On paper it seemed as if the basketball game between 5-1 Fitch and 1-6 Youngstown East on Jan. 10 in Austintown would be a mismatch, yet when the two teams actually faced off on the hardwood things went a lot differently than predicted.
The Panthers fought feverishly with the Falcons all night forcing Fitch to fend off a fourth period rally. Fitch finally upended East 60-54.
"We knew East's record was deceiving," said Fitch head coach Brian Beany a day after the game. "(East) had been playing without its best player for a while. They caused some problems for us. It was a good game."
East saved its biggest problems for the Falcons until that final frame. With Fitch ahead by 12 points after three quarters, the visitors rallied to cut the deficit to 5 points with only a minute and a half left to play. Some strong free throw shooting by the Falcons in the final minute made the home fans happy. Despite losing the steals and blocked shots battles to their opponent, the Falcons were able to keep East off the offensive boards and ultimately stay ahead. Anthony Pangio played a pivotal part in the rebounding department by leading all boarders with 15. Mike Butcher hit some huge shots in the closing quarter and came away with 12 points. Those two outputs were just a couple of examples of how the Falcons have become a balanced ball club. It will take plenty of balance the rest of the season for Fitch to tip the scales in its favor.
"It makes us so much better when all the kids contribute in different ways," said Beany. "When you can play seven or eight guys with confidence it's a good thing."
It is also a good thing that Beany can lean on super senior Jesse Driver. Driver dumped 24 points on the Panthers, including three three-pointers, to pace the Falcons.
"Everyone knows what Jesse can do," said Beany. "He is amazing. He has a tremendous work ethic and he is at the top of the players in this area."
Driver and the rest of his teammates will have to be at the top of their games the the second half of the season. A trip to Lakeview began this week for the Falcons and they will have another non-conference tilt Saturday against Cardinal Mooney. That game will be a makeup from the Jan. 7 postponement. On Jan. 17 Fitch will welcome Howland to town to start the second wave of games against All American Conference counterparts. Those rematches are something Coach Beany has been waiting for all year.
"I'm excited for this second round," Beany said. "We get a chance to get Poland at our place (Jan. 31) and another chance at Canfield (Jan. 24). I like where we are positioned right now. The kids are confident. If a few things go our way we have a good chance to win the conference."