By Doug Chapin
Warren Harding is 10-2 despite having a relatively young team.
WARREN — One coach is looking for more recognition for his team, while the other coach is seeking more consistency from her squad.
Such were the reactions Thursday night after Harding High’s 48-43 girls basketball win over East in the Steel Valley Conference opener for both teams.
“We finally feel this team is getting some recognition,” Harding coach P.J. Notar said. “We are 10-2, the best start for this basketball team since I’ve been here.
“We have one senior, we have a freshman point guard and another freshman coming off the bench,” Notar said. “We like to think the tradition is back.”
East coach Tanisha Franklin said, “We need to develop more consistency. Tonight was another game we could have taken, we just couldn’t get over the hump. If we had made our free throws, we win this game.
“The girls played hard tonight and give Harding credit, they’re a real good team,” Franklin said. “But this was another game we could have won. It was there for the taking,”
Harding led throughout the game, holding quarter leads of 10-8, 19-13 and 34-27, the largest lead in the game.
The Panthers (5-6) tied the game at 38 with 3:29 remaining, and took their only lead of the game, 43-42, at the 1:03 mark on a rebound putback by Reshayla Taylor.
The Raiders’ lone senior, Johmarra Warfield, then sank two free throws with 52 seconds left to put Harding ahead again, 44-43.
Junior forward Jaesmine Kirkland, who had been in and out of the game in the second half while nursing a foot injury, dominated the final minute.
After an East turnover, Kirkland drove through the Panther defense for a bucket and a 46-43 Harding lead with 29 seconds left to play.
She grabbed a rebound at the other end, then fed Brianna McCurdy for a basket inside of 10 seconds remaining to put the game on ice.
“She wanted to get back in,” Notar said about putting Kirkland back into the game. “I wasn’t going to do it because we can’t afford to hurt her, but she is a threat.”
“The girls played like they wanted to win this game,” Notar said. “They played like they wanted to get the recognition they deserve. It’s always a team effort, we’re a well-balanced team, they share the ball and the bench does a nice job supporting others and getting in and doing the job.”
Aundrea Baldridge and Kourtney Williams scored 11 points each to lead Harding. Williams also had 11 rebounds. Kirkland and Ronisha Howard finished with eight points each.
East was led by Bethany Hines with 15 points, 13 in the second half, and Briana Dawson scored 14 to go with 11 rebounds despite sitting out much of the third quarter with four fouls. Monet Oliver contributed nine points and 13 rebounds. Alex Hines dished out five assists and Bethany Hines and Taylor had four steals each.
“Bethany Hines stepped up and played well for us,” Franklin said. “She gave us a spark and got some momentum going for us, especially with Briana out with foul trouble. That hurt us, not having Briana for most of the third quarter.”
Both teams struggled from the free throw line. East converted just six of 24 free throws and Harding made just three in 16 tries.
“Tonight was an off night offensively for us,” Notar said. “We had just 48 points and that’s one of our lowest totals of the year.
“East rebounded well in the second half and stopped us from getting the ball out and going,” Notar said. “I’m disappointed with that because what we do best is rebound and push the ball.
“Give East credit, they came out and played hard,” Notar said. “I’m very proud of our girls, when they got down by one late, they kept their composure.”