Harding wins second straight

WARREN – The idea of peaking just before the start of the basketball tournaments doesn’t mean much to Andy Vlajkovich.

The Warren G. Harding Raiders coach knows all too well that peaks can be followed by descents that will upset your stomach faster than any dip on a rollercoaster ride. Getting overly excited about wins over Warrensville Heights and the Bedford Bearcats on back-to-back nights isn’t something to get too giddy about.

That’s not to say Vlajkovich wasn’t pleased with the Raiders’ effort in a 64-55 Lake Erie League win over the Bearcats Saturday night.

“You see teams win their conference championship and in the NCAA tournament get beat in the first round,” Vlajkovich said. “Then you see teams limp into the tournament and win four games.

“There’s no real rhyme or reason. I do like where we’re at mentally. I think our chemistry is good. I think our rhythm is good, and I think going more zone has really helped us a lot too.”

The Raiders (12-10 and 6-8 in the LEL) have something positive to build on entering Wednesday’s home game against Solon in an opening-round game of the Euclid Division I district. The victory followed a 66-60 win over LEL champion Warrensville Heights on Friday.

It was a different Harding team than the one that lost to Bedford, 72-59, earlier this month. Vlajkovich was concerned about the depth of skilled players possessed by the Bearcats (12-8).

“If you look at their boxscores, it’s like a different guy leads them every night,” Vlajkovich said. “I think they have five or six guys averaging close to double figures.”

Vlajkovich’s primary worry was keeping Shamar Jeffrey under control. The Raiders did a sound defensive job on Jeffrey, who didn’t produce another point after a quick fielder in the first quarter. He left shortly with an injury that drew blood but was back on the floor a short time later.

The Raiders had a balanced scoring attack led by Shakem Johnson with 21 points. All eight players that logged time for Harding scored, including Shondell Jackson with 14 and King Garner with 10.

This was a game that lacked a definitive turning point. The Raiders trailed just once (6-4) before taking the lead at 9-6 on a 3-point shot by Garner.

Johnson had a big first half, scoring 13 points as Harding took a 26-20 lead to the locker room. The Raiders went on an eight-point run to end the third quarter with a 44-33 lead. A 3-point shot by Tommy Perry just before the start of the fourth period provided a big lift in momentum.

“We were pretty tough tonight; pretty gritty,” Vlajkovich said. “I thought we were resilient. They made a little run. Tommy hit a big shot.”

The Bearcats kept it close for most of the fourth quarter before the Raiders scored seven unanswered points to take a commanding 59-46 lead.

Miles Meredith had 17 points to lead the Bearcats in scoring. Myron Prewitt was next with 10.

The Raiders face a demanding tournament road. A win over Solon would put them in a bracket final at Cleveland Glenville. Beyond that would be a likely contest against defending state champion Mentor in the district semifinals.

“Now it’s go time,” Vlajkovich said.