By STEVE WILAJ
Austintown Fitch coach Brian Beany didn’t beat around the bush. He got straight to the point.
“Overall, this was probably our best performance of the year for four quarters,” he said.
The Falcons outplayed Howland in nearly every phase of the game Friday night at Austintown and defeated the Tigers, 56-42.
“Tonight was one of our cleanest games,” Beany said. “Everyone did their job. Nobody tried to do more than what they could do and that shows. When we could do those types of things offensively, defensively and staying into what we want to do, we can be a pretty good team.”
Fitch shot 54 percent from the field, held Howland to 35-percent shooting, outrebounded the Tigers, 27-17, and committed just nine turnovers. With this performance, they completed a regular season sweep of Howland (6-11, 5-4 All-American Conference, American Division).
“They did a great job of preparing for us,” said Tigers coach Bill Bogan. “If they did as good a job against the rest of the league as they did against us, they’d be right there with Poland and Canfield.”
Howland came into the game hot, defeating Poland and Canfield in two of its past three games. But against the Falcons (8-9, 3-6), they were cold.
Only three players scored for the Tigers, as Brendan Cope led the way with 24 points. Howland, a 3-point dependent team, made only 4 of 20 attempts from behind the arc.
“We played so hard and worked so hard to beat Canfield and Poland, so I think it’s just a testament to what Brian’s doing here with these kids at Austintown,” Bogan said. “Their zone defense that they put out there — we never could quite figure it out.”
Howland also couldn’t figure out how to stop Fitch big man Alex DiFrancesco. He scored a team-high 22 points for the Falcons, with 10 of them coming in the first quarter.
“He had his best game of the year, by far,” Beany said. “He did everything — rebounding, defense, converting from the post.”
DiFrancesco credited his teammates for his big night.
“They kept looking for me and kept encouraging me to take it to the hoop,” he said. “Shots just kept falling for me tonight.”
Jessie Driver posted a double-double for the Falcons with 10 points and a game-high 10 rebounds. Alex Chepke added nine points.
“Everyone that played did their job tonight,” Beany said. “So I’m proud of those guys for that.”
Earlier in the season, Fitch snapped a seven-game losing streak at Howland. Since ending their losing streak, the Tigers are 6-2.
“We’ve had some consistency the last three or four weeks,” Beany said. “We’re still a young group with only one senior, but we’re learning how to win. The kids are taking the right steps.”