Fitch’s boys basketball team may have only finished 5-16 this season, but that record does not represent the humongous improvement these kids made from past seasons.
According to their coach, one of the biggest reasons why the Falcons flew to new heights in 2010-2011 was because their heads were screwed on tightly.
“Our mindset was really good this year,” said Fitch head man Jason Baker. “We dealt well with adversity. Our kids never stopped playing all year. We made games close because we never quit.”
That statement was evident in Fitch’s sectional round game of the Division I tournament on Feb. 28 in Solon. Sure, the Falcons’ season concluded with their 68-60 loss to Howland last Monday, but they did not go down without a fight. Fitch fell behind the Tigers by 10 points after one quarter, but was able to stay close enough in the second quarter to only trail by 11 at halftime. True to their coach’s words, the Falcons fought through that adversity after intermission and outscored the higher-seeded Tigers by three in the second half. At one point in the fourth period Howland was held without a field goal thanks to some sweet Fitch defense.
“Our defense in the second half was pretty much how it was all season,” Baker said. “We didn’t execute defensively in the first half. It’s hard to fall behind a good team like (Howland) like that.”
Fitch’s defense was indeed dominant at times over the course of this season, but not reliable enough for the team to play four perfect quarters. Great “D” from game to game is one area where coach Baker would like his kids to get better at next year.
“We need to get more consistent defensively,” he announced.
It won’t hurt Baker’s boys either if they get a few more team-wide scoring efforts next fall. The Falcons did a nice job shooting in the sectionals nailing eight three-pointers, but that was not the norm from November to now. Trevor Yacovone hit three of those threes to help him end with 11 points. Dan Chepke led the Falcons in scoring in the season finale with 17 points including a pair of triples. Jonas Ballard also hit two three-pointers and finished the night with a dozen points. Dontrell Lawrence just missed double-digits with nine points. Adam Nishimura scored three points. Unfortunately the points scored by Ballard, Lawrence and Nishimura were the last ones they will score as Falcons. Those three seniors will graduate this summer, but not before leaving a lasting legacy on the Fitch program.
“I’m proud of them,” said Baker about his three twelfth-graders. “They did things right both on and off the court. They set the groundwork for our program in the future.”
With the help of those seniors the Falcons were able to do things this campaign that heretofore has been foreign in the Fitch gym. That is why the Fitch ballers were peaking as the season came to a close.
“We were close in games this year that we would have lost by 25 points last year,” explained Baker. “That was one of our biggest turnarounds from last year. We also had two good wins at the end. We were playing our best basketball (when the season ended).”
Those two wins coach Baker referred to was a 57-54 win over Youngstown East on Feb. 26 and a 73-40 victory at Jefferson Area on Feb. 22. With two wins in their final three games, the Falcons have possibly built some momentum heading into 2011-2012. With returnees such as Chepke, Yacovone, Nick Williams, Billy Price, Nate Blair, David Anzelmo and Terrell McClain ready to suit up again the outlook for more success on the Austintown hardwoods is bright. To keep that beam of light shining coach Baker would like his players to work on some specific areas as soon as possible.
“We need to improve our skill level,” said the coach. “We have to fix our team speed and improve our lateral quickness. We will need to do that with agility drills and in the weight room. We can start our offseason program 28 days from the end of the season so we plan to hit the weight room in early April.”
Getting prepared physically is not a bad way for the Falcons to ascend even further. Keeping the sharp mental focus the boys discovered this season will play an immense role as well. It certainly helped Fitch make positive gains in the win column.
“We went from one win to five wins,” said Baker. “That is a step in the right direction.”