Prep boys basketball: Redskins dominate rival Zeps

CALDWELL – As Tanner Harding goes, so goes the Caldwell Redskin basketball team.

Despite being the third leading score on a team that also features Jonathan Weichman and Tanner Clark, when things go well for Harding it usually means good things for the Redskins according to head coach Clint Crane.

Tuesday night, things went more than just well for Harding as the 5-foot-8 junior guard poured in a career-high 29 points as the Redskins rolled to a 64-35 victory over the visiting Shenandoah Zeps in the second Battle of Noble County of the 2013-2014 season.

Harding connected on seven triples, including five in a pivotal second quarter that saw the Redskins outscore Shenandoah 22-15 to take a 13-point lead into the intermission.

“We kind of go as he (Harding) goes,” said Crane, noting that Harding has shot over 50 percent from behind the arc over the last several games. “When he plays well we play well and he has really played well this past month and a half.”

Early on the Craig Sebring-led Zeps matched the ‘Skins step for step and a steal and basket by Jackson Cline and an inside score by big man Stanley Gutowski put Shenandoah in front 10-8.

Back-to-back Caldwell scores by Weichman and Justin Figal put Caldwell back in front and triggered an 8-0 run to finish the first quarter with the Redskins in front 16-10.

Harding began to warm up in the second quarter as he nailed back-to-back three balls on assists from Clark and Johnny Carpenter in the first minute.

Weichman’s drive to the hole increased the lead to 14 and after Merritt Flood sank a pair of freebies, Harding hit a runner from inside the arc to push the lead to 26-12.

The Zeps struggled from the floor in the game as they shot just 28 percent (10-36) but were right on the mark from the charity stripe as they made 15-of-17 free throw attempts.

Flood and Gutowski both connected on a pair of freebies to close the lead to 10, but Harding struck four more times from long range to send Caldwell to the intermission with a 38-25 lead.

“We were playing well defensively and everything was going good on offense,” said Harding, who also connected on seven treys against the Frontier Cougars back on January 15. “Everybody contributed and passed the ball well and I was able to make some shots.”

Tanner Moore opened the second half for the Zeps with a bucket but Clark drilled a three-pointer after being held scoreless in the opening half.

Gutowski nailed a pair of free throws to cut the lead to 12 before Caldwell got field goals by Weichman and Caleb Heller and yet another triple from none other than Harding.

Harding proved he was more than just a long range bomber in the final quarter as he converted a pair of old fashioned three-point plays to lead the ‘Skins on a 10-0 run that opened the lead to 27 with 7:17 to play.

“It’s good when your teammates notice that you are shooting well and they get you the ball,” said Harding, who also contributed five steals and four assists to the Caldwell attack. “We’re working and getting better each game.”

While Harding kept the crowd on its feet all game long with his offense it was his blocked shot of an attempt by the much taller Gutowski that drew the loudest applause from the Caldwell faithful.

The large lead allowed both coaches to empty their benches down the stretch as nearly everyone who dressed got into the game in the final five minutes.

“We have talked about being able to build some depth,” said Crane, who had nine players score at least a point in the game. “We have only been playing about seven so it was good to get some other guys some minutes.”

Weichman joined Harding in double figures with 10 points while also collecting a team-high five rebounds.

Gutowski led the way for the Zeps with 11 points and nine rebounds while Flood finished with 10, including a perfect eight-for-eight from the free throw line.

The win improved Caldwell’s season mark to 13-6 while Shenandoah slipped to 3-16 with the loss.

The Redskins honored their three seniors, Weichman, Carpenter, and Alexis Cubas prior to the game.

Caldwell wraps up the regular season Saturday night when it plays host to the Marietta Tigers.