By Ryan buck
Physicality was the name of the game Friday night as the Austintown Fitch boys basketball team flew into Poland to take on the Bulldogs in their second meeting of the All-American Conference, American Division season.
Ken Grisdale had a challenge for his one-loss team, an ongoing pursuit of a key element absent in his team’s loss to archrival Canfield on Jan. 11.
“We need to be tougher — mentally tougher,” Grisdale said. “When people are up in us, not allowing us to do what we want to do, then we can’t take a step back. We’ve got to take a step forward.”
Poland did that in a 40-32 victory on Friday night,
The Falcons, who disrupted Poland’s potent offense all night, trailed by as many as eight points in the second half. Quincy Higgins’ sixth point of the fourth quarter, a rebound put-back, brought the score to 33-30 with less than three minutes remaining.
Senior forward Alex Hubbell, a standout football player no less, brought the energy the Bulldogs needed.
Within the commotion under the basket, the two-way tight end and defensive lineman found his comfort zone. With 1:50 left in the game, George Chammas fed Hubbell with a bounce pass into the paint. He fought off the taller Fitch front-line for position, twice pump-faked, and muscled his way for a lay-up and a 35-30 Poland lead.
Hubbell, who relishes his role as a rebounder and physical post presence, personified Grisdale’s demand for maintaining psychological propensity under pressure.
“A few possessions before, I had missed both foul shots,” Hubbell said. “I knew I had to put that play behind me for the sake of the team.”
Two possessions later, another savvy decision from the all-conference lineman paid off.
Hubbell’s boulder-like shoulders and tree-trunk legs emerged from a pack of Falcons swarming for the rebound and a break-away lay-in at the other end.
“I boxed out and realized they (Fitch) were short (numbers back) and no one was going to get it,” Hubbell said. “It was a long bounce. I didn’t see anybody in front of me so I just took it all the way.”
Free throws extended the 37-30 lead into the victory, one that keeps Poland in the thick of the race for the conference crown.
It wasn’t before some extra-curricular, final- minute fouls made their way to the sidelines post-game, where both squads had to collect themselves as they left the court.
“We had a nice battle going,’ Grisdale said. “It was possession basketball. Those are the games that make a team better for the stretch run.”
While never leading, Fitch cut their deficit to three points twice in the final quarter.
“I think we shot 29-percent from the field and we had some absolutely tremendous looks,” said Fitch coach Brian Beany. “We just couldn’t put the ball in the basket. When you shoot like that against a good team like Poland, you’re going to have a hard time beating them.”
Higgins’ drives at the basket and forward Curtis Beverly’s six second-half points in the paint gave the Falcons momentum before Hubbell’s plays and cold shooting hurt them.
“We had opportunities, we just couldn’t capitalize,” Beany said.
Higgins led all scorers with 12 points. Chammas paced Poland with 10.