WGH falls in overtime to Warriors

Staff photo / Brad Emerine Warren G. Harding’s Kamarah Bender, left, dribbles up court as Walsh Jesuit’s Angelina Agresta defends on Saturday in Warren.

WARREN –The Warren G. Harding girls basketball team had looked forward to this season since the class of 2021 was in seventh grade.

It is a talented group with good size, and the seniors worked well together. The Raiders came up a game short last year, losing in a Division I district championship game.

So this was the year.

However, COVID-19 delayed the start of the season by 30 days and the Raiders’ final two weeks of the regular season were canceled due to the pandemic. Still, they went 12-1 in between the shutdowns and were seeded eighth in the district.

All their hopes crashed Saturday when they fell to 12th-seeded Walsh Jesuit, 59-56 in overtime, in a sectional bracket final.

“Coming off a quarantine and having our first game back on a Saturday afternoon, we just started slow,” said Kamarah Bender, one of five seniors, four of whom are starters. “We kind of picked things up, but not enough. We were working out there, but they were working harder and better. They deserved to win today.”

One thing the Raiders didn’t relish was the overtime period.

“We were off 14 days and got back to practice on Thursday,” coach Frank Caputo said. “So we just had a couple days to get ready. Having that time off really hurt our flow.

“Our biggest worry was being off two weeks and not being able to get back into playing shape. We tried these past few days in practice to get to where we needed to be, but it’s tough. When it’s all said and done, that time off really hurts your body.”

That was evident in the fourth quarter and overtime. The hosts went 2-for-4 from the free throw line in the final 1:58 in regulation and were 1-for-4 at the stripe to begin the overtime. In the extra session, Harding also had four turnovers in the final 1:10.

“We just couldn’t make the pivotal plays in the key moments down the stretch,” Caputo said. “Our goal is (to make) 75 percent from the free-throw line and we missed quite a few in the fourth quarter and overtime. I don’t know if it was because our legs were tired in the first game after two weeks off or what. But the free throws and turnovers down the stretch were very costly.

“I can’t fault the girls. They played their hearts out. We just couldn’t make it happen and get some more practices in and continue the season. It’s a shame.”

Senior Faith Burch split two free throws with 21.7 seconds left in regulation and the Raiders forced a missed shot and got the ball with 1.6 left, but couldn’t get off a shot.

Senior Diamond Phillips missed two free throws and Burch split two more to begin overtime. The Warriors’ Maddie Pietrowski made her fourth 3-pointer of the contest with 1:41 left to put her team ahead for good at 54-52.

Phillips’ steal and left-handed layup made it 55-54 with :53 left and the Raiders got the ball back with a chance to take the lead, but a Bender shot rimmed out and the Warriors went 4-for-6 from the line the rest of the way.

Perhaps sensing his team didn’t have its normal fitness, the Raiders opened the game in a zone defense. The Warriors (19-5) made five 3-pointers in the first half and led 23-19 at intermission.

Bender opened the third quarter with a 3-pointer, but Walsh Jesuit went on an 8-0 run for a 31-22 lead.

Harding began forcing turnovers and went on a 13-0 spurt in the next 2:39 to stake a 35-31 lead. The Raiders led 38-35 entering the fourth quarter.

“We’ve made adjustments all season and the girls really responded,” Caputo said. “So I wasn’t concerned initially at halftime, but we fell behind by (nine), it was starting to look bad. But the girls really stepped up and showed their grit to come back and take the lead into the fourth quarter.”

But having to make that comeback may have forced a lot out of the Raiders’ tanks as they were unable to make key plays to win in regulation.

“It’s extremely frustrating because this is the season everyone has been pointing to,” Caputo said. “We start the season off by missing 30 days. We also had a few times where some kids and some coaches were shut down for a while. At one point in time, Kamarah and one of our coaches hadn’t seen each other for six weeks during the middle of the season. We only got to play 13 games going into the tournament and we lost Faith with an injury for a few games.

“We just took our team picture today. It’s the first time we’ve had everyone in the program together since the start of the season. I’m not joking.”

Bender led the Raiders with 23 points. Burch finished with 12 points and Phillips added nine. Senior Alasha Williams had six points. The other senior on the roster was Tonie Smith.

“It’s definitely disappointing to finish like this,” Bender said. “This was supposed to be our year. Obviously, it wasn’t. Not a lot went right. But you know, I love playing with these girls all these years. It just didn’t finish the way we expected, but we didn’t have much of a say in what happened (with COVID).”

Pietrowski scored 22 for the Warriors and Colette Sutton added 16.

Junior Makaila Powell added six points for Harding.

“Makaila is the only one who played today who wasn’t a senior,” Caputo said. “I’m really going to miss these seniors. They were great on the floor, off the floor and in the locker room. We had no problems and a singular focus. I will miss them as players and as people. They are just tremendous, and I hurt for them the way this year unfolded.”


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