The nasty holiday weather is not the only thing that has been frightful around Austintown lately.
The Fitch boys basketball team has lost five consecutive contests to finish December, 2-4. The latest in that string of setbacks was a 46-27 loss at home to undefeated Poland on Dec. 28. That defeat also marked Fitch's third in a row in the All American American Tier leaving its head coach Brian Beany in a bah humbug kind of mood at Christmas.
"We've had a lot of inconsistency," said Beany glumly over the weekend.
Quincy Higgins (22) gets off a one-handed shot while under pressure from Bulldog defenders as Fitch faced undefeated Poland last week. The Falcons were unable to snap the Dogs' streak, losing at home 46-27.
One consistent factor in all of that inconsistency has been the amount of injuries that have piled up on the Fitch side. Starters have been sitting thanks to both the injury and illness bug, which has made Beany dip down into the JV ranks to just put together a starting five on some nights.
"We knew since we had a lack of depth we could not afford injury or illness," the coach complained. "We have not used the same kids since week 2. We've done a patchwork job the past five weeks."
The hardest ailment for the Falcons to take has been the groin injury suffered by leading scorer Jesse Driver. It has been a frustrating few games for Driver who got injured in the fourth game of the year then tried to battle through it in subsequent showdowns. Unfortunately, it looks as if Driver's dinged up groin may linger for a while making Fitch's offense less exciting than usual.
"(Driver) is not only our leading scorer, but he is also our point guard, which is a double-edged sword," said Beany. "That's like losing your quarterback in football. We've had to switch to a big lineup with Jesse out and that has slowed us down. We're the type of team who likes to get out and run."
Without its court general, Fitch has faced a lot more zone defenses than it would like. Playing those zones has forced the Falcons to become hot shooters from the field. That hasn't happened. Against Poland, Fitch could only connect on 10 of 33 shots all evening. The Falcons only received one three-point goal thanks to Patrick Gerberry. Conversely, the Bulldogs bit the Falcons for 10 triples to comfortably pick up the victory. Still, the 46 points Poland scored last Friday night continued a nice trend for Fitch's defense. Only three opponents have reached 55 points against the Falcons as Beany's boys have given up an average of 50 points per game. Now if Fitch's offense could just catch up to its "D."
"One bright side has been the play of our defense," Beany said. "We are having a hard time putting the ball in the hoop. We are getting looks but are not executing. That's frustrating because we haven't been giving up a lot of points."
One silver lining in all of this doom is that the Falcons have been able to get good looks at some younger players like Gerberry and Quincy Higgins who scored nine points versus Poland. Senior Curtis Beverly is not a youngster in age, but he is in varsity playing time and he has shown flashes starting alongside Alex DiFrancesco up front in a bigger Fitch lineup.
Another silver lining is the fact that Fitch will get a chance to stop its losing plunge on Jan. 4 against equally reeling Struthers. The Wildcats have lost six of their last seven games and may be a welcome sight to the sore eyes of the Fitch faithful. After jumping out of the conference to play Mooney, the Falcons travel to Howland on Jan. 11 to play another league foe. Getting Driver healthy for those American Tier tilts will be important, but finding that hard to reach consistency, regardless of who is in the starting five, will ultimately define the Falcons the rest of this season.
"We knew our stretch of games (against East, Canfield and Poland) would be tough," admitted Beany. "But we know there isn't a team left on our schedule who we can't beat."