After recording a 20-1 regular season record and capturing an All American Conference championship, it seemed like a certainty that the Fitch girls basketball team would advance deep into the Division I tournament.
With a first round beating of Boardman already in its back pocket, Fitch was afforded the opportunity to host a sectional championship. The Lady Falcons awaited the winner of the opening round game between conference rivals Canfield and Niles. When the 15-8 Lady Cardinals advanced, not much fanfare rang out in Austintown. Fitch already defeated their rivals from across town twice this season by a combined total of 19 points. Unfortunately for the Falcons, somebody forgot to tell the Cardinals they were supposed to bow down in Austintown. A very cold shooting night by Fitch and a great game plan by Canfield joined forces to ruin the Falcons' playoff run prematurely. The eighth-seeded Cardinals ended the fifth-seeded Falcons' fabulous season 53-45.
''It was one of those shooting nights,'' said Fitch head coach Stacie Cepin. ''It was a frustrating night. The girls played their hearts out, but you have to give a lot of credit to Canfield.''
Photos by Mike Capps, Town Crier
Fitch forward Maura Bianco manages to break through Canfield's defense for a bucket as the Falcons end their season with a loss to Canfield 45-53 at home Feb. 20.
The Falcons made it to 21 wins this year by flying up and down the court on offense and denying their opposition on defense. That game plan seemed to be the exact same one the Lady Cardinals employed last Thursday. Canfield used a 12-2 run at the beginning of the second quarter to turn a one-point contest into a 28-20-halftime lead. Spurred by some signs of shooting life from senior Megan Sefcik, Fitch was able to rally in the second half and close its deficit to 38-34. Sefcik would end her remarkable high school career with a game-high 21 points, but a 37 percent shooting evening by the usually deadeye Falcons stopped the careers of Sefcik and her four senior teammates.
''We had such a great unit of seniors,'' said Cepin. ''They were great leaders. This is the first time I will have a whole starting five graduate. It was such a special year for them, I am so sad to see them go so soon.
All of Cepin's starters-Sefcik, Carlie Chepke, Sarah Melfe, Maura Bianco and Cassie Custer will be moving on this summer. Although they didn't complete their careers with a trip to the Final Four, they did have some signature moments in 2013/2014. Fitch set a school record for wins by a basketball team boys or girls this winter. Some of those highlight reel wins for the Falcons were in a tournament in Florida and over great teams like Lakeview and West Branch. The Falcons also achieved their preseason goal of winning an All American Conference championship and host a home tournament game. Those are major reasons why the loss in the sectionals will not be the only thing pinned on this year's Lady Falcons.
''I know one game doesn't define a season,'' said Cepin. ''That will sink in soon.''
Don't expect the Falcons to sink into oblivion next year either. Fitch's roster had a few good non-seniors who got some valuable playing time and its junior varsity team also won an All American Conference title. Fitch's seventh grade team also came home with a championship trophy proving that Cepin has established stability for the future as well.
''We have some good talent throughout our system,' Cepin said. ''We have a good group of underclassmen and we have some kids coming up who will contribute. We have this program moving in the right direction.''