Warren G. Harding ends season against Garfield Hts.

Tribune Chronicle / Marc Weems Garfield Heights’ Alex Heath, left, is guarded by Harding’s Trivell Trimble, right, Wednesday in Solon. WGH’s Chris Hughes (4) is also pictured.

SOLON — In a slow, defensive battle in a Division I Solon District semifinal, Garfield Heights defeated Warren G. Harding, 39-30.

Harding (18-7) had its energy up and ready to go as the Raiders were up 7-2 with 3:48 left in the first quarter. Harding led Garfield Heights (18-5) after one, 12-10.

Tied at 14 with 5:35 left in the first half, Harding took a timeout to try and relax and grab some air. That may have been a mistake because from about the 5-minute mark to halftime, the Bulldogs took it to Harding and led, 28-18, at the half.

“We go 5 for 10 in the first quarter then we go 2 for 9 (in the second quarter), 1 for 9 (in the third quarter) and then 3 for 10 (in the fourth quarter). You have to make shots and we ran some good stuff and got good looks,” Harding coach Andy Vlajkovich said. “We couldn’t buy a bucket. Teams like us can beat teams like them, but you have to execute.”

The shots weren’t falling for Harding and they really weren’t on the other side either. Garfield Heights held the ball for most of the quarter to keep it away from the Raiders. It worked quite well as both teams combined to score seven points in the quarter.

Tribune Chronicle / Marc Weems Warren G. Harding’s Delmar Moore (5) tries to block the shot of Garfield Heights’ Donovan Forte (2) as Garfield Heights’ Brison Waller, right, and Warren G. Harding’s Chris Hughes (4) and Dom McGhee, left, look on for a rebound.

“We are so balanced and we looked to go inside. I thought we got them in a little foul trouble and we shared the ball well,” Garfield Heights coach Sonny Johnson said. “It’s a good thing to see us fighting. When we got the lead we just wanted to be patient. We wanted to make sure that we got good shots.”

A lot of the small things went the other way for Harding. The Raiders were out-rebounded, 26-17, while also be out-assisted, 13-6. Those will always make a big difference.

“We just didn’t grab some 50/50 balls and we didn’t finish possessions. These kids busted their butts, played as hard as they could and then maybe didn’t finish the possession with a rebound or loose ball,” Vlajkovich said. “If you would’ve told me at Christmas that we would have 18 wins and lose by 10 in the district semis, that would’ve been a pretty good gift.”

Vlajkovich said he never imagined being in this spot after starting 2-4 on the year.

“This season was an incredible experience for me,” he said. “Those kids taught me a lot and taught me about character and toughness. I’m indebted to this senior class because they helped me re-establish our culture and re-establish what it means to be a Warren Harding basketball player.”