HHS senior Karlee Curtis dribbles toward the basket during the third quarter of the Lady Tigers' overtime victory Monday night at Licking. Credit: DOUG DAVISON | HOUSTON HERALD

Facing major adversity, the Houston High School girls basketball team pulled off a stunning upset Monday night, prevailing 71-62 in overtime inside the Sherman Hill Field House at Licking.

Leading 34-23 after a strong performance in the first half, the Lady Tigers produced an avalanche of turnovers in the third quarter and were outscored 24-6 in the period. But after the host Lady Wildcats (No. 5 in the latest Class 3 state rankings) went ahead 49-40 early in the fourth quarter, Houston regained the momentum and went on a 13-4 run to close out regulation and send the contest into overtime with the score tied at 53.

The Lady Tigers then added another 18 points in the 4-minute extra session (more than they had in any of the 8-minute quarters) while Licking managed only 9.

“When we were down big, I knew a momentum swing was going to come,” said HHS head coach Lindsey Vermillion, “so I told the girls we had to keep our heads. I preach ‘family’ to them all the time, and we stuck together and fought back.”

The third quarter notwithstanding, the Lady Tigers played a masterful game, using energetic defense to keep the talented Lady Wildcats’ offense in check, while finding ways to score in both transition and half-court sets. Houston also had a season-best outing at the free throw line, sinking 19-of-24 foul shots.

After the Lady Tigers had gone on a 10-1 run and led 63-54 in overtime, Licking head coach Steve Rissler had his players commit fouls on purpose beginning at the 1:25 mark to stop the clock and hopefully gain ground on missed free throws. But the Lady Tigers responded by going 10-for-12 from the stripe in OT to secure the big win.

HHS senior Olivia Crites protects the ball in a crowded key during the second quarter of the Lady Tigers’ overtime victory Monday night at Licking.

Senior forward Olivia Crites was a force on both ends of the floor for Houston, scoring a game-high 22 points while grabbing 11 rebounds and wreaking havoc on defense. Senior forward Karlee Curtis banged around in the low blocks and scored 15 points for the Lady Tigers, while junior point guard Angie Smith orchestrated Houston’s offense with rock-solid efficiency and contributed 12 points, 6 rebounds, 7 assists and 6 steals.

Sophomore forward Sophia Crites played a huge role in the game, scoring a career-high 11 points, including 6 during the Lady Tigers’ fourth quarter comeback and another 3 in overtime. The younger Crites sister stepped up big at the free throw line late in the contest, going 2-for-2 in the fourth quarter and 3-for-4 in OT.

Senior guard Makenzi Arthur drilled two 3-pointers and sank a pair of free throws in the first half and finished with 8 points for the Lady Tigers, while senior guard Aliyah Walker added 3.

Licking was led in scoring by junior guard Hannah Medlock with 21 points, while 6-foot senior forward Abbie Sullins had 13 and sophomore guard Allie Hock added 9.

HHS junior Angie Smith zips a baseline pass Monday night at Licking.

Olivia Crites fouled out with less than 30 seconds left in overtime, and triumphantly slapped hands with her coaches and teammates as she left the court. As the final horn sounded, the Lady Tigers gathered on the court and jumped and yelled with joy, while Vermillion pumped her fist in satisfaction.

The victory was the first over Licking in the careers of Houston’s four seniors: Arthur, Olivia Crites, Curtis and Walker. The loss was the first of the season for the Lady Wildcats (7-1).

“I’m in shock right now – I’m literally shaking,” Olivia Crites said. “I think we were definitely getting into our heads for a little bit, but we realized ‘we can still do this.’ From there we just clicked.”

“It’s really awesome – it’s a different feeling,” Curtis said. “We got a second wind and kicked it into another gear. We’ve been waiting for this for a long time.”

Houston also beat Norwood, 65-59, in a home game last Friday.

Olivia Crites scored 17 points in that contest, while Curtis had 14, Smith had 11, Walker had 9, Sophia Crites had 8 and Arthur added 6.

Winners of four straight games, the Lady Tigers (5-1) will play next week in the ninth annual Mountain Grove Holiday Tournament. Houston is seeded fifth in the event’s 16-team bracket and will face No. 12 Hartville in a first round contest at noon Monday (Dec. 26). Licking is the top seed and will take on No. 16 Summersville at 10:30 a.m. Monday.

The tournament championship game is set for 2:30 p.m. next Thursday (Dec. 29).

“We’ve done a lot of growing this season,” Vermillion said. “I think there’s a pretty bright future for the Houston Lady Tigers.”

HHS girls head coach Lindsey Vermillion, at left, pumps her fist as her players celebrate an overtime victory Monday night at Licking.
The 2022 Mountain Grove Holiday Tournament bracket.
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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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