On the road against defending 2A state champion Oakland Mills Friday night, Middletown never waivered from its game plan in front of a sold out crowd with this year’s 2A West regional championship on the line.
There were several moments of adversity in the fourth quarter, but the Knights — making the extra pass on offense, to go with clogging the lane to limit penetration on defense — ultimately had an answer for everything thrown at them. On the strength of a late 7-0 run to build a six-point lead, Middletown (18-5) held off one final Oakland Mills push to pull out a 59-58 victory for the program’s first region title since 1998.
“The program has been in three regional finals since 1998, which is the last time we won, but it’s been awhile. So the way these guys came back today after we went down in that fourth quarter, I just love these guys,” Middletown coach Aaron White said. “The heart they showed, the way they made this crowd proud … it was just unbelievable. The resiliency is just amazing with them.”
On the other side, Oakland Mills (22-3) was left in shock — having lost in the region title game now in five of the last seven years. Last year’s state championship is something Scorpions’ coach Jon Browne says no one can take away from his guys, but it didn’t temper the sting of falling short this year.
“For me, it’s very difficult to see eight seniors leave on that note. They had such big dreams,” he said. “That’s the hard part for me as a coach … the looks on the faces of the kids and the finality of it all. It’s very saddening right now, but we’ll look back one day and appreciate the times we had together.”
The Scorpions had the ball under their own basket, down by one with eight seconds to go following a pair of missed foul shots by Middletown.
But Daniel Kiely (26 points) was cut off on the left sideline and was forced to swing the ball around the top of the key, where it eventually found the hands of Larry Aaron. His 3-pointer at the buzzer was long and Middletown’s bench and fans stormed the court to celebrate.
“It was crazy, we held together as a team, played like a team and were just there the entire time. We weren’t giving up, weren’t backing down,” said Middletown’s Jacob Hamilton, who finished with 15 points and scored four of the Knights final eight points in the closing three minutes.
Middletown now advances into a state semifinal match-up on Friday against Queen Anne’s.
It was obvious from the opening tip that the Knights weren’t going to be intimidated by the big stage of a capacity crowd that started filing into the Oakland Mills gym 90 minutes before game time. Middletown’s Matt Considine knocked down a pair of threes in the first minute to give his team an early lead.
By the end of the first quarter, Middletown was still ahead, 15-12. Even as Oakland Mills made several pushes in the second quarter, the Knights managed to stay in front going into the half, 28-26.
Kiely and Naquan Williams-Day (15 points) both had some nice plays at the rim to keep the Scorpions within striking distance, but the team managed to make just one shot from outside the paint in the first 16 minutes. And, on the game, the team made only three shots that weren’t lay-ups or free throws.
“We unfortunately picked a bad day to have our worst shooting performance of the year,” Browne said. “That’s a credit to (Middletown), they did a good job defensively on us … we couldn’t get anything going outside of going to the rim.”
Oakland Mills went on a mini 6-2 run to open the second half to take a 32-30 lead, but Middletown answered with an 11-0 push to take its largest advantage of the night up until that point at 41-32. This time it was Evan Joseph (16 points on the night) that sparked things.
The Knights lead was still nine points, 46-37, at the end of the third quarter.
“We play a tough schedule, which I think prepared us,” White said. “Linganore, Tuscarora are teams that are similar athletic-wise to Oakland Mills, so our guys were confident having seen pressure before that I think it helped us not get too rattled down the stretch. We just had to keep taking care of the ball and rebound as a team … if we did that we knew we would give ourselves a chance.”
Even with Middletown’s composure, Oakland Mills made its runs. The Scorpions opened the fourth quarter on a 16-6 push that actually gave them the lead back with 2:25 remaining following a lay-up by Kiely.
But the Knights answered right back with its decisive 7-0 spurt that provided a 6-point lead, 59-53, with a minute left.
Again, Oakland Mills rallied to get within one with the ball in the final seconds, but ultimately couldn’t get the go-ahead basket before time expired.
“When he missed both (foul shots), we had the timeout, but I thought we would really get one at the rim or at least get to the line” Browne said. “We ended up taking a jumper, which as the night projected we weren’t making that shot. It wasn’t even close, unfortunately.
“That’s unfortunate, but I’ve been here before and it’s tough. I’ve really enjoyed this team.”
Middletown 59, Oakland Mills 58
M (18-5): Considine 16, Joseph 16, Hamilton 15, Smith 6, Pritts 4, Price 2.
OM (22-3): Kiely 26, Williams-Day 15, T. Hopkins 8, Aaron 4, Campbell 3, McFadden 1, Harris 1.