Fitch finished its foray in the Federal League tournament plus had two non-conference games on the schedule as well. Although the Lady Falcons did fabulously in those out-of-league experiences, the experience of the Federal tournament was a forgettable one. Fitch finished dead last in the tournament with three consecutive losses to North Canton Hoover, Uniontown Lake and Canton GlenOak respectively. Now the Lady Falcons, who have been playing solid basketball for most of this season, must find themselves in time to start the Division I district tournament on Feb. 22 in Alliance. Despite those three conference tournament setbacks, Fitch head coach Stacie Cepin quickly pointed out that her girls were not blown away in any of those games.
“We had some close calls,” admitted Cepin over the weekend. “We didn’t pull out some games. There were certain possessions we didn’t like. The outcomes were not what we wanted, but the effort was there.”
The ugly outcomes started on Feb. 5 when the Lady Falcons fell to top seeded North Canton Hoover 71-43 in round one of the round-robin. Fitch was competing hard early, but a 39-20 run by the Lady Vikings over the middle two periods put the Falcons away. Anissa Hill led the Falcons with 14 points followed by Mariah Snowden who scored nine points.
Things were closer throughout when Fitch faced Lake on Feb. 8. Cepin’s girls tied the first quarter, outscored Lake in the second period to lead at halftime and edged the Lady Blue Streaks in the third stanza to lead heading into the final period. Just like Erie did years ago, however, this Lake caught fire in the fourth and beat the local kids 18-11 over the final eight minutes to earn a three point win. Snowden topped Hill this time on the scoring list with 12 points. Hill as well as Megan Sefcik scored 10 points.
The final terror in the terrible triumvirate of tournament games was Fitch’s 60-55 loss to GlenOak on Feb. 12. For the second Federal League game in a row, the Falcons fought hard throughout leading at halftime and after three quarters, but succumbed in quarter number four. The Lady Eagles soared past the Lady Falcons 21-15 in the fourth frame to send Fitch to the Federal cellar. Snowden capped her huge tournament run with a team-high 17 points. Sefcik secured 11 points while Erica Braxton brought home 10 points.
The outcome of the league playoffs may not have been to Cepin’s liking especially since this was the last Federal League tournament the Falcons will be participating in, but the effort of her ladies all season was certainly evident.
“We lost to Boardman by three,” explained Cepin, “and lost by single digits twice to Lake. We only lost to GlenOak by five the other day. We led in a lot of these games, but couldn’t close things out. Hopefully we will learn from our little mistakes.”
Mistakes were not the only things Cepin’s club committed over this past stretch of its schedule. Fitch did clobber Campbell on the road, 77-28 on Feb. 7 and slipped past Struthers at the Fieldhouse, 53-44 on Feb. 10.
The Falcons never trailed in the clash at Campbell as it built an insurmountable 47-9 lead at halftime. Marissa Mattozzi nailed three of Fitch’s seven three-pointers en route to a nine-point night. Braxton and Hill topped double-digits with 16 and 12 points respectively. Brenda Thompson shared a seven-point game with Alexa Lynn. Amber Mims got in the scorebook with five points. Whenever a Cepin coached team can do well against her alma mater Campbell, it puts everyone in a good mood.
“We needed a pick-me-up,” said Cepin. “It was a nice win. Campbell is a little down right now, but it was nice to get that victory.”
Subduing Struthers was also nice for Cepin and her squad.
“It was a huge win against Struthers who is the number one seed in the Division II tournament,” said Cepin sounding satisfied. “Struthers is a good program.”
In a change of past performances, the Falcons fell behind at Struthers 13-5 after one period then finished the game on a 48-31 run. Snowden and Hill each had 14 points to pace Fitch. Braxton scored 12 points. Sefcik was the fourth Falcon to reach doubles with 10 points.
Coach Cepin hopes the performances in the two non-league games will be the ones her girls remember when the districts start. The (10-9) Lady Falcons have been playing too well to let a down week in the Federal tourney derail them.
“The kids are playing hard,” said Cepin seriously. “We need to fix some things in our execution, but those things are fixable.”
By the time the district portion of the playoffs begin this coming Tuesday when eleventh seeded Fitch plays fifth-seeded Massillon Washington, the Falcons will have already taken on Youngstown East. The Lady Tigers lost to the Lady Panthers earlier this year, but beat some good Federal League teams. Playing the Panthers as a tune up for the Tigers inspires Cepin.
“East is similar to Massillon Washington in its make up,” she explained a day before the East encounter. “It will be a good test for us to play East before Massillon. Even though we didn’t get a high seed (in the tournament) I’m excited by our draw and I’m excited for this tournament.”
Photos by Emmett King, Town Crier correspondent
Austintown junior point guard Anissa Hill drives past a Struthers defender to score on Feb. 10. Hill put up 14 points on the night to help Fitch capture a win prior to the start of playoffs this week.