After losing four games in a row to close out December, Fitch began the new calendar year by losing a pair of games to Niles and Uniontown Lake. The losses left Fitch 1-9 overall and winless in the Federal League and left first-year head coach Jason Baker still searching for better basketball.
“One of our main goals was to being playing our best basketball in February,” said Baker. “We need to put the first half behind us and we need to take strides to get better, especially defensively.”
Fitch’s defense was not on display in the Jan. 8 game versus Lake. Before anyone in attendance was done brushing the falling outside snow off of their winter coats, Lake was already out to a 22-11 lead. The Blue Streaks burst out in the second quarter and went on a 16-8 run to take an insurmountable 38-19 lead with them into the locker room at halftime. Coach Baker figured that Lake was on pace to score around 80 points and that is why he was so disgusted with his team's defense.
“You can’t give a good team like (Lake) that many points,” Baker complained. “The effort was not there defensively.”
Perhaps one reason why there was such a defensive deficiency was the fact that Fitch was playing without six-foot, two-inch standout senior Terry Terrigno. Terrigno has a torn labrum and surgery is a certainty. Without Terrigno on the defensive end, the Falcons are far less ferocious.
“(Terrigno) is a key for us defensively,” said a somber Baker. “His loss will have a huge effect on us. He is a tough kid who was trying to play through the pain. Hopefully that will inspire the rest of the kids.”
Fitch will also suffer without Terrigno on the offensive side of the ball. No Falcon reached double-digits in scoring against the Blue Streaks. Will Mahone led the Falcons with nine points. DeAndre Richardson and Jahwuan Pete each scored seven.
The Falcons did get more scoring a few nights earlier in Niles, but still was not able to get on the better side of the scoreboard. Fitch lost to the Red Dragons 87-79, but coach Baker was far more upbeat than he was following the loss to Lake.
“Offensively, we played well,” Baker bragged. “We just had too many breakdowns in the second half defensively.”
A 52-point outburst after halftime by Niles was the breakdown Baker was bemoaning. Spurring the second half explosion was a 25-12 run by the Red Dragons in the third quarter that turned a 46-35 Fitch lead at halftime into a two-point deficit for the Falcons entering the fourth quarter. Although the Falcons let their lead slip away, they still played much more aggressively on the defensive side than they have been lately.
“The effort on defense was there,” Baker explained. “The kids were in their correct spots on the floor, they were running the floor well and getting back on defense. We just had some breakdowns in the second half that were too hard to overcome.”
Fitch foiled any effort Niles’ defense put forth in the first half by scoring 46 points over the first 16 minutes. Richardson went wild in Niles hitting five three-pointers en route to a 30-point evening. Mahone was also a maniac making 26 points of his own.
Baker would love that kind of scoring to be combined with the type of defense the Falcons played in the first half of the Niles game the rest of this season. Two of the next three games for Fitch will be non-conference clashes, but the bad news is those games will be on the road against staunch competition. The Falcons traveled to Cardinal Mooney on Jan. 12 and will play at Hudson later this month. In between those two games is a match with conference foe GlenOak on Jan. 15. Making things worse for Fitch is that opponents can now take advantage of the hole left in the lineup with Terrigno’s injury. Baker realizes that and also realizes that the competition the rest of this winter will be as cold as the howling January and February winds.
“Nobody is going to feel sorry for us,” Baker said. “We have to improve because the schedule is only going to get tougher the rest of the year.”
Photo By Emmett King, Town Crier correspondent
Fitch’s Billy Price lets one get away in the Jan. 8 loss to Uniontown Lake, 79-41.