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Raiders deserve trip to Columbus

March 22, 2009
By ED PUSKAS Tribune Chronicle Sports Editor

Warren should have been able to bask in the glow of a basketball state tournament berth a year ago.

Instead, Warren G. Harding players, coaches and fans had to watch a team the Raiders all but defeated in a Division I regional final take their place in Columbus.

A half-hearted apology from the Ohio High School Atletic Association in the wake of a disheartening blown call did nothing to ease the pain or quiet the complaints that Harding was robbed at Cleveland State University's Wolstein Center last season.

The Raiders returned plenty of talent this season and always had that loss to Lakewood St. Edward - along with the desire to get to the state tournament - as motivation. But there still was the realization that it is difficult for any team to win its way to Columbus once, let alone multiple times.

That's not a knock against the teams that followed or the players and coaches on those teams. It's just the reality of competition at the highest levels in high school sports. That's actually the reality at any level.

So congratulations to Harding, which overcame the sudden and disputed ending of its tournament run last season, and also its share of adversity this year.

The Raiders won their first 11 games, then lost to Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary - a team that also is still playing - in Harding's sparkling new gymnasium. More importantly, the Raiders lost Sheldon Brogdon to a season-ending knee injury that night.

Brogdon was Harding's best all-around player and their go-to scorer. He also served as a quiet, but reliable leader on and off the floor.

Almost immediately, there was speculation the Raiders couldn't match the accomplishments of last year's team, let alone make it to Columbus.

But with Brogdon on the bench, his teammates reached inside themselves and took their games to another level. Desmar Jackson, Fred Williams and Angel Gonzalez largely picked up the scoring slack, but Harding also received timely minutes and contributions from role players like Isiaha Henderson, Paris Bruner, Tre Brown and Oneal Brown.

The Raiders firmly dispelled the notion that chances of repeating as district champions were dashed when Brogdon went down. The Warrensville Heights district was one of the most difficult in Ohio, and when Harding breezed through it and then survived its worst first-half performance of the season in a come-from-behind victory over St. Edward in a regional semifinal, the Raiders' chances looked excellent.

With a trip to Columbus within reach, Harding left no doubt against North Ridgeville on Saturday night. The Raiders played stellar defense and did all the other little things that teams have to do to advance, including making foul shots.

A last-second call wasn't going to change their destiny.

Harding is going to Columbus. The trip is richly deserved.



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