Middletown High School’s girls basketball team is trending upward.
The Middies have recovered from an 0-4 start and reached .500 for the first time this season Saturday afternoon, knocking off visiting Hamilton 59-48 at Wade E. Miller Arena.
RELATED: Monroe 51, Franklin 41
Aliyah Burks scored a career-high 22 points, Aubriana Bellard had 17 and Sa’Mill Calhoun added 11 for Middletown, which is 8-8 overall and 4-6 in the Greater Miami Conference.
“I’m really proud of this team,” Middies coach Kevin Aldridge said. “They’ve really bought into what we’re trying to accomplish. We’re not doing things perfectly, but we’re kind of coming together at the right time. You don’t want to be at your best in November. You want to start peaking as you get towards the tournament.”
Middletown stormed to a 17-1 lead against Big Blue, then found a way to keep the visitors at bay after Hamilton narrowed the gap to 3 on three occasions.
“My thought was just tie it up to where you can start feeling good about yourself,” HHS coach Harry Phillips said. “We just never could get there.”
Burks, a senior guard, said the Middies had a lot of determination after dropping a 68-65 decision at Hamilton in November.
“We came out with a different attitude,” Burks said. “We came out like we wanted to win, and we hit ’em hard and we kept hitting ’em. I had trust in my teammates, and we pulled it out.”
CiCi Riggins, the GMC’s leading scorer, had a scoreless first quarter for Big Blue (8-7, 4-6) en route to 22 points, nine rebounds and seven steals. It was her basket with 2:58 remaining that brought HHS within three (50-47) for the final time.
“I didn’t like the fact that we lost that big lead, but I knew a run would happen,” Aldridge said. “Every time they punched, we took the punch and stayed with it. We were able to weather the storm.”
Hamilton did earn a commanding 50-32 edge on the glass, but shot 27.8 percent from the floor and committed 24 turnovers.
“I feel bad because we lost, but I understand growing pains,” Phillips said. “Our kids are resilient in one place, and in another place they’re still learning how to do this thing.
“I’m not going to take anything away from Middletown. I thought they played harder than us. They did what they had to do early in the game and got the lead that they needed. When we played in Hamilton, that was what we did to them.”
Burks contributed six rebounds, six assists and four steals for the Middies, and Bellard added eight boards and five steals. They are transfers from Miamisburg and Middletown Christian, respectively.
Eleven fourth-quarter points came from Burks. She was 11 of 14 from the line — Middletown was 18 of 26 as a team.
“I think I kept everybody positive and kept everybody moving fast and just kept everybody’s head in the game,” Burks said.
“Aliyah gives us every ounce of herself every waking moment,” Aldridge said. “She’s really a true joy to coach. I hate that I only have her for a year. The success that she’s getting, she’s earned it.”
HHS got a strong performance off the bench from Jade Wells (9 points, 10 rebounds). Makayla Rogers had 5 points and 12 boards.
Big Blue have already surpassed last year’s win total (seven), so Saturday wasn’t exactly a disaster. Phillips is hoping to get back on a roll to enhance Hamilton’s Division I seed possibilities at the Feb. 4 tournament draw.
“The kids know I’m going to come back Monday and say, ‘These are the things we’ve got to work on,’ ” Phillips said. “Stick to our narrative on defense, better passing, and we can’t turn the freaking ball over. I’ve been doing this too long. I understand what we’ve got to do.”
Middletown, just 5-18 last year, has won five of its last seven games. The Middies will travel to Mason on Wednesday, while Hamilton hosts Fairfield.
“You love it. That’s what it’s about,” Aldridge said of facing the Comets, who are 9-1 in the conference and only trail 10-0 Lakota West. “The GMC is one of the toughest conferences in the state. We know we have two premier teams in our league, so it’s a privilege just to be a part of this. I just tell the girls to compete without fear. That’s it.”
HAMILTON (8-7, 4-6 GMC): Anna Cardwell 0 3 3, Kira Ash 3 0 7, CiCi Riggins 6 10 22, Makayla Rogers 2 1 5, Andrea Green 1 0 2, Jade Wells 3 3 9. Totals: 15-17-48
MIDDLETOWN (8-8, 4-6 GMC): Namia Looney 1 0 2, Aliyah Burks 5 11 22, Aubriana Bellard 5 7 17, Arianna Layne 1 0 2, Breyon Wright 1 0 2, Sa’Mill Calhoun 5 0 11, Dayla Blake 1 0 3. Totals: 19-18-59
3-pointers: H 1 (Ash), M 3 (Calhoun, Burks, Blake)