WARREN - First-year Warren G. Harding Raiders basketball coach Andy Vlajkovich was welcomed to the Lake Erie League Friday night.
After the Raiders sweated out a 59-52 home win over the Maple Heights Mustangs, you almost had to ask Vlajkovich if he really wants another taste of the LEL?
Some of the league members might serve as easy prey for the Raiders' football team, but it's a different story come basketball season. The Mustangs (1-1) had two fourth-quarter leads after trailing 31-26 at halftime, coming out in the second half with a combination of speed and rebounding ability that is a trademark of the LEL.
Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple
Warren G. Harding’s Anthony Bell and Maple Heights’ Isaiah Ivey fight for control of the basketball during late fourth-quarter action on Friday night. Harding won, 59-52.
"We came out a little flat (in the second half), and sometimes that happens," Vlajkovich said. "I was proud of our guys for kind of weathering the storm. I was a little concerned having a young basketball team as to how we would handle those types of runs and that type of not-so-pretty basketball."
Vlajkovich could thank Anthony Bell for supplying 22 points off the bench. Starter Mik'quan Dorsey, who didn't play basketball last season, had 16 points, including a 10-of-10 effort at the foul line. King Garner, another starter, added nine points and helped on the boards with a team-high 15 rebounds as the Raiders improved their record to 2-0 and 1-0 in the LEL.
Dorsey seemed to be everywhere in grabbing seven rebounds and corralling several loose balls. His perfect showing at the foul line made up for a sub-par effort by his teammates, who were a collective 8-of-20.
"The guy who I was really proud of in the fourth quarter was Mik'quan," Vlajkovich said. "The book might say he had 16 points, but he came up with every loose ball and every rebound that last three minutes. He got off to a good start and then he didn't score for a stretch. It's easy for kids that aren't scoring that are scorers to kind of not help in other ways, and Mik'quan didn't do that."
The Raiders knew early in the third quarter that it wasn't going to be an easy ride the rest of the way.
"We struggled a little bit tonight so we had to play tough through the stretch," Dorsey said. "It was getting real physical, so we kept playing tough and we came up with the win."
Dorsey's showing at the foul line was unexpected considering he didn't play last season. He isn't certain how well he shot free throws the last time he played.
"I've been hot from the line because I practice it a lot with our coaches and the team," Dorsey said. "The rest of our team struggled from the line. I just had to make big plays for my team."
As the junior varsity coach last season, Vlajkovich challenged Garner to become more aggressive as a rebounder. It obviously paid off.
"We're a small team so everybody has to rebound," Garner said. "We have to be a tough team as a whole in get into the paint and get down low."
The score was tied once in the third period (31-31), but the Raiders never trailed in the session as they took a 40-38 lead into the fourth quarter. The Mustangs grabbed a 43-42 lead on two free throws by Phil Black. A fielder by Garner gave the Raiders a 44-43 lead, but the Mustangs regained the lead at 45-44 on a fielder by Dwayne Fields.
Dorsey made two free throws, but Black made one of two at the line to tie the score at 46. Harding then scored eight straight points to take control.
Fields finished with 22 points and Black had 11. Osha Jackson had 10 points for Harding. Vlajkovich was pleased with the defensive effort Jackson had on Black, who scored 30 here against the Raiders last season.
Harding is at Euclid Friday.