Irish senior Marc Palermo keyed the Irish during the fourth quarter.
By CHUCK HOUSTEAU
YOUNGSTOWN -- Ursuline coach Steve Leslie's coaching comfort zone increases when his team has a lead in the fourth quarter.
With a lead, Leslie knows that the basketball in the hands of senior guard Marc Palermo is good as gold.
The 5-foot-9 Palermo sank 7-of-8 free throws in the final period to help the Irish hold off Austintown Fitch 60-54 in a Steel Valley Conference game Friday at Ursuline High. The win avenged an early season 68-61 loss to the Falcons in Austintown.
The league's leading scorer, Palermo pumped in 28 points, dished out six assists and corralled nine steals.
"Marc's a very good player," Leslie said. "I can't say enough about him. He makes everyone around him better and we're real confident that Marc will do the right things with the basketball in his hands in the fourth quarter."
After the Falcons (10-8, 2-5) tied the score 48-48 with 3 minutes remaining, Palermo made a basket driving through a crowded lane. He then made four straight free throws to push the Irish lead to 54-51 with 1:22 left in the game.
Ursuline's other talented guard, Jimmy Riley, also knocked down 3-of-4 free throws in the final seconds to secure the victory. Riley finished with 16 points.
Closing it out: In the fourth quarter, Ursuline (13-6, 4-3) converted on 10-of-12 free throws and finished by making 20-of-28 for the game.
"That's how you have to win Steel Valley games," Leslie said. "In league play you have to get to the foul line and you have to make free throws. I thought we did a good job of that tonight."
At the start, it looked like the Falcons were determined to sweep the Irish for the season as they came out and hit nine of their first 14 shots and jumped out to a 19-9 lead.
Fitch's Greg Mayes, who is second in scoring in the SVC, scored 10 of his team-high 16 points in the first period.
Ursuline regrouped and scored the last six points of the first quarter to cut the lead to 19-13 at the end of the period and that may have been the turning point for the Irish.
"We let them get back in the game," said Fitch coach Gary Conroy. "We make one mistake and then we start thinking.
"Instead of thinking about doing the right things, we start thinking about the wrong things. That's when we lose the mental part of the game."
Hurting themselves: Those mistakes resulted in 23 Fitch turnovers and that was too much for the Falcons to overcome down the stretch.
Ursuline eventually took the lead at the end of the first half, 29-28, on a basket by Riley and then it was Fitch's turn to play catchup in the third quarter.
Rob Patzak keyed Fitch's rally to get back in the game in the fourth quarter. Patzak scored 15 points.
Despite the heroics of Palermo, Leslie called the win a total team victory on "Senior Night."
"We got great efforts in scoring from Palermo and Riley," Leslie said. "But Doug Foster and Keith Canacci worked their butts off inside and [Kevin] Coleman and [Andre] Edmonds made some big plays for us."
Leslie said the win will give his team some much needed momentum heading into the Division II tournament at Boardman.