LEBANON — CiCi Riggins wants to be part of a revival in her final season of Hamilton High School girls basketball.
The senior forward wore a triumphant grin Monday night after Big Blue’s season opener, a 52-42 road victory over Lebanon in a Greater Miami Conference vs. Greater Western Ohio Conference matchup.
“I am so, so, so proud of my team,” said Riggins, who was in customary double-double form with 20 points and 12 rebounds. “That was a big win. A huge win. That was a statement. That’s why I’m so excited.
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“I know a lot of teams think Hamilton is not that good because of our previous record, but we’re going to shock those teams this year. It’s a new year. I’m ready. I’m excited to see what we can accomplish.”
Big Blue coach Harry Phillips said his team likely would have found a way to lose a game like this during the last two seasons. HHS was a combined 17-29 in his first two years at the helm.
Hamilton had a 19-point lead midway through the third quarter and watched that margin melt down to 44-40 in the final five minutes before securing the win.
“That’s usually our weakness … when we snatch the momentum and then we give the momentum back, we didn’t know how to finish it,” Phillips said. “It’s kind of like the Cleveland Browns syndrome. We finally learned how to win a game and close it out.”
Anna Cardwell had 14 points and Samantha Fuller added seven for Big Blue. Leah Smith, a sophomore guard and transfer from Lakota West, totaled five points, six rebounds, four steals and three assists in her Hamilton debut.
“This win was a statement,” Phillips said. “We’re coming to play. We’re not going to back down from anybody. I’ve instilled in them that you’re going to make mistakes, but how do you respond to that bad behavior? I think they responded pretty well tonight.”
Lebanon got 21 points from Kendall Folley and 10 from Ashley West, but the hosts shot 23.2 percent from the floor and went ice-cold when the game was on the line.
The Warriors fought back from the 40-21 deficit and got some HHS help in the form of turnovers and excessive fouling. Yet Lebanon managed just one field goal after Folley’s driving layup closed the gap to 44-40 with 4:40 remaining.
“We hit a wall in the beginning, we were good in the middle, and then we hit another wall at the end,” Warriors coach Rob Hodges said. “We missed all types of shots. Open outside shots, inside shots, everything. We have to find a way to win games when we’re not going to make shots.”
Hodges liked Lebanon’s grit in battling back to make a game of it, and he was surprised by the poor shooting. He said Lebanon didn’t shoot like that in the preseason.
“We laid an egg tonight,” Hodges said. “Our shot selection has been great, and making open shots has not been a problem. But if it’s going to be a problem, we’re going to have to figure out how to fix that.”
Logan Mueller grabbed eight boards for the Warriors, and Folley, West and Sid Rigsby each added five. Folley totaled six steals.
Lebanon returns two full-time starters (Folley and West) and a number of players who saw considerable varsity action last season, though Folley is the only returnee who scored more than five points per game. The sophomore guard was the Warriors’ leading scorer with a 14.7 average as a freshman.
Hamilton has four starters — Kira Ash, Cardwell, Riggins and Fuller — back this year. The latter two are seniors, and they’re joined by three other 12th-graders (Akira Sneed, Miracle Riggins, Ornedie Nzibu).
Phillips said the senior influence is significant on this squad.
“I had seniors on the floor at the end,” he said. “What I’ve learned by coaching with Jesse (Weisbrod) and Gideon (Dudgeon) here is that you put your seasoned players on the floor and let them close it out. I didn’t really do that last year because I really didn’t have true seasoned players. Now I do.”
Smith and Cardwell are point guards. Phillips said this is the first time he’s had two true point guards in the lineup together.
“CiCi is gonna do what she’s gonna do. That’s my star,” Phillips said. “But the others are filling roles that we’ve never had before. Having two point guards really makes a difference. We can push the floor. We’ve just got to keep them sane when we make mistakes. We’ve got to know how to pass it on and be done with it and let the seniors build you up. That’s what family’s all about. That’s what we’re learning on the go.”
“Last year we had a little bit of individuality going on,” CiCi Riggins said. “Now I think we’ve gotten pretty used to each other. We know what we need to do to actually stay together and win and push through a game. Whenever we don’t play together, that’s when we start to come down. It’s time we realized that.”
HHS was scheduled to visit Colerain on Saturday, but that game has been postponed because of the Cardinals’ run to the Division I state football final. Big Blue will host Princeton on Dec. 5.
The Warriors travel to Northmont on Wednesday.
HAMILTON (1-0): Anna Cardwell 4 6 14; Leah Smith 2 1 5; CiCi Riggins 6 8 20; Kira Ash 2 0 4; Samantha Fuller 2 2 7; Akira Sneed 1 0 2. Totals: 17-17-52
LEBANON (0-1): Ashley West 3 4 10; Kendall Folley 5 10 21; Ashley Popp 2 0 4; Logan Mueller 0 1 1; Sid Rigsby 3 0 6. Totals: 13-13-52
3-pointers: H 1 (Fuller), L 1 (Folley)