Big win for Harding

WARREN – This time there was no need for a midnight practice for the Warren G. Harding Raiders.

After a 51-46 win over the Warrensville Heights Tigers in a Lake Erie League game Friday, Raiders coach Andy Vlajkovich could only think about getting a good night of rest for the next challenge on the schedule. The impressive win over one of the Cleveland area’s best teams proceeds a trip to St. Ignatius tonight for a battle against another of Cleveland’s finest.

Vlajkovich, who conducted a practice after what he considered a pedestrian effort in a win over Boardman last week, was much more pleased with what he saw last night. The Raiders (4-1, 3-1 LEL) never trailed. The Tigers (3-1 and 3-1) tied the score at 46 late in the game, but the Raiders scored the final five points.

“I didn’t think we played great, but we played tough,” Vlajkovich said. “We were really good on the glass. That was by far our best defensive game of the year. I was really proud of our kids buying into what we were trying to do.

“They (the Tigers) are a very good team. They’re a top 10 Plain Dealer team. They have a lot of guys back. They were a Division II regional finalist. That was a game we circled.”

There’s no way the Raiders win without a strong showing on the defensive end. The Tigers run the floor well, get after it on defense and hit the boards with aggressiveness.

Jahmere Howze, a 6-6 junior for the Tigers, was a load to handle, particularly in the second half. He scored a team-high 17 points and grabbed 15 rebounds.

Stepping up to meet the challenge presented by Howze was 6-5 sophomore Shakem Johnson, who had 19 rebounds and 11 points. Johnson knew it was, in Vlajkovich’s words, a circle game.

“My coaches told me I have to be aggressive and go out there and crash the boards,” Johnson said. “I had to crash the boards and help my team out.”

Given Johnson’s rebounding work, to get 11 points from him was a bonus.

“The kid has a motor, and he’s long,” Vlajkovich said. “When you’re 6-5 with a 6-7 wingspan and you have great energy, you can be a 19-rebound guy. He’s an example that it doesn’t take a lot of skill or you don’t have to be a 20-a-game point guy to help your team win. He’s getting better with all of his other aspects of the game.”

Anthony Bell showed off his display of offensive moves in scoring a team-high 21 points for the Raiders. Shondell Jackson added 15 points, while Jarelle Johnson dished out eight assists.

Despite being inconsistent on the offensive end, the Tigers remained within striking distance throughout. They trailed 15-7 after the first quarter and 27-20 at halftime. With Howze scoring nine points in the third period, Warrensville got as close as one point (32-31) before Bell registered six of the next eight points to give the Raiders a 38-33 lead entering the fourth quarter.

“We were worried about C.J. Franklin and Yavari Hall, but the Howze kid was really good,” Vlajkovich said.

The Raiders pushed their lead to seven points early in the fourth period, but the Tigers scored nine of the next 11 to tie score. Jackson then drove the baseline to give Harding the lead for good at 48-46.

The Tigers turned over the ball on their next possession. Jackson made another fielder, and Shakem made one free throw to seal the win.

“We got a lot of confidence (from the win),” Shakem Johnson said. “Now we have to go into the next game with the confidence and get a dub (win).”