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Harding girls end long losing skid vs. Fitch

AUSTINTOWN — The times have changed in Warren. For the first time in Warren G. Harding girls basketball coach Frank Caputo’s eight-year career, the Raiders defeated Austintown Fitch, 56-42, in an All-American Conference Red Tier match-up on Saturday.

“I’m happy with the outcome,” Caputo said. “It’s the first time we’ve beaten Fitch since I’ve taken over. So, it’s nice to finally get that off my back. The girls play so hard. They listen. They do everything we ask them to do. We’re rolling a little bit. We’re excited.”

The Falcons (5-8, 1-3) winning streak against the Raiders looked like it might continue when they got out to a 16-12 lead in the first quarter. Emma Bartlett (team-high 15 points) was on fire for Fitch. She drained four bombs from downtown to help Austintown take the early lead.

However, the Raiders (13-2, 3-0) turned up the defense and held Fitch scoreless the remainder of the first. Kamarah Bender (15 points) stole the ball and saved it before it went out of bounds. She tossed it to Faith Burch (15 points), who laid it in, and Harding led 19-16 after one.

Bender was at it again to begin the second, when she stole an inbound pass. This time, she went all the way for the score. Burch showed up as well, when she got a shooter’s roll on a jumper. Bender drilled a 3-pointer, and Harding led 27-16 with three minutes left until halftime.

The Raiders strong defensive effort continued as they held the Falcons to four points in the second quarter. Daria Williams finally got Fitch on the board with just over a minute left til the half. Alyssa Leskovac followed her own shot and scored. Harding led, 29-20, at the break.

“We knew, coming in, how dominant Harding can play at times,” Fitch coach Dan Shnurrenberger said. “Definitely, with Bender, Burch, and (Diamond) Phillips they are very experienced. They are very well coached. We tried to slow them down a little bit. We played a good first quarter. I’m proud of our effort.’

“I told the Harding girls that this is their season. It’s their conference to win this year. They’re playing very well. They’re a fun team to watch. I hate to be on the other side of it. They have all the pieces. They have shooters. They have a good point guard, and they have bigs inside.”

One of those bigs is senior Karlie Heilman. Ashley Mickey made a nice bank shot for the Falcons, but Heilman’s rebounding and presence down low, helped Harding take a 44-30 lead into the fourth.

Phillips, Harding’s point, took over in the fourth. She was the recipient of an outlet pass after Burch made a big block. Bender made a wonderful, leaping pass to her as well for a bucket. Phillips poured in eight of her game-high 17 points in the closing minutes.

“You gotta run the floor,” Phillips said. “I helped the team pick up the tempo after the first. We’re learning from each experience. This has been a great season.”

Caputo echoed those remarks.

“Diamond is our tempo-giver,” Caputo said. “When she gets going, everybody else kind of feeds off of her. She finds the open person a lot. She’s really zoning in. She’s fun to watch.”

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