Boardman dumps Fitch for coach’s 100th victory
BOARDMAN — In celebration of coach Pat Birch’s 100th career victory, the Boardman High School basketball team dumped a water cooler on him in the locker room, but they didn’t do a great job of it.
Birch, who wasn’t exactly mad about the players only getting his back wet, couldn’t help but compare the so-so water dumping to the Spartans’ 54-42 victory over Austintown Fitch.
“It was a lot like tonight,” he said with a laugh. “We got it, but we didn’t quite get it.”
The analogy was spot on.
Boardman (7-2, 2-0 All-American Conference) nearly let a 21-point, fourth-quarter lead slip away, committing 23 turnovers — 12 in the fourth quarter alone. The Spartans made some free throws down the stretch to seal the victory and get Birch, now in his eighth year at Boardman, the milestone victory.
“(My career has) been a roller coaster of its own, kind of like tonight was,” said Birch, who was 5-41 in his first two seasons but has gone 49-8 over the last two-plus years and is 100-97 in his career. “I’ve had those years where I was questioning what I was doing. You start to question your program, and then you have the years where you can see what it could be.
“I’ve always just believed that if we did things the right way — kids played hard and they were unselfish — that we would get wins eventually. We’ve been able to do that over the last few years.”
The most recent win didn’t come as easy as he would have liked.
The Spartans were sloppy throughout the game, but their length and overall defense gave Fitch (4-6, 1-1) all kinds of problems. Boardman seemed to block every shot the Falcons attempted in the paint early on, and with Fitch struggling mightily from the outside (1-of-13 on 3-pointers), finding offense was nearly impossible.
The Falcons scored just six points in the first quarter and trailed 32-17 at halftime. Todd Simons, Fitch’s leading scorer for the season, was held scoreless in the first two quarters.
“The first half was a huge struggle,” Falcons coach Brian Beany said. “Their size played a role in that. If you’re not hitting outside shots, then you’re in trouble because they’re just waiting for you in the lane. They had numerous blocks. Now, if you’re able to hit that outside shot, then you can drag them out of the paint a little bit more, and it opens things up, but the first half, we couldn’t score.”
The third quarter wasn’t much better.
The Spartans outscored Fitch, 15-9, to take a 47-26 lead going into the final 8 minutes. The good news for Fitch was Simons finally tallied some points, scoring five points in the third. It was a sign of things to come.
While Boardman got stagnant offensively, scoring two points in the first 6 minutes of the fourth, the Falcons started to create more turnovers, and it sparked a rally. Simons scored 11 in the quarter, and suddenly, Fitch was in the midist of a 16-2 run and trailed by just seven with 1:26 remaining. The Falcons then stole an inbounds pass, but Simons couldn’t connect on an open 3-pointer to really put some pressure on Boardman. The Spartans sank 6-of-10 free throws (their only points of the quarter) to pull away in the final minute.
“That’s three games in a row we’ve had double-digit leads in the fourth quarter that we’ve seen dissipate,” Birch said. “We as coaches have to figure out how to put these guys in better situations and just learn from those moments.”
The Spartans had three players score in double figures, with Luke Ryan leading the way with 11. Trey DePietro and Ethan Andersen each scored 10 for a balanced Boardman attack. Simons led all scorers with 16 points.
The Spartans play at 3 p.m. Sunday against Massillon in the North Canton Hoover Holiday Tournament. Fitch plays at Warren G. Harding on Tuesday.