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Warren G. Harding falls in playoff opener

Staff photo / Brian Yauger Harding senior Zoey Jenkins directs traffic while a play develops during Saturday’s postseason contest against Westlake.

WARREN — The Warren G. Harding Raiders’ season came to an end Saturday, losing 55-39 to Westlake in the opening round of the Division I, Northeast 4 District tournament.

Harding was unable to find its offensive rhythm early, and the slump continued throughout.

“Their press caused a lot of problems, but we just couldn’t get anything to go early, and our flow got kind of off,” Raiders coach Frank Caputo said. “Defensively, we weren’t doing what we were supposed to, and we just didn’t get into that flow that we wanted to get into offensive-wise.”

Sophomore Akeelha Barnes led the Raiders with nine points.

Leading up to the contest Saturday, the Raiders put a sizeable focus on defending the deep ball. Unfortunately for Harding, the Demons had an answer for what the Raiders were doing and capitalized in a big way.

All 18 points Westlake scored in the first quarter came from shots taken beyond the arc.

Despite the loss, the youthful Raiders squad was still in good spirits.

“I was a little disappointed in our execution. We had a couple of great days of practice in a row and getting out on three pointers, and to give up six in the first quarter, they only scored three pointers in the first quarter, it’s kind of demoralizing to us,” Caputo said. “The one thing we were focusing on is what they got the most, but we learned a lot from it. The girls were still positive at halftime being down and even at the end of the game, understanding that, hey, this was a big moment and this was a really good team.”

Losing just two seniors, Zoey Jenkins and Dynasty Brown, the Raiders are primed to reload for next season. Harding is looking at this as an unfortunate, but necessary bump in the road as their youthful core grows as players.

“The young ones got a lot of experience and a lot of playing time and I think our seniors, they really, really played their hearts out,” Caputo said. “This is a group that likes playing with each other, so getting them in the summer and getting that bond and getting them to work with each other, that’ll be our key.”

The bar is raised for next season, but now the responsibility is on the team’s end to keep growing.

“Almost everybody’s coming back, which is very exciting,” Caputo said. “Especially if they want to buy into what we’re selling, and they continue to keep working hard. I mean, the sky’s the limit for this group, and we’re really excited about them (going forward.)”

It all starts with growing skills and becoming elite at the basics.

“It’s all skill progression, just keep working on our skills,” Caputo said. “Getting our post players, more moves and having our guards handling the ball a bit more with our posts. Basically, that fifth and sixth grade mentality of you know, dribble, passing, shooting, just get much better at those little things and the rest of it will come.”

The Raiders’ season ends at 11-12.

Westlake advances to the second round of the postseason where they’ll face Massillon Washington on Thursday.

byauger@tribtoday.com

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