Fitch gets back to basics to top Harding

STOW – Midway through the third game, Austintown Fitch held a precarious one-point lead.

Falcons volleyball coach Stephen Mohr had seen enough and began to question whether his players had what it took to beat Warren G. Harding.

After the timeout, Fitch scored the next four points and then captured the third and fourth games en route to a 3-1 victory over the Raiders in Monday’s Division I sectional semifinal at Stow-Munroe Falls High School.

Mohr wanted his players to have the self confidence they exuded all season and finally showed during the four-game victory, 25-19, 19-25, 25-14, 25-20.

“It was just playing our game. I thought we were better than Warren Harding,” Mohr said. “We played them earlier in the season. We both improved, but I think we’re a little bit better. I told them we’re better. We played in a tougher league. Just play to our game, not to their game.

“Play to our game. Keep it simple. Make simple passes, good sets and hit.”

Maura Bianco was a major part of the third-game spurt as she had 10 kills.

“She’s turned into a phenomenal middle throughout the season,” Mohr said. “I tried to run a few plays, keep their middle guessing. (Harding’s) Sumayyah Muhammad is an excellent middle, tried to get her guessing. Maura had a good game tonight.”

After Fitch took a 1-0 lead following the first game, Harding rallied to even things at 1.

Maya Bell, who was instrumental in the second game with a couple of kills, threw off Fitch’s rhythm.

“We had little rough adjustments,” Mohr said. “No. 25 (Maya Bell) threw us for a loop, we couldn’t get a read on her. We decided to change the blocking up on her. That helped. It helped our back row be able to shift to the right side and pick her balls up.”

The Raiders weren’t responding to Fitch the way WGH coach Heather Guthrie would’ve liked to see.

“It was our serve receive,” she said. “Our serve receive wasn’t on tonight. Our serve receive, all of our passes were behind the 10-foot line, which makes it hard for our center to run any offense.”

Harding ends its season at 18-5.

“We had a good regular season,” Guthrie said. “Near the end and the postseason wasn’t so great. We went out strong. We played the middle strong. At the end of the season, we weren’t where we needed to be.”

Fitch (16-7) now faces second-seeded Kent Roosevelt Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. in a sectional final.

“We have some things we’re going to work on,” Mohr said. “Key is to make sure our defense is ready, work a couple quick outsides and some other stuff with our front row.”

HOWLAND GIRLS LOSE TO TWINSBURG: Howland tied Twinsburg at 9 in a back-and-fourth game, but then Twinsburg rolled off four straight points and never looked back en route to sweeping Howland.

Twinsburg (10-13) beat Howland (6-17) by the scores of 25-16, 25-13, 25-7.

Howland is made up of all freshmen and sophomores, with the only exception of junior Christian Carr.

“The first game we came out strong,” Carr said. “We kind of lost it along the way. We lost communication and did little stupid errors.”

“We were making far too many errors to get any kind of rhythm going – young, youthful mistakes,” Howland coach Amanda Lingenfelter said.

Volleyball is a game of momentum, but Howland had a hard time finding it after tying Twinsburg at 9.

“It’s pretty hard to get the momentum back up when someone misses the serve or hits the ball back into the net,” Carr said. “We have to bring it back together, make the person feel you’ve got it next time.”

Twinsburg plays Boardman in a sectional final, Wednesday at 7 p.m.