An impressive season by the Fitch girls basketball team came to a disappointing end on Feb. 22 in Alliance.
Fitch was nipped by Massillon Washington, 38-36 in its opening round game of the Division I tournament to bow out of the districts without a playoff win. The Lady Falcons lost every game in the recently played Federal League tournament as well to help squash an otherwise uplifting campaign.
“It was really tough,” said second year Fitch head coach Stacie Cepin about the end of the season. “We executed our game plan really well (against Massillon).”
Part of that game plan was for the Falcons to clamp down on two very hot shooting Lady Tigers. Massillon’s Nae Nae McElroy and Chandler Burch were averaging a combined 30 points per game heading into the tournament, but Fitch’s D did indeed execute its orders almost perfectly. The terrific Tiger twosome hit on just two of 17 field goal attempts all night.
“We went after them,” said Cepin. “I was really happy with our defensive performance.”
That dynamic defense enabled the Falcons to fly out in front of the Tigers by three at halftime. Fitch’s lead would increase to 7 points after three periods. Then a forgettable fourth quarter happened to the Falcons. The Fitch ladies were outscored 13-4 in the final frame due to a bunch of different factors.
“(Massillon) had a couple other girls step up,” explained Cepin. “Too many turnovers (by Fitch) in the fourth quarter allowed them back in the game. We also did not shoot well from the (free throw) line, which hurts when you lose by two. We still had a few chances to tie it at the end, but couldn’t do it.”
Another thing the Falcons could not do thanks to this loss was send its trio of graduating seniors off with a tournament win. Marissa Mattozzi had eight points Tuesday while Mariah Snowden and Erica Braxton each scored six. Unfortunately, those will be the last points those girls score as Falcons.
“I am sad for them,” said Cepin softly. “I am proud of the three seniors for how they grew and matured. I am proud of their leadership. They were very special.”
Special is also a word that could describe the 2010-2011 version of the Lady Falcons. The team finished 11-10, which may not sound like much to a casual high school basketball follower, but in Austintown it is a record that proves how far Cepin has taken this program in just two seasons. Coming off a heartbreaking loss, Cepin was not in the mood to reflect much of her team’s entire body of work this year, but in time she will realize the strides they made.
“A couple weeks down the road what we did will sink in,” she admitted. “We are going places with this program. We need to build on some of the close games we lost (this year). The future is bright.”
One reason for the optimism is the amount of athletic kids who should return to the court next season. Juniors Alexa Lynn and Anissa Hill are two very talented Falcons who will assume the leadership roles left by Mattozzi, Braxton and Snowden. Brenda Thompson was a sophomore this season that showed signs of greatness and will get an even larger opportunity as a junior. Freshman Cassie Custer played a little this year and, although she didn’t garner many headlines, she caught the eye of the Fitch coaching staff.
“Cassie stepped in and did some good things for us,” Cepin announced.
Of course, there was one other freshman who stole the show in 2010-2011. Megan Sefcik led the Falcons with 12 points in their district defeat and led the team in scoring as a ninth-grader. This “gym rat,” as her coach calls her, is a huge reason why the Falcons may zoom right past that 11 win plateau in 2011-2012.
“Megan was just unbelievable,” exclaimed Cepin.
Luckily for Cepin, she may have a couple more Sefcik type players about to enter her program.
“We have a good core of kids coming in from eighth grade,” said Stacie excitedly.
In a few months the Fitch girls will start their offseason program by gathering together to play a lot of summer league ball. Cepin will use those activities before school starts to create a winning atmosphere once fall arrives. That same strategy worked wonders for the Lady Falcons this year.
“A great summer got us started,” said Cepin. “That is where our great camaraderie and leadership started so we hope to do that again.”