After three tries, Fitch head coach Jason Baker finally got his first win at the school.
A second half surge enabled the Falcons to foil their fellow West Side foe, 71-63 in the Youngstown-Warren Holiday Classic at the Covelli Centre Dec. 12.
“It felt really good (to get that first win),” said an elated Baker this past weekend.
The Cowboys came into the Covelli Centre looking as if they wanted to spoil the holidays of Fitch’s new bench boss. Chaney took advantage of some porous Fitch first-half defense to score 22 points in the opening quarter. Fitch trailed by as many as 11 points in the first half before rallying to pull to within six points at halftime.
In the second half, however, it was a whole other West Side story. Using strong play by Ty Underwood, DeAndre Richardson and Will Mahone, the Falcons came out of the locker room on fire. Fitch netted a pair of 20-point frames outscoring Chaney 40-26 over the final two periods. According to coach Baker the difference over that span was his team playing more like a cohesive unit.
“Without a doubt the biggest thing in the second half was that we played unselfish basketball,” Baker announced. “In the first half everyone was playing for themselves. We challenged the kids at halftime and they came out and played our best half of the year.”
Although the Falcons won the game following the team first philosophy, there were still some solid individual performances. Fitch got 16 points from Underwood, 15 from Richardson, 12 from Mahone and 10 from Terry Terrigno. Richardson and Mahone also hit a pair of three-pointers each.
That first win over Chaney came at just the right time for Fitch because it was in dire need of victory after starting the year 0-3. Win number one almost came unexpectedly inside the Federal League a night before the Chaney game. The Falcons played inspired basketball before falling at home to Canton McKinley, 64-44. Sure, a 20-point loss could be considered a blowout, but in this game the final score was not indicative of how hard the Falcons battled.
“We played very well,” said Baker. “The game got away in the last two minutes. We just ran out of gas.”
There never seemed to be a time all evening when the game seemed out of hand. At one point in the first half, Fitch was as close as five points to the perennial Federal League contender. The Falcons hung tough, trailing just 49-39 with five minutes remaining. Unfortunately, the gutty Fitch defense could not stop the raging Bulldogs from going on an 11-0 run late in the game. Losing a game like that one inside the conference proved a couple of things to coach Baker and one of those things was certainly a positive.
“We can’t let up in any Federal League game,” the coach admitted. “(Despite the loss) these kids are playing hard and are showing improvement each and every game. At least we are being very competitive.”
Offensively, Fitch competed with its Federal big brother thanks to Mahone who hit four three-pointers en route to a 17-point night.
Baker’s boys attempted to stay competitive when they played another grueling Federal League game Dec. 15 at North Canton Hoover. Before that Tuesday tilt, Baker was encouraging his kids to continue the unselfishness they displayed in their win over Chaney. The coach realized, however, that it will be harder to do that against a quality opponent like Hoover.
“That game will challenge our self discipline,” Baker said.
A battle with crosstown rival Boardman awaits the Falcons on Dec. 22.