This is the time of the high school basketball season when the hottest teams are the ones that end up playing deep into March.
Unfortunately, the Fitch boys are about as cold as the bitter February temperatures. The Alliance District of the Division I tournament begins this week with Fitch entering as the number eight seed. That ranking is nothing to brag about because the 9-13 Falcons have stumbled all season and were only able to win one of their final five games. The latest in that line of losses was a 60-50 defeat at the hands of Akron East last Friday night in Austintown. In order to catch fire and force their way through the District, the Falcons must improve in an area where they have been anemic all year.
"We are struggling to put the ball in the hoop," stated Fitch head coach Brian Beany on the eve of the tournament. "We have failed to capitalize on our opportunities. We have a small margin for error. We need consistency for 32 minutes."
Consistency was something Beany's ball club certainly could not find against Akron East. Fitch played favorably in the first half thanks to the play of Jesse Driver and Alex DiFrancesco. Driver hit a three-pointer and four free throws in the first quarter to help his team to an 11-11 tie. In the second quarter, DiFrancesco dumped eight points on East to keep the game knotted with less than a minute remaining in the first half. The Dragons did more in that final minute than their hosts did, however, and took a 28-25 lead at intermission. That lead would be one the Dragons would never drop as they outscored the Falcons 32-25 in the second half.
"We did a lot of good things, but didn't maintain the level needed against a good team like Akron East," Beany announced
Driver did the most damage to the Dragons scoring 15 points. DiFrancesco scored 10 points, as did Quincy Higgins.
Fitch's only win of late was on Feb. 19 at Boardman. The Falcons foiled Senior Night for the Spartans with a 35-25 victory. One may theorize by the final score that this game wasn't one painted by Picasso, but as ugly as it was, it still acted as a pick-me-up for a floundering Fitch team.
"It's a win," Beany insisted. "You can call it anything you want, but you're not graded on style points."
Thankfully, coach Beany is correct. The two teams combined to score less than 20 points in the first half. Although action sort of picked up after halftime, the play was still not something you would capture for an instructional DVD. Driver led Fitch with 13 points. Higgins hit up Boardman for 10 points. With the offense in dire straits, it was Fitch's defense that needed to flex its muscle to pull out the team's ninth win.
"We did a good job playing defense," said Beany. "We did a good job of not losing focus. Our offense hasn't been at a high peak so we'll need our defense (in the tournament)."
Fitch's first game in the District is Feb. 26 in Alliance versus Howland. Playing a familiar foe, one that the Falcons have already handled twice this season, will be a blessing for the writhing Falcons.
"It's not the way we wanted to enter the tournament," said Beany about his squad's losing spin. "We will make some adjustments (from the first two games against Howland). We know them and they know us so we'll have to execute."
That execution will have to come on the defensive side of the floor where the Falcons are second in the league in fewest points allowed.
"Everything starts with our defense," Beany exclaimed. "(Defense) will keep you in the game. You can have a bad shooting night, but still win (like Fitch did against Boardman)."
If the Falcons defense excels as Beany hopes then his kids will advance to play Uniontown Green on March 2 in Alliance.