Harding honors Bubba with 2OT win



The Raiders coachdied one year ago.
By JOE SCALZO
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
WARREN -- Mike Phillips and Danny Stella took advantage of a rare snow day on Friday to visit a part of their past.
The two Warren Harding seniors drove to the home of Ruth Bubba, whose husband, Frank, passed away exactly a year earlier after a long battle with cystic fibrosis.
"We just sat down and reminisced," Phillips said. "I got a lot of encouragement from him and I know he really wanted to win state. He passed away without getting a chance."
Harding coach Steve Arnold knew the significance of Friday's date, but decided not to mention it before Friday's game against Fitch.
But Phillips and Stella -- the only two remaining starters from last year's team -- carried the memory with them.
"We wanted to win real bad today," Phillips said.
So did the Falcons.
Double overtime
Harding entered the game undefeated in the Steel Valley Conference and left the same way -- but it took two overtimes.
Phillips and Stella combined for 37 points as the Raiders outlasted visiting Fitch, 84-79.
"Heckuva game," Fitch coach Gary Conroy said. "I'm proud of the way we played. We came and battled Harding on their court and hopefully when they go on the road, things will change."
The Falcons' standout senior center, Greg Mayes, fouled out of the game with 4:33 left and Fitch trailing 54-51.
Rather than fold, the Falcons got better, as junior Terrell Eargle and senior Jason Aikens combined for Fitch's final 15 points to force a 66-66 tie at the end of regulation. Eargle hit two key free throws with just two-tenths of a second left.
"I think once Mayes fouled out, our kids got a little complacent and some of their kids picked up their intensity," Arnold said. "That happens in basketball."
Extra session
Fitch led for most of the first overtime before Harding's Josh Johnson hit two free throws with 50 seconds left to tie the game. Fitch played for the last shot, but Aikens missed just inside the 3-point line at the buzzer.
Then the Falcons seemed to run out of gas. Harding (10-2, 4-0) opened a five-point lead and, despite missing five straight free throws at one point, held on for good.
"I felt like we kept our composure," said Phillips, who had 17 points, five rebounds and three assists. "They went up in overtime and they were jumping around and they were only up by two."
Stella finished with 20 points -- six in the second overtime -- seven assists and five rebounds. Johnson had 17 points and 10 rebounds, and Jonte Stroud added eight rebounds.
Eargle finished with 23 points, nine rebounds, five steals and three assists for Fitch (9-4, 2-2), which has also lost close games to East Liverpool, Liberty and North Canton Hoover.
Aikens had 27 points -- including four 3s -- and Mark Aikens had 17 points.
Mayes finished with nine points and seven rebounds.
"We always talk about defending our court," said Arnold, who plays three of his final four SVC games on the road. "We have a two-game lead and it's going to be big for us to play well on the road."
After the game, Phillips smiled when he talked about Bubba.
He wasn't just thinking about the past, but also the future.
"We gotta win [state] for him," Phillips said. "Anything short is unacceptable."
scalzo@vindy.com

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