Harding back in district final
By matthew Peaslee
Warren Harding’s Jesse Hardin likes to put on a show.
After all, his nickname is “Showtime.”
As the two-minute mark passed in the third quarter of the Raiders’ Division I district semifinal against Youngstown East, DelShawn Bell picked up a loose ball at half curt and heaved it to Hardin who was heading straight for the hoop.
A two-handed slam put Harding up 41-30 and launched it to a 63-44 victory Wednesday at Alliance High School.
When his feet touched the ground after the dunk, the Raider faithful chanted “Showtime” and waved their arms at Hardin.
“[It’s a nickname] I’ve had since the beginning of the year,” Hardin said. “For now, [I’ve lived up to it.]”
The Panthers had closed the deficit to three points late in the second, but the Bell-to-Hardin hookup was a drainer for them and coach Mark Cherol knew it.
“You can’t let them do that,” Cherol said. “You have to keep their excitement to a minimum.”
One thing the Raiders (19-3) definitely are is excited — for good reason.
This is their fifth straight appearance in the Division I district final. They will face either Green or North Canton Hoover on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in Alliance. Those two teams square off tonight.
“Those are expectations that we’ve set here,” Harding coach Steve Arnold. “That says a lot for our program.”
In order to make it five in a row, it had to get past the Panthers. Arnold admitted he was wary facing them, even after his squad beat East 72-56 earlier in the season.
“It had the same flow,” Arnold said. “Those kids play so hard. To hold East to 44 points is very good.”
What hurt the Panthers the most, though, was their shooting. From the field, they were just 18-of-72 for the game and 7-of-28 in the second half. East missed all 10 of its 3-point attempts.
“I was hoping for a better shot selection,” Cherol said. “We missed a couple of bunnies here and there and things add up. We played as well as we could, but it just wasn’t our night.”
Harding had four players score in double figures. Shaheed Davis, Rasuan Smith and Arthur Cook each netted 12, while Hardin had a game-high 13.
Cherol called the Raiders, “one of the best teams in the state.”
“Coach Arnold is a great leader and has had those kids do some great things for quite sometime,” he said. “They always know how to get the job done.”
It could be the sting of back-to-back losses in the district championship, but Hardin, one of seven seniors, has high expectations to complete the task of a state championship.
“That would be a disappointment,” he said of the possibility of three straight defeats. “We lose — it would ruin the season.”
Taylor Johnson and Deontay Scott paced East [15-7] with 10 points each. Johnson’s rebound and putback cut the Raider lead to three, 25-22, with 1:22 left until halftime. The Panthers tallied 45 rebounds compared to just 35 from Harding and Scott led with 11.
To close out the third, Smith found Cook posted up on an outside wing and he knocked down one of his two 3-pointers as time expired and the Raiders expanded the gap to 45-33.
Davis and Smith also had dunks for the Harding.
Hardin can describe the moment for those that have never experienced the glory of slamming one home.
“It’s always a good feeling to get the crowd on your side,” he said.