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Fitch rallies, then wins in OT

Staff photo / Brian Yauger -- Todd Simons, right, of Fitch passes around a Harding defender Tuesday night.

WARREN — While it was difficult to make out what he was saying if you were sitting in the gym, Fitch coach Brian Beany’s halftime speech was heard loud and clear by his team.

After scoring four points in the second quarter, the Falcons came out in the second half re-energized, and when the dust finally settled, Fitch walked out of the Warren G. Harding gym with a thrilling 72-67 victory that took an extra two periods to decide.

“Let’s just put it this way, it was pretty fiery,” Beany said about the halftime message to his team. “I know what we’re capable of, it’s just a matter of pulling it out of them. We play a lot of young kids and sometimes those kids haven’t been in this type of environment, so it does take them some time to catch on.

“I challenged them, they stepped up, it was a great game by both teams. It hung in the balance for 99 percent of the game.”

With the way the second quarter was going, Harding very easily could have run away with the game. Fitch scored its first points of the second quarter with two minutes remaining, and tacked on one more bucket before the break. But something clicked as they stepped on the court for the second half.

Staff photo / Brian Yauger -- Nate Leskovac, right, of Fitch makes a move toward the basket while being guarded by Harding senior Aston Bates.

After closing the gap to 43-33 going into the final quarter, the Falcons offense exploded, scoring 21 points in the final frame.

With 12 seconds left on the clock, a foul on Harding senior Aston Bates sent him to the line. The Raiders held a 53-52 lead. Bates hit his first shot but missed the second, giving his team a 2-point advantage as time ticked away.

With one second left in the game, leading scorer Todd Simons was called to the line after missing the potential game-tying bucket. Simons hit both shots to tie the game at 54. Harding’s Hail Mary shot missed, and another four minutes was added to the clock.

Simons spent most of the second half, including the two overtime periods, just one slip up away from spending the remainder of the game on the bench. Despite that, the senior didn’t leave the court, scoring all but eight of his 34 points after halftime. Beany had trust in Simons, knowing his senior could stay out of trouble with four fouls.

“With some players, especially young ones, you kind of play the ‘foul game’, as far as if they get fouls early you want to make sure that they don’t (foul out),” Beany said. “(With Simons), you just ride him. He got four fouls with however much time to go, plus he played two overtimes with four fouls. He knows how to play with fouls.”

Across the two overtimes, Fitch outscored the Raiders 18-13 to complete the come from behind victory.

The Raiders, who also have a relatively young team, picked up valuable experience in the crunch-time situation, but to coach Keelyn Franklin, there were plenty of opportunities to get the win that Harding should have taken.

“They’ll be better in the future because of this,” Raiders coach Keelyn Franklin said. “They’re taking their lumps and they’re growing a lot. We’ve got freshmen out there, a couple sophomores, but those are games we’ve got to win.

“Those games we should win regardless of who’s out there. When you’ve got a 10-point lead in that situation in a game, you’ve got to be more disciplined. We have to execute better as a team and as a coaching staff. We’ve got to make the winning plays needed in crunch time to ensure that you secure that victory.”

Harding (1-5, 1-1) has two more games in its four-game homestand, looking to get back on the right track Friday against Canfield before hosting league-leading Boardman on Tuesday.

Fitch moves to 5-6 on the season and picks up its fourth win in five games. Their only blemish in 2021 was a loss to Boardman. On Friday, the team looks to continue their success when it travels to Howland.

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