CLEVELAND - Warren G. Harding coach Andy Vlajkovich might of been one of the saddest individuals after Saturday's Division I sectional final at Glenville High School.
Vlajkovich saw his team dramatically improve over the past few weeks, being on an uptick in Lake Erie League play and its sectional semifinal victory over Solon.
Vlajkovich saw something special out of his team on Saturday, though - something that almost advanced the Raiders to Thursday's Division I district semifinal at Euclid High School against Mentor, which beat Cleveland John F. Kennedy by 65 points on Saturday.
Saturday's Harding-Glenville game was much closer, one possession to be exact, as the Tarblooders escaped with a 73-71 victory.
"I told our team tonight I'm not upset we lost that game," Vlajkovich said. "I'm upset we can't coach them any more this season. I think we were playing best basketball the last two to three weeks."
This young Raiders team, which ended the season 13-11, has plenty of underclassmen returning - including 6-foot-8 freshman forward Derek Culver, who had eight points and 16 rebounds. Harding outrebounded Glenville, 33-32.
"He's really growing up," Vlajkovich said.
Glenville, which outscored WGH 25-15 in the third quarter, took a 12-point advantage during that period.
"Their physicality took over for a 2-, 3-minute stretch, and they kind of wore us down," Vlajkovich said.
Then, the resilient Raiders rallied to take a 69-68 lead with 1:40 remaining.
The Tarblooders held a three-point lead with 26 seconds remaining, but WGH missed a 3-pointer to tie. The Raiders got the rebound and were fouled.
WGH made 1 of 2 from the line and cut the Glenville lead to two. From there, the Tarblooders were fouled and made both of their charity tosses - extending the advantage to four points. Harding couldn't erase the deficit as Glenville escaped.
"I don't know if we got beat by a better team, but we got beat by a good team," Vlajkovich said.
He said it was one of the best games Harding has played all season.
"It was a high-level game," Vlajkovich said. "It was a fast paced, up-tempo game. I think our kids played their tails off. I was really proud of our guys."
Jimond Ivey led Glenville with 24 points, while Rakeem Overton put in 15 and Roy Hatchett added 13.
Junior Shondell Jackson led Harding with 27 points, while sophomore Shakeem Johnson put in 13 and sophomore Gabe Simpson had 11.
"I think our future is really bright," Vlajkovich said.