Fitch foils Harding for first-round tourney win
The Falcons won 48-41, advancing to play Boardman in a Division I final.
ALLIANCE -- Stay together, stay positive.
That's the message Austintown Fitch High School girls basketball coach John Hudson gives his team every time the team breaks its huddle.
"We believe in that philosophy," Hudson said. "There are going to be mistakes and the other team is going to make a run, but if we stay together and stay positive that's the only way we're going to get anything done."
With that attitude and a little hard work, the Falcons accomplished something for the first time in five years -- a win in a state tournament game.
Fitch outscored Warren Harding 13-4 in the second quarter and withstood a late rally by the Raiders to earn a 48-41 Division I sectional tournament victory Saturday at Alliance High School.
The Falcons advance to a sectional championship game at 6 p.m. Thursday against No. 2-seed Boardman.
"We executed very well offensively in that second quarter and did the little things right," Hudson said. "We were able to get good shots and used our height advantage inside with Krista [Mayes] and Alexis [Hall].
"We had some turnovers, but we held our own in the second half and hung in there. Things weren't perfect, but this is a young team and they're still learning."
Mayes and Hall, who both stand 6 feet, 1 inch, combined for 23 points. Mayes was saddled with foul trouble in the first half, but managed to score 11 of her points in the second half.
Warren Harding grabbed its only lead, 9-8, when Melissa Rodriguez connected on a jumper with 7:48 remaining in the second quarter.
But the Raiders went the next 6:17 without scoring. Fitch took advantage of Warren Harding's shooting woes, and went on a 13-0 run.
Desirae Jenkins broke Warren Harding's drought, scoring her only field goal of the first half with 31 seconds remaining to trim the deficit to 21-11.
Fitch survived a shaky third quarter, as Warren Harding made the first of two runs. The Raiders started the stanza with an 11-4 rally to close within 25-22 at the 4:26 mark.
But that was as close as Warren Harding got the rest of the way. The Falcons scored the next seven points to pad their lead to 35-26 after three quarters.
In the fourth, Jenkins keyed another Warren Harding push with seven straight points to get within 45-41 with 26 seconds remaining.
Fitch converted three of four free throws in the final 20 seconds to seal the win.
"We really thought containing Jenkins was the key," Hudson said. "We packed our defense inside and made them shoot outside. My assistant coaches, Roger Day and Joe Carcelli, helped us have a great game plan. Having them is like having three head coaches."
Jenkins, who averages 21 points a game, finished with a game-high 15 points, seven of which came with less than three minutes to go in the game.
Now faced with the tall task of knocking off state-ranked Boardman, Hudson said his team is excited and will be ready.
"These girls don't back down from anyone," he said. "It's a big challenge, but it's also a big opportunity. We were just hoping to get the chance to play them, so we'll see what happens."