After being postponed on Jan. 3 from a potential game with Beaver Local, the Fitch basketball team could hardly wait to finally hit the court for the first time in 2012.
The Falcons got that opportunity on Jan. 6 when they welcomed All American Conference sibling Struthers to Austintown. The Wildcats entered last Friday's contest undefeated in the loop and 6-2 overall so stopping Struthers would prove to be a difficult task for the upstart Falcons. Fitch was almost up to that tall task. In a game that was nip and tuck for four quarters, it took a last-second rebound and put-back shot by Struthers to send the Falcons to a 60-58 heartbreaking defeat.
"It was a good effort," said a garbled voiced Fitch head coach Brian Beany a day after the loss. "This loss hurt worse than all the other close overtime games we played because we had a lot of opportunities."
Beany's club had 62 opportunities from the floor to be exact, but the last shot of the game unfortunately belonged to the Wildcats. With the score knotted at 58 and the ball in the Cats' possession, everyone in the gym knew that the game-winning attempt would come off the hand of Struthers' sensational shooter Jake Jacubec. Jake would jack up that shot from the corner, but the ball clanked off the rim into the hands of teammate Dylan Schmidt who dropped it back into the bucket as time ticked away on the Falcons. Fitch's subsequent inbounds pass was then stolen by Struthers sealing the win. Coach Beany believed that his defense did everything in its power to push the game into overtime.
"We did what we wanted to do and made Jacubec take a tough shot," said the coach. "The Struthers kid (Schmidt) was on the block and we missed timed (grabbing the rebound). We knew Struthers was very good going in. Jacubec is one of the top players in the area."
Jacubec and his mates may have never had the chance to leave Austintown with the last-second victory if it wasn't for a shady five second call against the home team with 30 seconds left in the game. That turnover allowed Struthers to take the ball back and not give it up again until it took the lead. Although coach Beany was not going to create a controversy by complaining too loudly about that enormous call, he sounded a less than thrilled when describing it.
"We watched the film on that five second call and it was close," he said diplomatically. "It was a tough call."
One call that Beany has made since the start of the season that hasn't been very tough on him is the one to make sophomore Jessie Driver the starting point guard. Since taking over the reigns a few weeks ago, Driver has driven the Falcons offense to new heights.
"Driver had a real good game at point guard," said an impressed Beany. "That has opened things up for us on offense."
With Driver playing the point well, sharpshooter Will Mahone has been able to get more open opportunities from the field. Mahone scored 18 points against Struthers and was able to match Jacubec shot for shot as Fitch held a slim lead after one period. Another positive from the sophomore's point play was that Dan Chepke was able to relinquish that position and get more involved in scoring. Chepke also tallied 18 points last Friday with five of those coming in the second quarter as Fitch forged ahead 22-21 at halftime. Now Fitch has both Mahone and Chepke as well as Nick Williams as viable scoring options. Another thing the Falcons have is great athleticism.
"I still think we are the most athletic team in the (All American Conference)," bragged Beany. "If we can clean up some of the breakdowns we have had at critical parts of the game then we will win some games."
The 3-5 Falcons (2-2 in the conference) latest attempt at a win came on Jan. 10 against Cardinal Mooney. Fitch gets back into All American action this Friday when it plays league leader Howland. The Tigers were unbeaten in the Red Tier at press time and were coming off a 103-59 nailing of a decent Niles outfit. Howland likes to play at a hectic pace and press teams into submission. Fitch's boss thinks the Tigers are the one team that can match his boys' athletic prowess, but is confident that the league title is still up for grabs.
"There is a lot of basketball left," said Beany, "and I think we are still one of the top teams (in the conference)."