WGH loss scrambles Red Tier

Fitch tops Raiders in wild ending

Tribune Chronicle / Joe Simon Warren G. Harding coach Andy Vlajkovich watches during the Raiders’ 50-44 loss Tuesday night at Austintown Fitch.

AUSTINTOWN — It’s often said in sports that there’s a “magic word” coaches can’t say to referees, and doing so results in harsh consequences.

Whatever the word is, Warren G. Harding coach Andy Vlajkovich must have said something close to it in the final seconds of the Raiders’ 50-44 loss to Austintown Fitch on Tuesday.

He might have had a good reason.

With Harding (8-6, 7-2 All-American Conference, Red Tier) trailing the Falcons by two and 10 seconds remaining in the game, Vlajkovich started screaming for a timeout. The only problem was a raucous crowd drowned out his voice, and none of the three officials looked at him. Vlajkovich finally had to run onto the court to get their attention, and by that time, there was just 1.6 seconds left.

As he discussed the situation with the referees, a fired-up Vlajkovich was called for a technical foul, and the Falcons were awarded two free throws (they made both) and possession of the ball, essentially sealing the victory after Fitch made two more free throws to go up by six.

Tribune Chronicle / Joe Simon Warren G. Harding’s D’Muntize Owens goes for a lay-up while being guarded by Fitch’s Cole Constance, left, and Chris Brown, right. The Falcons won the game, 50-44.

“I tried to call a timeout at 8 (seconds), and it wasn’t given to me until 1.6,” he said. “Safe to say, I wasn’t happy about it.”

When asked if he felt the technical was warranted at that point of the game, Vlajkovich kindly said, “No comment.”

The loss could play a big role in a conference that still has no front runner. Harding, Canfield and Howland each have two losses in the AAC’s Red Tier. The Raiders play both teams one more time.

Vlajkovich hopes they shoot free throws better in those games. Harding finished 6-of-14 and was 1-of-6 in the fourth quarter. The Raiders had a chance to tie it at the line with 17.6 seconds left, but they missed the front end of a 1-and-1.

Fitch (7-8, 4-5) wasn’t much better, going 9-of-18, but the Falcons made 6-of-8 in the fourth quarter, with Blake Baker hitting all six — including the last four that sealed the game.

“At one point, I think we were 3-for-10,” Falcons coach Brian Beany said. “Blake Baker did a phenomenal job — clutch free throws.”

The silver lining for Harding was the play of Delmar Moore, who scored a season-high 21 points in his third game back after having to sit out the first 11 games due to OHSAA transfer rules. The 6-foot-6 senior was a force inside, showing an array of post moves, and proved he can shoot, calmly hitting a 3-pointer during a key moment in the second half.

He also displayed good defense, had three blocks and seven rebounds.

“Yes,” said Vlajkovich when asked if that was Moore’s best game since returning. “And that’s something we should expect (from him).”

He was the main reason the Raiders rallied from a 29-20 second-quarter deficit.

Moore scored 14 of the team’s 28 points in the second and third quarters and carried a team that Vlajkovich said looked “flat” to start the game.

Fitch, on the other hand, had nine players score and showed great ball movement and rhythm through much of the game. The Falcons also were playing in front of a crowd that was loud and energetic from start to finish and was probably the reason the referees didn’t hear Vlajkovich’s call for a timeout near the end of the game.

“The kids were great,” said Beany, whose team was coming off back-to-back losses. “Our student section was great, the kids were great. Anytime we play Warren, it doesn’t matter if it’s football or basketball, we go at each other, which is good. It’s competition — it’s what you want. It doesn’t matter if it’s on a Tuesday night or a Friday night.

“It’s a big win for our guys.”

The conference battles continue Friday for the Raiders, who travel to Canfield for another critical Red Tier matchup.