By ERIC FORTUNE
For the Star Beacon
They might have been happy to see each other, but neither Ryan Fitch or Ryan Shontz were eager to play this game.
“It was fun before the tipoff,” Shontz, “It was nice to see Ryan and all the coaches I worked with last year. They are all a bunch of good guys. I was happy to see them. That’s where the fun stops for me.”
After spending last 4 years as the coach for the Pymatuning Valley Lakers, Fitch took over at his alma mater and had the luxury of coaching against his old players. The prospect wasn’t exactly thrilling.
“I really liked those group of kids,” Fitch said. “I had a great 4-year run at PV. It was an outstanding time. It’s hard playing against them. You want to beat them to win a game, but you want to see them do well and excel.”
In the end, Fitch could breath a sigh of relief as his Champion Golden Flashes took back a game they nearly lost control of to get the Lakers 76-65 in double overtime.
At the start, Chris Miller was deadly behind three point arc for the Golden Flashes as much of what Champion did was akin to the Lakers of last year.
“We’ve really been struggling shooting the ball,” Fitch said. “We were shooting 19 percent from 3-point range and we talked about getting off to a quick start. Our offense is predicated basically around making 3-point shots. When we make them, it stretches the defense and opens it open to our curl cuts. We are still in the process of putting our system in. It’ll get better.”
Champion dictated the tempo of the game opening an 11-point advantage through most of the second quarter.
Quintin Ratliff, who finished with a game-high 28 points, was held in check with just 3 points as Pymatuning Valley had no answer in that first half.
“Champion’s defense really pushed us out of our game plan,” Shontz said. “We made a lot of bad decisions. The game plan was to spread them out and attack the basket relentlessly. None of that happened. We settled for jumps shots and made weak passes that buried us.”
Much like they did against the Windham Bombers last Friday, the Lakers started to make a dent into the Golden Flashes lead thanks in large part to Ratliff.
“Nick Mackey did an outstanding job on him all night long,” Fitch said. “Even in the second half, when he was winded, his responsibility was to make sure Quintin didn’t catch the ball. There were a lot of times when he did do that. Quintin though is a phenomenal athlete. He’s a Division I athlete playing Division III basketball. He’s just good.”
With the Lakers down by 3 with four seconds left in regulation, Ratliff’s 3 to give the Lakers their first lead since early in the first quarter seemed to be the dagger that would keep Champion winless.
Instead, Fitch set up a play for his quickest player who happened to just be a freshman — Lucas Nasonti. He calmly found a crease, got to the front of the bucket to send it to overtime.
“When Ratliff hit that shot with 4 seconds left, all I could think about was we battled so hard,” Fitch said. “Our kids needed a victory and he just killed us with a dagger. Lucas did exactly what he was supposed to do. He didn’t get tentative or pull up. He laid it in.”
After playing to another tie after one overtime, the Golden Flashes came up big after Thurber, Ratliff, and Mercer fouled in the second overtime to go 9 of 14 from the charity stripe.
“When you give a team like that confidence who is hungry for a win, they are going to keep coming at you hard,” Shontz said. I was dreading this game the whole season. I did not want to come down here and play him.”
Fortune is a freelance writer from McDonald.