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Lesson learned

Young Raiders lose lead, then fall to Fitch in 2 OTs

Staff photo / Brian Yauger -- Harding’s Emari Burgess pushes past Fitch freshman Dan Evans as he moves toward the hoop. Burgess scored 13 points for the Raiders.

WARREN — It took two additional periods to decide a winner, with neither team ceding ground, but as the dust finally settled, Fitch completed the comeback to beat Harding 72-67 on Tuesday night.

“I thought we played well for three and a half quarters,” Raiders coach Keelyn Franklin said. “They competed. We’ve just got to get better in crunch time when we’re up and teams press us. We played our butts off for three and a half quarters and then when they put the press on, we panicked and got away from what got us the lead.

“We just have got to make better decisions. We made some questionable decisions out there and that’s on me. I’ve got to get the guys more prepared for it. We’ve just got to get better in situations, especially when we have a lead and teams press us.”

What got Harding that lead was a high-flying offense anchored by leading scorer Dom Foster and Emari Burgess. Foster scored 17 points and Burgess scored 13.

The Raiders, who have a relatively young team, picked up valuable experience in the crunch time situation, but to Franklin, there were plenty of opportunities to get the win that Harding should have taken.

Staff photo / Brian Yauger -- Dom Foster goes up for a layup for the Raiders during the first half of Tuesday’s game. Foster led Harding with 17 points.

“They’ll be better in the future because of this,” Franklin said. “They’re taking their lumps and they’re growing a lot. We’ve got freshmen out there, a couple sophomores, but those are games we’ve got to win.

“Those games we should win regardless of who’s out there. When you’ve got a 10-point lead in that situation in a game, you’ve got to be more disciplined. We have to execute better as a team and as a coaching staff. We’ve got to make the winning plays needed in crunch time to ensure that you secure that victory.”

With 12 seconds left on the clock, a foul on Harding senior Aston Bates sent him to the line. The Raiders held a 53-52 lead. Bates hit his first shot but missed the second, giving his team a 2-point advantage as time ticked away.

With one second left in the game, leading scorer Todd Simons was called to the line after missing the potential game-tying bucket. Simons hit both shots to tie the game at 54. Harding’s Hail Mary shot missed, and another four minutes was added to the clock.

Simons spent most of the second half, including the two overtime periods, just one slip up away from spending the remainder of the game on the bench because of fouls. Despite that, the senior didn’t leave the court, scoring all but eight of his 34 points after halftime. Beany had trust in Simons, knowing his senior could stay out of trouble.

“With some players, especially young ones, you kind of play the ‘foul game’, as far as if they get fouls early you want to make sure that they don’t (foul out),” Beany said. “(With Simons), you just ride him. He got four fouls with however much time to go, plus he played two overtimes with four fouls. He knows how to play with fouls.”

Across the two overtimes, Fitch outscored the Raiders 18-13 to complete the come-from-behind victory.

With the way the second quarter was going, Harding very easily could have run away with the game. Fitch scored its first points of the second quarter with two minutes remaining, and tacked on one more bucket before the break. But something clicked as they stepped on the court for the second half.

“Let’s just put it this way, it was pretty fiery,” Beany said about the halftime message to his team. “I know what we’re capable of, it’s just a matter of just pulling it out of them. We play a lot of young kids and sometimes those kids haven’t been in this type of environment so it does take them some time to catch on.

“I challenged them, they stepped up, it was a great game by both teams. It hung in the balance for 99 percent of the game.”

Fitch moves to 5-6 on the season and picks up its fourth win in five games. Their only blemish in 2021 was a loss to Boardman. Friday, the team looks to continue their success when they travel to Howland.

Harding (1-5, 1-1) has two more games in its four-game homestand, looking to get back on the right track Friday against Canfield before hosting league-leading Boardman on Tuesday.

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