After raining down 3-pointers and dominating the boards, Plato led by 16 points midway through the second quarter and appeared poised to run away from Houston in a high school girls basketball nonconference game Thursday night at Plato.
But the visiting Lady Tigers staged a compelling comeback, and by the end of the third period were ahead by 5. Unfortunately for the large gathering of Houston fans that had made the 27-mile trip to Plato’s New Gym, the host Lady Eagles regained the advantage and escaped with a 61-59 victory.
“I’m proud of our effort and poise early in the game,” said HHS head coach Jim Moore. “We knew it was a possibility that Plato would get off to a good start because that’s a pattern of theirs we noticed when scouting them. We battled back and put ourselves in a great position to win.
“We have to learn how to win. We will.”
Powered by a successful outside shooting attack, Plato took a big early advantage, jumping out to an 8-0 lead at the outset and leading 16-6 at the end of the first quarter. During the long-range barrage, senior guard Kennedy Hall and sophomore guard Kelsey Todd each hit a pair of 3-pointers.
The lead could have been even bigger, but Lady Tigers sophomore guard Hannah Dzurick nailed a trey with 4 seconds left in the period.
The margin grew in the second quarter, as Hall and sophomore forward Cara Couch each connected from downtown to put Plato up 22-7, and the Lady Eagles added a free throw moments later.
But Houston then began to close the gap, and had cut the lead in half when freshman forward Karlee Curtis sank a jumper from the middle of the lane to put the score at 26-18. The Lady Tigers got a bit closer and trailed 30-24 when junior guard Jaden Stell fed freshman MacKenzie Bryan for a layup at the end of a fast break, but Plato went into the locker room at halftime ahead 32-24.
Houston began the third quarter with high-energy full-court defensive pressure that caused the Lady Eagles to commit several turnovers.
When Curtis sank a foul shot with 6:07 left in the period, Houston was down 34-33. Then when Stell nailed a trey at the 5:52 mark following a turnover caused by the press, Houston was ahead 38-36.
After Dzurick hit another 3-pointer with 48 seconds left in the quarter, the Lady Tigers went into the final 8 minutes with a 46-41 lead.
But the older, more experienced Plato squad quickly caught up and went ahead again at 48-46 when junior center Hanna Cannon connected on a shot from short range. Houston regained the lead one last time at 54-52 when Curtis sank a pair of free throws with 4:04 to go, but the Lady Eagles responded and went ahead for good at 55-54 when Hall drained a trey with 3:01 remaining.
Houston made one last go of it when junior forward Riley Scheets sank a short shot on an inbounds play with 2 seconds left to put the score at 61-59. Moore called a timeout in hopes of getting a quick steal and a basket, but time ran out and Plato got the win.
Curtis finished with a season-high 16 points for the Lady Tigers, while Dzurick also scored 16 and Stell added 11. Hall and Couch each scored 15 points for Plato, while Todd finished with 13.
The Lady Eagles (12-10) might have had an easier time getting the win, but went 11-for-25 from the free throw line. The Lady Tigers weren’t hot from the charity stripe either, going 15-for-24.
As the dramatic fourth quarter unfolded, Houston committed multiple key turnovers.
“Turnovers killed us late in the game,” Moore said. “If we take care of the ball late, we win.”
Despite absorbing another tough defeat, Moore saw lots of positives in his youthful team’s performance.
“It’s part of the process,” he said. “We’re still trending in the right direction – we just have to stay after it. Our team is still working hard and still competing. That’s all I ask of them.”
EXPERIENCE TOPS YOUTH AGAIN
On Monday of last week (Feb. 10), Houston faced another opponent with mostly older, more experienced players in a nonconference home game against Hartville (the second-ranked Class 2 team in Missouri).
The Lady Tigers fell behind in a hurry in the contest, as the visiting Lady Eagles opened the game with an 8-0 run and led 9-4 at the end of the first quarter.
Things got even worse in the second period, as Houston was held without a field goal and converted a single free throw, while Hartville racked up another 15 points to lead 24-5 at halftime.
After trailing 37-11 at the end of the third quarter, the Lady Tigers found a bit of offensive rhythm in the fourth period and surpassed their game total by scoring 15 points, while Hartville added 14.
Dzurick led Houston in scoring with 8 points, while Stell had 6. Senior forward Grace Culver led Hartville in scoring with 18 points, while senior guard Katie Still had 13.
The Lady Tigers will be busy next week, hosting South Central Association games against Salem on Monday and Willow Springs on Wednesday, and wrapping up the regular season with an SCA contest Thursday at Mountain Grove.
Houston (7-14, 0-3 SCA through this week) is seeded sixth in the Missouri State High School Activities Association Class 3 District 4 tournament, and will face No. 3 Liberty in a first round game at 4:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 22, also at Mountain Grove.