bounce back and make this a learning experience.”
The Lady Tigers (11-8, 1-2 SCA) are scheduled to host an SCA game against Ava on Thursday (Feb. 3). Next week, Houston has two nonconference matchups scheduled, including a home game against Hartville on Monday and a road game Thursday (Feb. 10) at Plato.
“We’ve got districts coming up,” Vermillion said, “and we’ve got to refocus. We’ve got to learn how to dig deep and find it within ourselves.
“But we’re getting there – we’ll find it.”