AUSTINTOWN - A perfect storm hit Fitch High School Friday night, leaving the Liberty Leopards basketball team in its wake.
Everything was calm in the first quarter, but that changed when the storm arrived in the second period. The storm combined the poor outside shooting of the Leopards with nearly 50 percent shooting and an 18-rebound advantage by the Fitch Falcons, who celebrated senior night with a 76-51 win in a contest between non-divisional All-American Conference teams.
"I tell the kids this every game, and this is no disrespect to the other team, it is 80 to 90 percent about us and 10 to 20 percent about the other team," Leopards coach Dan Bubon said. "With the shots and foul shots we missed in the second quarter, with a bad team we might have still been in the game. Against a good team, they're just going to stretch the lead out against you. You have to score at some point."
Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple
Austintown Fitch’s Quincy Higgins (22) drives to the basket as Liberty’s Lynn Bowden (10) goes for the block. Following the play is Fitch’s Anthony Pangio.
The Leopards (12-10) trailed by only one point (17-16) after one quarter. The shots that fell in the opening period didn't hit the mark in what turned into an eight-point second session. Frustrated by several misses from close range, Liberty began taking longer distance shots that rarely produced points as its disadvantage increased to 37-24 at the half and 56-34 through three periods.
The Leopards were 19-of-54 from the field compared to a 27-of-55 effort by the Falcons (18-4). As shot after shot failed to connect for Liberty, Fitch took advantage under the boards to win the rebounding battle, 44-26.
"The difference was after the first quarter our defense started communicating better and we started blocking out a little better," Falcons coach Brian Beany said. "We kind of limited their scoring opportunities. They had to force some tough shots."
Add balanced scoring in which nine Falcons scored (five in double figures), and there wasn't much the Leopards could do on this night.
"When you get balanced scoring to go along with our defense, it's usually a pretty good outcome," Beany said.
Jessie Driver led the Falcons in scoring with 17 points, despite missing considerable time in the first half with two fouls. Anthony Pangio had 12 points, while Michael Butcher, Alex DiFrancesco and Quincy Higgins all scored 10.
Bubon was able to shake off the loss with the hope that playing a good Division I team will pay dividends in the long run.
"We schedule pretty tough for a small Division III team," Bubon said. "Our thinking is it's going to make us tougher going into the tournament. We'll see. This was a tough loss for us because we really haven't been beaten badly since the first game of the year (against Poland)."
Asim Pleas led Liberty in scoring with 23 points.
The Leopards open play in the Warren Division III district Tuesday at home against Burton Berkshire. Bubon is banking on the belief that a team's resolve strengthens during adversity.
"We're the only team in the lower part of the league that plays Poland, Canfield and Fitch," Bubon said. "I'm not real concerned about my regular-season record as much as preparing for the tournament. That makes my career record look not so good. I lost my ego years ago, so I'm okay with it."
Fitch hosts the winner of the Uniontown Green-Hudson game Saturday in the second round of the Copley Division I district.