If the Fitch boys basketball team were a member of a local union they would surely be raking in a lot of extra cash by now.
For the fourth time this season the Falcons were forced to play a fifth quarter of basketball in their game on Jan. 20 at Niles. That came just a week after playing another overtime contest against Howland. Furthermore, eight of Fitch's 10 games so far this season have been decided by four points or less. All of that extra time on the court has toughened the Falcons in some respects.
"Playing all of these close games has allowed us to handle pressure better," said rookie Fitch head coach Brian Beany over the weekend. "We are used to it by now. The kids know what to expect."
As expected for a Fitch team that has hovered around .500 all season, it split those two overtime tilts. Fitch lost to Howland 86-84 two Friday's ago then came back to nudge Niles 51-45 the subsequent week. Although coach Beany did find some positives in playing closely contested contests, he also revealed there is a flip side to all of these seemingly nightly nail biters.
"There are some things we can be doing to not put ourselves into these situations," barked Beany. "We can start playing a complete four quarters of basketball for one."
Against the struggling Red Dragons, Beany's boys began the game well building a 16-10 lead at one point in the first half. Niles, who plays well on its home court despite a 1-11 season record, wouldn't let the visitors from Austintown ascend any further and outscored Fitch 16-3 to close out the first half with a 26-19 lead. Once the Falcons tied the game at 29 late in the third period, the showdown seesawed back and forth before Fitch put it away with an 8-2 advantage in overtime. Coach Beany knew that dealing with the Dragons in Niles would be a tough task, but that still did not mask the fact that his team once again started fast then fizzled for a while.
"Playing there is always difficult," said the coach. "(Niles') record is deceiving. We started well then got into a rut. We can't continue to do that."
Getting the Falcons out of their "rut" was a few players that were not heavily counted on earlier this season. Sophomore Jessie Driver only delivered eight points for the Falcons on the night, but it was what he did when his team was losing control that made Beany beam with joy.
"Driver made some plays and did some good things for us in the third and fourth period then in overtime," said Beany.
Driver wasn't the only underclassmen to up his game against Niles either. Sophomores Gabe Chepke, Alex DiFrancesco and Quincy Higgins along with junior Kyle Moore all made an important impact on last Friday's outcome as well.
"Those kids had some nice possessions," said Beany about the quartet. "They are a special group and were thrown into the fire. It is important to get young kids in because they make things happen. Sometimes the kids who don't worry too much about other things play the game better."
That is not to suggest that Fitch still doesn't have some seniors who opponents should worry about. Will Mahone led all Fitch scorers with 21 points including the go-ahead layup in OT. Following a couple of Driver free throws and a missed hoop by Niles, senior Dan Chepke then hit the game-clinching layup. That is why Beany is not balking at letting his upperclassmen handle pressure possessions.
"I still have faith in (the seniors)," he insisted. "We will need them a lot in March."
What Fitch needs now is to concentrate on gaining a few more wins in the All American Conference. Games were scheduled this week against inconsistent Beaver Local and powerful Poland. Regardless of who dots the Falcons' slate, coach Beany believes that all of his conference brothers are capable of outplaying the other on any given evening.
"You can put all of these conference teams in a hat," said Beany. "Anybody can beat anybody."