HHS junior guard Angie Smith makes a move toward the basket during the Lady Tigers' win over Mountain Grove in an SCA game Monday night in the New Gym. Credit: DOUG DAVISON | HOUSTON HERALD

There were several momentum swings, but when the outcome was still undecided, the home team won the game at the free throw line.

In a South Central Association conference contest on Monday night in the New Gym, the Houston High School girls basketball team downed Mountain Grove 55-40.

After junior point guard Angie Smith calmly drilled a buzzer-beating half-court shot at the end of the third quarter, the Lady Tigers had built a 19-point lead at 42-23 and appeared poised to coast to a victory. But the scrappy Lady Panthers went on a 16-2 run to open the fourth period and reduced the deficit to 44-39.

With the clock playing a major role, Mountain Grove was forced to foul. Houston responded by going 13-for-17 from the charity stripe in the final period, with Smith sinking a whopping 11 free throws in 12 tries.

The Lady Tigers didn’t make a single field goal in the fourth quarter, but they didn’t need to.

“Well, we pulled it out,” said HHS head coach Lindsey Vermillion. “I was proud of the team and how they handled different circumstances.”

HHS freshman Gracyn McNiell eyes the basket from the low blocks during the second quarter of the Lady Tigers’ win over Mountain Grove in an SCA game Monday night in the New Gym.

Smith sank two 3-pointers and 12 free throws in the game to lead Houston in scoring with 18 points. Sophomore forward Sophia Crites continued a recent offensive surge by scoring 16 points (including 8 in the third quarter), while senior forward Olivia Crites added 8.

Mountain Grove (5-7, 0-2 SCA) was led in scoring by senior forward Reagan Hoerning with 19 points (including 10 in the fourth quarter), while junior guard Campbell Welch had 12 (including 10 in the first quarter).

The trio of referees working the contest gave their whistles a workout, calling 25 fouls on the Lady Panthers and 22 on the Lady Tigers. Both teams had two players foul out before the final horn sounded.

“I feel like the girls couldn’t play solid defense without the whistle being blown,” Vermillion said, “but that’s the name of the game. I had huge minutes from my bench and they came in and grabbed critical rebounds and knocked down critical free throws.”

After leading 27-16 at halftime, Vermillion had her team employ a 2-3 zone defense in the third quarter. The strategy paid off, as the Lady Tigers steadily pulled away before Smith’s big shot.

Houston sophomore Sophia Crites shoots from close range during the first quarter of Monday’s SCA game against Mountain Grove.

Throughout the game, Houston benefited from a decided rebounding advantage.

“I felt like switching to a zone helped us and we continued to get solid rebounds,” Vermillion said. “We just have to keep working and keep coming together, getting stops, working the ball to get good shots and getting another stop. It’s a never-ending cycle – stop, score, stop – and that’s what we need to keep focusing on.

“We’re rebounding the ball well and we have to continue to grab boards.”

LOTS OF ACTION

Houston played four road games last week, losing twice and winning twice.

The busy stretch began with the Lady Tigers dropping games on back-to-back nights, as they fell 70-42 in an SCA contest Monday at Salem and were defeated Tuesday at Newburg, 74-58. Late in the week, Houston got back on the winning track with a pair of victories at the Legends of the Hardwood event at Van Buren, beating Bunker 73-50 on Friday and downing Alton 62-47 on Saturday.

In the win over Alton, senior guard Makenzie Arthur sank two 3-pointers and scored a season-high 14 points, while Olivia Crites poured in 26 against Bunker and had a game-high 19 against Alton.

HHS senior guard Aliyah Walker makes a move in the lane between Mountain Grove defenders Kaily Wake (3) and Landry Golden.

In the loss at Newburg, the Crites sisters had a big night offensively, as Olivia scored 23 points and Sophia had a career-high 18.

In the loss at Salem, no Lady Tigers scored in double-figures.

HHS senior forward Karlee Curtis sustained a significant high ankle sprain in the contest at Newburg and wasn’t in the lineup in Van Buren or in Monday’s contest. She’s expected to be sidelined for about another week or two.

“It does hurt missing Karlee,” Vermillion said, “because she is a big leader on and off the floor and she works so hard. But I feel the girls are doing well with the adjustment.

After losing four straight games, the Lady Tigers (9-5, 1-1 SCA through last week) have now won three in a row. Houston hosts SCA foe Thayer on Thursday (Jan. 12) and will be in the field at next week’s Thayer Winter Classic tournament.

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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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