Heading into his team's first round Division I tournament game against Green, Fitch head basketball coach Brian Beany had confidence that his team matched up well with its opening opponent.
True to the rookie coach's beliefs, his group did go toe-to-toe with their higher-seeded foe for four quarters. Fitch never lost a quarter by more than five points, but unfortunately, it lost each one of those frames. The end result was a 63-52 defeat that knocked the Falcons out of the tournament a little earlier than the coach had hoped. The main reason why Beany's bunch must now watch the rest of the playoffs from the stands was the pure strength of their adversary.
"(Green) was much more physical than we thought," said Beany honestly a day after the setback. "We didn't get that sense when we scouted them. Without a doubt they were the most physical team we played all season. Not only were they big, but they were athletic too."
Photos by Cindy DeRose, Town Crier correspondent
Senior Dan Chepke takes his shot with a Green defender close by during last week's Div. I tournament game.
Beany's boys are pretty athletic as well, but they could not match muscle with the powerful Bulldogs. Green head coach Mike Kinsley employed his baddest Bulldog on Fitch's most athletic player, Will Mahone, and that forced the Falcons out of their comfort zone. Mahone did manage 17 points on the night, but Fitch's offense was not in sync for most of the game.
"(Green) put their most physical defender on Will and didn't let us do what we wanted to do (offensively)," said Beany. "We had looks, but didn't make enough shots. We were only down four at halftime and six with about two minutes left (in the game) so we had chances, but didn't execute."
Green did execute in the final few moments hitting a few open layups and most of its foul shots to the turn the otherwise closely contested contest into a double-digit win. Besides Mahone's 17 points, Dan Chepke came home with 12 points and Nick Williams went for nine. All three of those kids played their final games at Fitch last Tuesday and will graduate this summer along with Pat Rovnak, Trevor Yacovone and Nate Blair. Losing a sextet of seniors was a hard pill for coach Beany to swallow especially considering that the season ended so abruptly.
"The seniors were upset," said Beany emotionally. "I didn't go into any long speech (after the tournament game). I just thanked them. They did everything that was asked of them. I wish they could have won more games this year."
The Falcons did win 11 games to finish one game better than .500. Fitch also finished an impressive 6-4 in its first year in the All American Red Tier. With plenty of players coming back next season who saw considerable minutes this year that record should improve.
"We will be a predominantly junior roster (next season)," Beany explained. "Our starting point guard was a sophomore, we had sophomores off the bench and at one time (in the tournament game) we had three sophomores on the floor together."
The super sophomores coach Beany was alluding to who will jump to juniors next winter are Jesse Driver, Alex DiFrancesco and Gabe Chepke. Between now and next November those kids will need to continue to put in the hard work that earned them some varsity minutes this season.
"The kids always practiced hard and wanted to get better," said Beany confidently. "We need to build on this. The underclass realized (after playing Green) there is a high level we need to get to."
The coach also admitted there is another level he can attain as a second-year bench boss. Beany noted that he learned a lot in year one, but knows there are ways for him to get better.
"I have a new appreciation for head coaches," Beany said chuckling. "I never knew how much a head coach has to do on and off the court until I actually became one."
If coach Beany and his young team can mature together in 2012-2013 then the small strides the Falcon basketball program made this year may just be the tip of the iceberg.