Although his team lost three straight games to begin the season, Fitch head basketball coach Brian Beany remained confident that his young team would get better before the end the year.
Since following those defeats with three straight wins, Coach Beany's self-assuredness seemed well warranted. After edging Hubbard by a bucket in double overtime on Dec. 16 to pick up win number one, the Falcons continued winning with impressive victories over Newton Falls on Dec. 20 and Canfield on Dec. 23. According to Coach Beany, however, the turning point of the season may have been a triple overtime loss to Alliance in the team's second game of the season.
"We were so close in those first three games," said Beany. "We knew we were on the fringe after playing so well in the three overtime game. The kids are playing well."
Photos by Emmett King, Town Crier correspondent
Fitch’s Nate Blair lets it fly from the corner as his team went on to win 55-40 over Canfield on Dec. 23.
The one Falcon who may be playing the best is senior scorer Will Mahone. All anybody had to do was watch Mahone excel on the football field to witness his amazing athletic ability, but what he has done in six games on the hardwood has everybody in Austintown astonished. It was Mahone who scored 23 points and hit the game-winning shot at the end of the Newton Falls match to finalize Fitch's comeback from an 11-point deficit, giving the Falcons their 52-49 win. Fitch's leading scorer came back three nights later to lead the scoring with 25 points in the Falcons' 55-40 clubbing of Canfield. Coach Beany is happy to have Mahone as part of his squad and is never at a loss for words when extolling his exploits.
"Will sensed we needed some shots in the fourth quarter [versus Newton Falls]," Beany said. "He's hit some big shots down the stretch for us. He has a knack. He always puts us on his back."
Dan Chepke is another Falcon with broad shoulders. He helped Fitch against Newton Falls with 14 points and 10 rebounds, then hit for eight points against Canfield.
Everyone familiar with the Fitch program is also familiar with their top two scoring threats, but the Falcons are on a winning streak because of contributions from several other players as of late. Senior guard Nick Williams scored seven points in the win over Canfield and has been making his presence known on both ends of the floor.
"Nick Williams has been doing a very good job on both offense and defense," Beany said.
A new name to the Fitch lineup has been sophomore guard Jesse Driver. After fighting for playing time earlier this year, Driver got into the starting lineup against Canfield and affirmed himself with 11 points. Beany insists that the time Driver spent dissecting the action from the sidelines allowed him to grow more than if he had been thrust upon the starting five from the first of the season.
"Driver has been seeing more from the bench," said Beany. "Now that he is starting, he is managing the offense better. He is also doing well rebounding despite his size [five feet, nine inches]. He will be a special player."
Special is also the term that could be used to describe Fitch's defense since the first of this month. The Falcons have been holding opponents to around 50 points per game all year, so while offense excites the masses, it's defense that cements a three-game winning streak. Newton Falls couldn't score over the final 3:38 of the game on Dec. 20, thus enabling the Falcons to overcome their 11-point shortage. Then Fitch shutout Canfield for a majority of the third quarter, allowing the Falcons to go on a 10-0 run and essentially end the Cardinals' night.
"Our defense has been fantastic all year," Beany enthused. "Our goal is to make it a race to 50 [points], and with our defense we should be okay."
One Falcon who has been dialing up the defense deliciously during the early part of the year has been senior Nate Blair, whose play has really caught the eye of his coach.
"Blair has been playing great defense," bragged Beany. "He doesn't do much scoring, but he has been defending [the other team's] best player each game and takes a charge every game. He is only six-foot-one, so his role has been to play big on defense, and he has."
Fitch's role in the immediate future is to keep dominating on the defensive end against such stalwart teams as Poland and Beaver Local. The battle with the Bulldogs on Dec. 30 is one that Beany is greatly anticipating.
"Poland will be a big test for us," he explained. "They will provide a good measuring stick with their press."
With the way Beany's boys have been performing in December, it may be the Falcons who are stopping the presses heading into the New Year.