WARREN - The Warren G. Harding Raiders are a lot like the local weather in that if you wait long enough, something will change.
In the first quarter of a non-conference game Tuesday against the Austintown Fitch Falcons, the Raiders looked uninspired. It showed in the 10-point deficit Harding took into the second quarter.
Things started to improve once the Raiders realized a win wasn't about to come easily. By the time the second half started, Harding was in full rout mode, running its way to a 71-44 win.
Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple
Warren G. Harding’s Jautice McDonald (32) and Austintown Fitch’s Anthony Pangio (11) fight for a rebound as Fitch’s Alex DiFrancesco gets trapped between them during fourth-quarter action. The Raiders won, 71-44.
"I think we finally woke up," Raiders coach Andy Vlajkovich said. "We looked very disinterested in the first quarter. We couldn't get going on the break. We couldn't turn them over. All the first quarter was played at their pace.
"Then the second quarter started to get to our pace and in the third and fourth quarters it was clearly in our pace. Once we woke up, we were okay. We kind of slept walked through that first quarter."
The Raiders improved their record to 10-7. The Falcons, who played without leading scorer Jessie Driver, are 12-3.
Falcons coach Brian Beany wouldn't comment on the absence of Driver, who sat on the bench in street clothes. Fitch certainly could have used Driver's contributions, but on this night even his appearance might not have been enough to slow down the Raiders.
"The second half things obviously got away from us," Beany said. "We didn't do the things we did in the first quarter. We basically couldn't do anything right, and when you can't do anything right in the second half, you get blown out."
The play of the Raiders after their slow start showed how dangerous they could be to opponents when the tournaments begin.
"Austintown Fitch is ranked number one around (the area)," said junior Shondell Jackson, who scored 19 points. "We took that kind of personal. We know we can compete with anybody that is on our schedule. We thought we could beat them, and that's what we came out and proved."
Jackson was a big part of an early fourth-quarter run that put to rest any chance of a comeback by the Falcons, who trailed 46-34 after three quarters. He scored the first six points of the period to spark a 15-point streak that pushed the lead to 61-34
After a fielder by King Garner, Anthony Bell, who scored 14 points, followed with six straight points for the Raiders. Gabe Simpson finished off the run by making one free throw.
"We were hoping that our pressure was going to wear them down," Vlajkovich said. "Maybe we were playing harder than I thought in the first quarter. Even though the pressure failed a little bit in the first half, I think it still had a long-lasting effect and wore them down a little bit."
Harding's pressure defense forced 23 turnovers, which resulted in numerous baskets in transition. Jackson took three in for dunks and almost followed in a lob pass for a one-handed slam.
"Our defense was way more intense in the second half," Jackson said. "We just played together on defense. The defensive side contributed to the offensive side."
Alex DiFrancesco scored 13 points for the Falcons, who trailed 24-21 at halftime.
Harding returns to action Friday at Warrensville Heights.