By Ryan Jones
The Raiders turned back East 74-55 in the final season for the conference which will disband.
YOUNGSTOWN — Warren Harding High boys basketball coach Steve Arnold said championship is a word that his team has talked about many times this season.
Friday night, the Raiders rolled to a 74-55 victory against East and captured their first championship — the final Steel Valley Conference regular season title.
“I am truly humble when I say that we have elevated our program in the past few years to the point where we are discussing winning championships — whether it’s a conference or a state championship,” Arnold said. “We knew that this was the last SVC title game. I thought we played with a lot of intensity and kept our composure.”
With a 50-41 lead after three quarters, Warren Harding (17-2, 5-0) went on a 13-2 run to start the final frame.
Desmar Jackson, who scored six of his 12 points in the fourth quarter, put an emphatic ending on the Raiders run. The 6-foot-4 senior threw down a two handed jam in transition, and after stealing the ball on East’s next possession he passed ahead to teammate Angel Gonzalez, who dunked to push the lead to 63-43.
East’s Kenny Carter was hit with a technical at the 7:06 mark of the fourth quarter after
East coach Mark Cherol said he thought the technical foul turned the game, as the Panthers (12-7, 4-1) trailed 52-43 at that point.
“We were only down nine when we got the technical and then it got away from us when they went on that run,” Cherol said. “I thought we had to play almost flawlessly to have a chance to win tonight.”
Harding raced to a 22-11 lead in the first quarter, with Gonzalez scoring 11 points in the frame.
Gonzalez, who totaled 29 points and 10 rebounds, canned three of his four threes in the first quarter.
Arnold said Gonzalez has stepped up in recent games.
“He’s put together a couple of good games for us,” he said. “We need Angel to do that. He’s a difficult guard for most teams because if you put a big guy on him he can step away and hit the three. Guard him with a smaller man and he will overpower him inside.”
Gonzalez said he was looking for his offense, but credited his teammates for finding him when open.
“They were looking for me all night,” he said of his teammates. “We played hard and together. This team is like a family; no matter we have to do we stick together.”
East cut the advantage to 26-20 midway through the second quarter, but failed to come closer the rest of the game.
“We tried to slow them down by going to a 2-2-1 press and a 2-3 zone,” Cherol said. “It worked for awhile. I was proud of how we fought back after being down.”
Harding entertains Mentor tonight to close out the regular season.
“We’ve got to get guys feeling comfortable in their roles heading into the tournament,” he said. “Tomorrow’s games against Mentor will test our mental toughness. They play a different style than what we saw tonight. How we adapt to their play will be key.”
Trumane Jenkins led the Panthers with 14 points, Carter had 13 points and Jarelle Burt scored 12.
Fred Williams tallied 17 points, four rebounds and five assists for the Raiders who shot 29-of-49 from the field.