The Falcons were hammered by Warren Harding 71-44 on Feb. 4 in a game that was every bit as bad for Fitch as the score indicated. That loss was preceded by a 60-54 loss to rival Poland on the last day of January that severely narrowed Fitch's chances of winning the All American Conference. Two wins over Hubbard and Uniontown Lake a few days later, however, put Fitch head coach Brian Beany back in good spirits with just a few games remaining before the start of the Division I tournament.
"We got back on the horse so to speak," Beany said. "The kids responded well with a couple of good wins."
The first win was a 58-40 pounding of the Eagles in Hubbard on Feb. 7. The Falcons outscored the home team 31-20 in the second half to pull away from a relatively evenly played game before halftime. Quincy Higgins paced the Falcons with 16 points. Anthony Pangio had 12 points. Alex DiFrancesco made it into double figures as well with 10 points. Beany's team struggled a bit early with the energetic Eagles before taking command of the contest.
"We knew Hubbard was an athletic team," Beany said.
Beany's boys bounced back one day later to host an even more athletic Uniontown Lake squad. The Blue Streaks steamrolled into Austintown winners of 16 of their first 17 games, but were stopped short of win number 17 by the inspired Falcons 51-49.
"Beating Lake was the most satisfying win of the season for us," Beany said. "(Lake) is the defending Federal League champion, and we proved we can play with them."
Also proving something for Fitch was point guard Jesse Driver. Driver did not play against Harding due to a coach's decision, and the Falcons suffered mightily without their most dynamic player. Against the Blue Streaks, Driver jolted the offense in the fourth quarter, hitting four three-pointers en route to a 16-point period. He would finish with 25 points to lead the Falcons to their fabulous 14th victory of the season.
"Green's head coach (Mark Kinsley) told me (at the tournament selection meeting) that Jesse is one of the best players he's seen all year," Beany said. "You can see how valuable he is to us. He was by far the best player of the court (in the game against Lake) and they have the Federal League player of the year.
If Fitch is to be Division I's team of the year, it will need to continue to beat teams as talented as Lake in the tournament. The Falcons got a first round bye in this year's playoff and will host the winner of Green and Hudson on March 1.
"We're happy," the coach said. 'We get a bye and a home game."
The Falcons also get to play Struthers this Friday night with a shot at a share of an All American Conference championship in the offing. Fitch needs to defeat the difficult Wildcats on the road and hope Poland loses one of their final two conference games in order to finish in a tie with the Bulldogs.
"Our goal of winning a league title is still in front of us," Beany said. "That's important to us."