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Seniors carry Raiders in final minutes of victory

Staff photo / Brad Emerine Canfield defenders Amelia Francisco (15), Alyssa Dill, right, and Gianna DeLucia, back, form a tent around Harding’s Faith Burch during Saturday’s game. The host Raiders beat the Cardinals 40-34.

WARREN — The Warren G. Harding girls basketball team displayed its experience Saturday when the Raiders were pushed by Canfield in the fourth quarter.

Senior leaders Diamond Phillips and Faith Burch made the key plays during a 9-0 run in the fourth quarter that helped the Raiders defeat the Cardinals 40-34 to remain unbeaten this season.

After Canfield’s Alyssa Dill made a bucket to trim the Cardinals’ deficit to 31-23 entering the fourth period, Kate Sahli opened the fourth quarter with a basket and Marissa Ieraci drained a 3-pointer from the top of the key to make it 31-28.

Harding (7-0, 3-0 All-American Conference) responded as Burch made a pair of free throws and followed by converting a short jumper in the lane off an assist from Alasha Williams. Phillips scored on a drive and then dished back out of the key to Burch, who nailed a 3-pointer from the top of the circle to end the run with Harding ahead 40-28 with 1:09 left.

Burch scored only two points until the decisive run.

Staff photo / Brad Emerine Canfield point guard Marissa Ieraci, left, drives past Warren G. Harding defender Diamond Phillips.

The Raiders were playing without another senior standout, Kamarah Bender, who is undergoing COVID-19 contact tracing, but has shown no symptoms, according to Harding coach Frank Caputo.

“That’s why this was a great team win, being without Kamarah and Canfield having Faith bottled up for the most part,” Caputo said. “We found a way. If you notice, Diamond controlled the tempo and made some key baskets and she kept us in good spots. Then those two senior leaders took over down the stretch after it got tight.”

But it was far from a two-person effort, as Alasha Williams stepped up by scoring 11 of her team-high 13 points in the first quarter. Phillips netted 12 to go with Burch’s nine points.

“Alasha Williams really deserves the shoutout,” Caputo said. “We’ve been telling her she has to be positive in her ability, and she stepped up and really had a great first half. She started well and set that momentum for us.”

The Raiders didn’t learn about Bender until late Friday night.

“We came in and did a walk through for an hour before we normally arrive for a home game because we didn’t find out about Kamarah until late last night,” Caputo said. “But we’ve been preaching to our No. 6, 7, 8 and 9 girls to learn every position because at any point and time this year, with this stuff going on, somebody might disappear from the lineup.”

The Cardinals clamped down on Burch.

“Canfield is a great preparation team and they know how to handle both bigs and smalls and they had people in the right places today,” Caputo said. “They did a great job against Faith, but she kept fighting through it, and not scoring didn’t affect her overall play. She had maybe 10 or 11 rebounds, a handful of blocked shots and kept busy on defense. That’s a sign of maturity and willingness to do whatever it takes for the team.”

Canfield coach Matt Reel was impressed with the play of Phillips.

“Diamond is real underrated,” he said. “I think she’s one of the better point guards around and we’ve known that since these girls were in seventh grade. She’s really improved her game. She does a nice job creating tempo and knowing when to push and when to pull back. Her shot is improved and if you have to go out and pressure her, it’s a really, really tough job because she’ll go around you, and that’s what happened in the end.”

Reel also credited Harding for making his Cardinals look tentative on offense.

“We were too tentative, but of course Harding can do that to you,” said Reel, whose squad dipped to 5-6 overall and 2-1 in the AAC. “They’re long, athletic and can jump. They take away things in the zone defense that a lot of other teams don’t and we tried to practice for that. But it’s tough to duplicate their size, length and quickness. It’s a tough combination to prepare for.

“Our girls put in the time, work hard and they’re wonderful young ladies, but their belief in themselves has got to be greater than the coaches’ belief. That’s what can get us over the top and what we’re trying to create. When you face good teams at the varsity level, you have to have that belief and drive.”

Abby Muckleroy scored 12 points to lead Canfield.

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