There is little doubt that it has been a struggle for the Austintown Fitch High School boys basketball team to maintain a consistent level of success this season.
Even when the Falcons have won, it has taken every last bit of effort to earn the victory.
Case in point was the Falcons' 62-57 win at 2-9 Liberty Friday night. Both teams battled in this back-and-forth contest for four quarters, but that still didn't solve anything. The Falcons needed an 11-6 run in overtime to come home from Trumbull County with just their second triumph of the year.
"It was another close game for us," head coach Brian Beany said. "Liberty played out of their minds, but a lot of good things came out of this game for us."
The best things happened once the game forged ahead into a fifth period. Beany's bunch was able to connect on some important baskets and, maybe more importantly, make noise from the free-throw line.
Fitch was shooting just 63 percent from the foul line entering the game, which astoundingly is second best in the All-American Conference. The kids' ability to salt away the Liberty game from the charity stripe had Beany wondering what might have been if they did equally as well in some previous losses.
"If we hit more free throws we could have won more games this year," he said. "We could have won (against Liberty) by double digits if we hit more (before overtime)."
Junior Randy Smith showcased the Falcons' success from the stripe, going 11 for 16. He ended the evening with a team-high 18 points. Senior Zac Bruff connected on half of Fitch's six 3-pointers and finished with 17 points. Junior Dylan Beany also topped 10 points with 11.
The varsity boy are now 2-11 overall and 1-6 in the AAC Red Tier.
Leaving Liberty with a win was important for the Falcons because they were coming off a brutal 70-68 loss Jan. 13 at Youngstown East.
Smith was once again stellar from the stripe, hitting 16 for 20 on his way to 25 points. Kole Klasic and Dylan Beany both went for 11 points.
That two-point loss marked the seventh time this season Brian Beany's club has lost a game by single digits. At least the close loss to the Panthers and the win over the Leopards has given coach Beany some hope as the Division I tournament approaches.
"The kids are getting more confidence with more varsity experience," he said. "We're still looking for consistency and still piecing some kids together. It's hard to tell when it will all come together, though. I really can't put a date on it."
Beany is certainly hoping it comes together before his team draws for the tournament on the first weekend of February. Before that time, the Falcons will entertain Red Tier co-leader Canfield Friday before hitting the road for back-to-back battles with Warren G. Harding Tuesday and Hubbard Feb. 3.
Aside from the hard-charging Raiders, Beany believes his boys have a very good chance at capturing a couple of these upcoming rematches with their Red Tier brethren.
"No doubt we can win these games if we play better than we did the first time we played," he said.