By Steve wilaj
Carlie Chepke — not used to the situation — didn’t know what to do.
The Austintown Fitch High guard just completed such a vital and uncharacteristic play that she was in disbelief.
“I just stood there in shock after it went in,” Chepke said. “I was like ‘Oh my god.’”
The game-changing play happened with just over three minutes remaining in Fitch’s 54-45 victory at Struthers on Thursday.
The Wildcats were in the midst of a comeback, cutting the Falcons’ lead to 47-41. Then Fitch’s Maura Bianco missed a short jumper, setting the stage for Chepke.
“I grabbed it and normally I kick it out,” she said. “But I was like ‘Nope,’ and I went up with it.”
The 5-foot-7 senior found the bottom of the net from five feet away, putting Fitch (6-0) up 49-41 and ending Struthers’ final push.
“I was so excited because I’m not usually the scorer,” Chepke said. “And everybody seemed to get excited about it for me, so I was like ‘Oh, OK!’”
Falcons coach Stacie Cepin, who gave a fist pump and let out a scream after the bucket, called it the play of the game.
“She’s one of these people that’s so unselfish,” Cepin said. “But to make a play like that when they had the momentum going — I mean huge, huge play [by] Carlie Chepke. That really put us back on the right track to finish the game.”
Megan Sefcik, who finished with 20 points and nine rebounds, added a final layup to cap the Falcons’ 6-0 scoring run.
“They did a good job of running their offense and got some opportunities,” Struthers coach John Grandy said. “I thought the momentum was on our side, so give them credit for what they did. But I give our girls credit when we made our run.”
The Wildcats — led by Brittaney Zupko’s 13 points and Ashleigh Ryan’s 11 — entered the fourth trailing, 43-33. But five straight points by McKenna Shives, who finished with 10, cut that deficit in half.
Struthers (4-3) then trailed just 45-41 with 4:37 left when Cepin delivered a message to the Falcons during a timeout.
“This rivalry is so intense and it’s why we do what we do,” she said. “I told them it’s all about who wants it more at the end and somebody has to make a big play.”
Chepke said Fitch — which also received 14 points from Cassie Custer and eight from Sarah Melfe — heard that message loud and clear.
“As soon as she said that, it hit everyone and we were like, ‘All right let’s go,’” Chepke said. “We went after it from there on out.
“It’s a really big win for us. They’ve been after us for a few years and haven’t beaten us yet. To keep that going, it feels amazing.”
Grandy, whose Wildcats shot just 30 percent, said Struthers simply has to bounce back.
“Basketball is a journey, not a destination — and that journey is long,” he said. “We just want to get to practice and get better. That’s been our goal all year.”