Prior to the start to this high school basketball season, Fitch head coach Brian Beany was lamenting his team's schedule.
Specifically, Beany was bemoaning the fact that the Falcons had to begin the season on Dec. 4 against athletic Alliance. When those two schools had a showdown last winter, the Aviators won an amazing triple-overtime thriller. Coach Beany wasn't begging for another instant classic this time around, instead he was looking forward to his Falcons slowing down the quick guards on the Aviators.
"We knew (Alliance) had three very good guards," said Beany. "Our job was to neutralize them."
Fitch's boys did indeed carry out Beany's wishes enabling them to start the season 1-0 with a 62-55 victory.
"Our guards played just as well as (Alliance's) did," reflected Beany one evening after the game. "(Jesse) Driver played like he was the best player on the floor."
Driver directed the Fitch offense effectively all evening. The junior jumped on Alliance for 19 points, seven rebounds and a couple steals. Driven by Driver, Fitch found itself ahead of Alliance 25-22 after one quarter. Although holding the lead was nice, coach Beany was worried that this game could possibly get out of hand in a hurry.
"At the pace we were playing, I thought the first team to 100 points was going to win," chuckled Beany. "We decided we had to slow things down."
Slowing things down meant playing tightly against the Aviators' guards defensively and getting the ball inside the paint on offense. Fitch did both the rest of the ballgame. In the second period, Fitch held the ball for what seemed like eons before taking any shots, therefore disallowing the Aviators from getting into any offensive rhythm. Once Alliance did get the ball, it was so discombobulated that scoring seemed secondary. The Aviators didn't score their first second-period point until the last couple seconds of the stanza. That strategy enabled the Falcons to win the second quarter 4-1 and take a 29-23 lead with them into the locker room at halftime. Even though the two teams played evenly in the second half, that second quarter shutdown by the Falcons allowed them a relatively comfortable win.
"I couldn't be happier with our defense," bragged Beany. "We mixed it up on them. After we slowed them down we settled in nicely."
It was also nice that Beany was able to use his team's height to wear down the smaller visitors. A lot of Fitch's offense ran under the basket where junior Alex DiFrancesco made his residence last Tuesday night. DiFrancesco dumped 12 points on Alliance while grabbing a game-high 11 rebounds. Fitch doubled the Aviators in rebounding for the night too.
"We knew our one advantage would be size," stated Beany. "We got the ball inside a lot."
Getting those shots close to the hoop also allowed Fitch to shoot 66 percent from the field. Fitch took just one three-point shot on the night. Junior Austin Hogan was the third Falcon to reach double-digits with 11 points. Fellow Falcon juniors Gabe Chepke and Quincy Higgins each hit for nine points. The fact that five Falcons had such solid scoring nights shows just how balanced and deep this team can be.
"These kids play unselfishly," Beany said. "They consistently talk on the floor. They play hard and play intelligently."
The Falcons continued that smart way of play last Friday night at Newton Falls. Fitch's defense was once again front and center as the Falcons picked up their first road win 46-39. In order to tame the Tigers, coach Beany used the same idea he had a few nights earlier against Alliance.
"(Newton Falls) is the same type of team as Alliance," said Beany. "It was the same game plan for us. We used our athletic ability."
Driver and Chepke displayed their abilities to the foreign crowd in Newton Falls scoring 12 and 11 points respectively. Fitch was able to triumph despite hitting just 4 of 16 from the foul line.
Hopefully, free throw shooting won't come into play in the Falcons' next two games. Beany's bunch played their second straight road tilt Tuesday, Dec. 11 at Liberty then host Hubbard on Friday, Dec. 14.