As the month of February begins, high school basketball teams are readying themselves for the stretch run of this season.
By the looks of things lately, the Fitch Lady Falcons are well equipped to make their run a long one. After a midseason swoon, the Lady Falcons have righted themselves and have won four games in a row. One major reason for that streak is that finally the Falcons are at full strength.
"This is the first time (all year) all of our varsity has suited up," said Fitch head coach Stacie Cepin last week. "We have really been dealing with injuries all year."
Fitch's good fortune began back on Jan. 20 when it nailed Niles, 56-25. On that night, the Falcons beat both the Lady Red Dragons and the injury bug as 11 different players got into the scorebook.
"It was a great team effort," said Cepin happily.
On Jan. 23, the Falcons once again filled the bench with multiple bodies and were able to substitute freely in a 48-36 victory over Liberty. Fitch held the Lady Leopards to single digits in both the first and second periods enabling it to hold a sizeable 29-15 lead at halftime. The Austintown girls let down their guard a bit in the second half allowing Liberty to keep the game from becoming a total blowout.
"We had a nice comfy lead then made a couple of mistakes to let (Liberty) back in," said Cepin candidly. "It was a scrappy game."
Nobody on the Falcons really dominated the game scoring wise illustrating just how scrappy the game was. Brenda Thompson led the troops with 12 points. Megan Sefcik scored 11 points and Anissa Hill had eight points. With all of the players available to her, coach Cepin must have felt like a kid on Christmas morning with a bunch of new toys.
"We got a lot of players in," Cepin said. "It'll be a different challenge now with everyone back. We will have to use different combinations and see who meshes well with whom. It is a good problem to have."
Cepin's club didn't seem to have any problems when it traveled to new rival Poland on Jan. 26. A strong second half enabled the Fitch ladies to cruise to a 58-49 road victory. While Fitch had a balanced attack against Liberty, Sefcik stole the show versus the Lady Bulldogs. The sophomore plastered Poland for 24 points with many of those coming in quarters three and four when the Falcons flew away from their hosts. Hill had Sefcik's back with 14 points. It was necessary for those two Falcons to have fabulous games because once again they were down a key contributor.
"We were without our point guard Brenda Thompson, so Sefcik and Hill had to step up and take over against (Poland's) press," said Cepin. "I am pretty happy with the way we played. We executed well."
Getting great execution in games against new Red Tier rivals has made this modest winning ride even better for Cepin and her kids.
"Every game we play seems to be a big game," said the coach. "That's what's good about playing in (All American Conference). We have created new rivals. Our girls have grown up playing against these other girls."
Cepin's club grew a little more this past Monday night at home against Lakeview. Entering the game the Lady Bulldogs actually had a couple more wins than their hosts so a tight game was expected. Fitch staved off the Bulldogs 45-41 to capture its 10th win of the season. Cassie Custer was the only Falcon in double-digits with 10 points. Hill had nine points.
Fitch's next two games will go a long way in determining how far the Falcons may be able to fly in the upcoming state tournament. The Falcons will be attempting to make good on a 15-point loss to Canfield three days before Christmas when they host the Lady Cardinals tonight. It will be a lot like the holiday in Austintown when the two schools play its rematch because it will also be the third annual "Think Pink" night for cancer awareness. Although Canfield is a new enemy on the court for Fitch, it is an old ally in the fight against this terrible disease.
"It means a lot to have Canfield in town for this game," Cepin said before the clash. "We know they will bring a nice crowd with them and I talked to coach Pav (Canfield head coach Pat Pavlansky) about it before the season and he was all for having this game be our 'Think Pink' game."
The Lady Cards will be thinking about other things after that contest because next team on the schedule is first place and undefeated Howland on Feb. 9. At least Cepin will have a week to formulate a game plan to avenge an early January 55-17 loss in Howland. After that game Fitch's plate will be full with four games in less than 10 days.