Mike Finamore's game-winning foul shot for Boardman spoiled the Falcons' comeback.
By JOHN KOVACH
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
AUSTINTOWN -- When opportunity knocks, open the door.
The Austintown Fitch High basketball didn't Friday, but Boardman did, and that told the tale of a down-to-the-wire struggle between two Steel Valley Conference powers.
After Fitch battled back from a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter to tie the game -- but then missed its last two shots -- the Spartans won the game, 54-53, on Mike Finamore's free throw with 2.8 seconds left.
Finamore, a 5-9 senior guard and a three-year starter, missed his first attempt before delivering the game-winner in the SVC opener for both teams.
He finished with 11 points to share team scoring honors with Brian Weiser. Matt Marks added 10 points and Mike Krieger nine.
Key rebound: The winning shot, which snapped Fitch's five-game winning streak, was set up when the Falcons' Kevin Johnson missed a two-point jump-shot attempt, and 6-foot-11 Nick Stefanovic of Boardman grabbed the rebound.
Stefanovic fed the ball quickly to Finamore, who drove down the court and was fouled on a layup attempt.
After Finamore connected on his second charity toss, Fitch had one more crack at the basket but Shawn Barber missed a 3-point attempt near the buzzer.
"We had two wide-open shots. All of our shots were good. I'd go back and shoot them all again," Fitch (6-2, 0-1) coach Gary Conroy said.
The Falcons overcame a 52-45 deficit with about 2:00 left on back-to-back 3-point goals from Terrell Eargle and Jason Aikens. Greg Mayes' two foul shots with 50.1 seconds left provided a 53-52 lead.
Brad Beck of Boardman countered with a foul shot with 41.3 seconds left to tie it at 53-53, after which Fitch called time-out at 20.2 left to set up the failed shot by Johnson.
Three 3s in fourth: Eargle, who had three 3s -- all in the fourth quarter to power the comeback -- finished with 13 points to share the team lead with Johnson.
Aikens added 10 points and Mayes had nine points with 15 rebounds. Barber chipped in with six rebounds.
Boardman (6-3, 1-0) coach Dan Gorski said Stefanovic's rebound was key. The senior center led the Spartans with seven rebounds.
"Nick got the rebound and outletted it real quick to Finamore," said Gorski, whose Spartans built a 45-35 advantage on Eric Baldwin's goal early in the fourth, but then had two rely on Finamore and Marks to stay in control.
Kept them in it: Finamore hit three straight foul shots and Marks followed with back-to-back goals, including a key tap-in for a 42-45 command, before Fitch rallied.
"Matt Marks' four points in the fourth were huge," said Gorski, who credited his defense for helping Boardman to its big lead.
"Pressure defense helped us to take the lead by creating some opportunities for us. We took them [Fitch] out of their half-court offense."
But Gorski said the Spartans "got conservative in the fourth and quit attacking the hoop. We lost our aggressiveness on the offensive end."
And, "The 3s kept them in [the game]."
Conroy said Fitch's "pressure defense" helped them to come back at the end.
"We got them to turn the ball over a little bit and that created some opportunities for us on the fast break," Conroy said.