Throughout the 2016-17 season, the Austintown Fitch High School basketball team was a force to be reckoned with.
The Lady Falcons had three winning streaks of four or more games and finished with a17-6 overall record. They also finished second in the highly competitive All-American Conference Red Tier with 9-3, just below the Howland Tigers (19-6, 10-2).
Those were some of the reasons why the Falcons were seeded third in the Akron SVSM District of the Division I state tournament. It was expected that Fitch would sail through the sectionals and then challenge for a district crown.
ABOVE: Gina DiFrancesco (3) guarded by Boardman’s Cate Green (13) sends up one of her three triples and finished the evening with 11 points. The No. 3 Falcons faced a 52-50 sectional loss to the fifth-seeded Spartans. The Spartans advanced to Monday’s district semifinal against second-seeded Stow-Monroe Falls at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School, where Boardman fell, 60-21, ending their season 14-11 overall and 5-7 in the All-American Conference Red Tier.
Unfortunately, that aspiration was wiped out in just one matchup. In one of the most seesaw games of this season, the Fitch ladies were edged by rival fifth-seeded Boardman, 52-50, Feb. 23 in the sectional final at home.
Despite seeing his team's season come to an end, head coach Dan Schnurrenberger was pleased with the overall success of his squad.
"First of all, I am very proud of my girls," the first-year leader said. "I'm especially proud of our seniors, Allexis Sallee, Mikaela Hibbs and Natalie Lynn. Their effort, commitment and attitude from last March until (Feb. 23) has been incredible. Seniors like those three impact the course of Fitch girls basketball for many years to come."
Lynn did all she could against the Spartans to keep her senior season going. She scored two baskets at the beginning of the second quarter to stake the Falcons to an 11-point lead less than 10 minutes into the game. She ended the game with a dozen points.
Junior guard Camryn Constance also scored 12 points for the Falcons.
With the double-digit advantage intact it seemed as if Fitch was ready to run the Spartans out of the sectionals. Strangely, the Spartans then went on an incredible 32-10 run to reverse the lead.
The Falcons were now trailing by that same 11-point margin they once owned midway through the third quarter. The home team then turned things around and staged an unthinkable 19-8 run to tie the contest late in the fourth period.
Some clutch free-throw shooting by Boardman in the final moments, however, allowed the Spartans to squeak out the victory. While the Spartans went into preparation mode for the districts,
While the Falcons were faced with reminiscing about an otherwise exciting campaign, the Spartans went into preparation mode for the district semifinals, where the Spartans (14-11, 5-7) fell Monday to second-seeded Stow-Monroe Falls, 60-21, at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School.
"After the game all of the coaches expressed how proud they were and how lucky we are to coach a team that not only won 17 games this season but also was a team of great human beings," Schnurrenberger said.
Not only was this Fitch group great on the hardwood, but they also were outstanding students. That is a fact that would make every head coach brag.
"This team had a team grade point average of 3.7, which tells you that they are more than just athletes," Schnurrenberger said. "I could never be disappointed in a group like that."
With key contributors coming back next fall, Schnurrenberger should have plenty to be proud of again. Leading scorer and hard to defend 6-footer Sabria Hunter will be a junior next season, so the Falcons won't be hurting in the frontcourt.
The DiFrancesco triplets, Gina, Erica and Rachel, will once again pose a triple threat. Cameron will be counted on to ramp up her scoring, too.
Schnurrenberger will start year No. 2 on the Fitch bench, and there's no doubt he'll have his kids ready to use this early exit from the sectionals as a rallying point to better success in 2017-18.