HOWLAND — Both the Falcons and Tigers were almost literally clawing for every basket Saturday.
Howland put a stop to Fitch’s second quarter momentum and powered through the second half to take down the Falcons, 60-43, in what was possibly the most physical game of either team’s season.
“I told the girls this week this will be the most physical game you play, and if you’re not ready, they will run over you,” Fitch coach Jeff Wilson said. “They’re a good program, well-coached and I feel that we got more physical as the game went on. We need to come out the next time we play them with more physicality.”
The Tigers, who haven’t played since Dec. 27, came out hot, running out to an 18-5 advantage at the end of the first, but started losing a little steam.
Fitch returned the favor in the second quarter, scoring 20 points and went into the locker room with a 4-point deficit.
“In the first quarter we came out obviously really strong, kind of on fire doing everything we wanted to do, but I think we put everything we had in that first quarter,” Tigers coach Aaron Pounds said. “We haven’t played since December and it showed in the second quarter. We kind of lost our footing, Austintown got some momentum and we kind of let it get in our head.
“We made our adjustments at halftime and came out, basically did what we needed to do in the second half to win against a very well-coached team.”
The main adjustment was to focus on possession and it paid off. Howland outscored the Falcons 31-18 in the second half and began to pull away.
Alyssa Pompelia led the team with 15 points, Alyssa Massucci had 14 and Taylor Lawrence rounded out the double-figure scorers with 12.
Leading for Fitch (8-6, 1-1 All-American Conference) was Zayda Creque who scored 13 points.
What sparked the Falcons in the second quarter was an increase in the team’s physicality.
“We weren’t pressing very well, so we just went back to half-court man and I told them it’s going to be ugly if you don’t get physical,” Wilson said. “I thought that the refs were letting the kids play and you have to adjust to what the referees are doing and how they’re calling the game. I feel that that’s more or less what changed.”
The intensity on Howland’s bench isn’t just in-game. The girls aren’t afraid to let their inner competitor out.
While it sometimes leads to tension, it’s quickly resolved, doesn’t become a distraction and has only made the team better.
“We talk to them all the time about focusing in practice and getting after each other and making each other better,” Pounds said. “We’ve got girls that sometimes we almost got to step in between them on the floor when they’re practicing to keep them from fighting each other because they get after each other so much.
“It’s great because then at the end of practice you can see them almost walking off, holding hands and laughing and joking together. We just want to keep getting better. Keep getting better every single day and keep grinding.”
The Tigers (7-5) have rival Harding up next. Fitch hosts Massillon Washington next Saturday. Games like this are only going to help them going forward according to Wilson.
“I told the girls that we’re 8-6 and we’ve lost to six really good teams,” Wilson said. “Some of the best programs in the area. That’s only going to help you going forward.
“The girls are upset they lost. I told them that I appreciate that. If you’re not upset, you’re not a competitor. I’m upset too, not at them, but that we lost. Going forward, I think this just prepares you for the rest of the schedule and rest of the conference.”
The teams play again at Fitch on Feb. 2.