After a lopsided 70-point win over upstart Youngstown East Jan. 18, the Austintown Fitch High School girls basketball team embarked on a killer three-game road trip before falling to West Branch Monday at home.
The roadie commenced in Salem Jan. 23 and didn't end until trips to rivals Boardman and Canfield were completed. Apparently the Lady Falcons had no fear of the travel because they came away with three straight wins.
The terrific trip upped the Falcons' overall season record to 12-4 and kept the Austintown girls in striking distance of first place in the All-American Conference Red Tier.
"It was a great week for us," head coach Dan Schnurrenberger said. "To win three road games in six days says a lot about my team's focus and toughness."
Perhaps the toughest of that triumvirate of victories came Jan. 28 in Canfield. The Lady Cardinals had their way with the Falcons during the two schools' first meeting of the campaign a week before Christmas.
That was Fitch's first loss this season and started a string of three losses in four games. Canfield also reached the 60-point plateau that evening, so the key to earning a bit of revenge for the Falcons was to shut the Cardinals down on the offensive end. A 40-28 triumph did just that for Schnurrenberger's ladies.
"To hold Canfield under 30 points was a tremendous team defensive effort," Schnurrenberger said. "The girls buy into the defensive end, which good teams must do."
Canfield could only muster single digits in each quarter. If it weren't for the five 3-pointers the Cards put in, they may have scored under 20 points. Amazingly, Canfield scored the first four points of the game but then was swarmed under by Fitch's tornado-like defense.
Schnurrenberger admitted his squad didn't do anything differently on defense than it has throughout the year, but the lessons the team has learned in practice really paid off in Canfield.
"I give credit to my assistants (for teaching great defense)," he said. "Those assistants have a passion for teaching and really break down our defensive possessions on film and in practice."
Despite the disparity in points scored by Canfield, Fitch only held a two-point lead at intermission. A 24-14 run by the Falcons in the second half enabled them to get the retribution they were seeking since December's setback.
Sabria Hunter headed the Fitch scoring attack with 10 points and seven rebounds. Natalie Lynn scored nine points and had eight rebounds. Gina DiFrancesco finished with eight points and five boards. In fact, it was Fitch's ferocity along the glass that really pushed the team to victory.
"Our forwards always do an excellent job controlling the boards," Schnurrenberger said. "A couple of junior guards, Cam Constance and DiFrancesco, really stepped up this week guarding the perimeter as well."
As they did in Canfield, the Falcons caught fire in the second half to subdue Boardman Jan. 25. The Falcons were down, 21-17, at the break and didn't really find their footing until midway through the third period.
Hunter again led the way for Fitch, scoring 17 points, with 13 of the sensational sophomore's points coming in the final two periods. She also yanked down 11 rebounds. Mikaela Hibbs hit for 10 points for the victors.
One would think the Falcons deserved a rest after playing such a vicious slate of games in a row, but that was not the case. Fitch hosted state ranked West Branch Monday.
On the eve of the battle with the Lady Warriors, Schnurrenberger warned that if his team let's up one iota, all of the thrill obtained over that scintillating six day stretch will be wiped away.
"We'll have our hands full with West Branch," Schnurrenberger said. "We must maintain last week's intensity to be successful."
The varsity Falcons lost the home nonconference game, 52-45, making their record 12-5 overall and 5-3 in the AAC Red Tier.
Leading scorers were Constance with 17 points and Lynn with 12 points.
Following Wednesday's conference game against the Warren G. Harding Raiders, the Falcons have three more Red Tier showdowns with Youngstown East, Lakeview and leader Howland before ending the season against Cardinal Mooney.