Girls basketball: Middletown falls in tourney opener

LIBERTY TWP. — Middletown High School girls basketball coach Terrence Toliver wasn’t asking for much on Monday night.

He’s been on a mission to bring a competitive culture within the program for the last three seasons, and all he sought was maximum effort from his Middies.

Toliver got it from them.

Taylor Daniels scored a team-high 11 points, Persha Edwards added 10 and No. 23 seed Middletown hung with No. 15 Winton Woods down the stretch before falling 47-41 in a Division I sectional opener at Lakota East.

“I told them before we left the school to head here to give me everything they’ve got. Just leave it on the floor,” said Toliver, whose squad finished 8-15. “Sometimes in life, when you give your best effort, it might not be good enough. Sometimes you come out on the wrong end.

“But more importantly — win, lose or draw — I asked them, and I begged them, that we’ve given so much to this program for them to put it all on the line for the coaches,” Toliver added. “I asked them one other time, and that’s when I got my 100th career victory. They did it tonight. The ball just didn’t go our way.”

The Middies wrapped up their best season since 2017-18 when they finished 9-14.

“They played hard for their only senior,” Toliver said of Derranae Aldridge, who pulled down a team-high seven rebounds. “She embodied everything that us coaches are — gritty, toughness, hard-headed at times. But she left an impression on our program and the younger girls for the rest of their lives. That’s what is important to me.”

Middletown and Winton Woods were supposed to play during the 2020-21 season, but that game was canceled.

The two schools last played during the 2018-19 season when the Warriors came out on top 59-28 on Dec. 22, 2018. Middletown won 54-51 the season prior.

Winton Woods (13-10) faces No. 7 Kings — a 52-40 winner over No. 24 St. Ursula — on Tuesday, Feb. 14, at 7:30 p.m. at Lakota East.

“It’s the same stuff we struggle with all year. We don’t protect the basketball even when a team isn’t supplying pressure,” Winton Woods coach Carlton Gray said. “We make a lot of boneheaded plays just passing the basketball, lapses on defense, poor judgment on offense, unable to execute. Unfortunately, with such a young group and when you play like that, it’s going to keep every game close. You almost have to coast through it and hope the light will come on.

“Both teams mirrored each other — low assist, high turnover ratio teams,” Gray added. “With that, you’re going to get a sloppy game.”

Whitley Davis led all scorers with 18 points for the Warriors, Niyala Walker added 12 points and Daniah Trammell had 11 points and a game-high 15 rebounds.

Winton Woods stormed out to an 11-0 lead before Edwards got the Middies on the board at the 2:07 mark of the first quarter with a pair of free throws.

“We’ve been there. We’ve struggled early. The girls have been there before,” Toliver said. “For the second time this season, they fought through whatever anxieties they had. A little nervousness.”

Middletown scored the first 10 points of the second quarter to cut the Warriors’ lead to 13-12.

Davis nailed three 3-point buckets to give Winton Woods a 24-14 advantage with 2 minutes left in the first half.

Middletown rallied to cut the Winton Woods lead to 27-20 at the break and then outscored the Warriors 8-1 in the third quarter to bring it to within 28-27 heading into the final frame.

Prince sunk a pair of free throws to give the Middies their first lead of the game at 31-30 with 6:46 left to play. Walker hit a 3 to put Winton Woods back on top 34-33 with 5:15 remaining.

Daniels drained a trey to pull the Middies to within 43-41 with a minute left, and the Warriors were able to close it out at the free throw line.

Toliver said he’s looking forward to what lies ahead for the Middies, as they’ll return their entire roster except for Aldridge.

“I was tearing up — the girls were tearing up,” Toliver said. “But they were tears of happiness because we’ve brought some attention to Middletown, and we’re excited about what we’re building.

“This is a proud community, and we’ve had great support all year. I think everyone deserved our best, and I think they got it this season.”

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