By VINCE PELUSO
First-year Geneva coach Matt Vespa, new to Ashtabula County, admitted he didn’t know what to expect out of his team in its season-opener at Jefferson on Friday night.
Meanwhile, first-year Falcons coach Steve French, an assistant at Jefferson for the past two years, probably had a pretty good idea what to expect.
Through 16 minutes, Vespa was pleasantly surprised with his Eagles as they led, 32-29, at the half.
French, on the other hand, was looking for more and he got it as the Falcons outscored Geneva, 46-21, in the second half, giving French his first varsity win, 75-53.
“It’s always good to get a win,” French said. “The first game is usually a little ratty, but to get a win is always good. I’m pleased, but we have a long way to go.”
Trailing by 3 at the half, Jefferson slowly chipped away at the lead.
After sitting in the second quarter because of foul trouble, the Falcons’ David Chase (16 points, 5 blocks, 5 rebounds) helped lead the charge with seven points in the third period.
After Brandon Kovach hit a pair of free throws to tie the game at 39, buckets from Sam Hitchcock, Lucas Hitchcock and Chase helped the Falcons end the period on an 8-0 run to push it to 47-39 after the third.
Defense was the key to comeback French said.
“Defensive intensity, I just think we didn’t have defensive intensity early on,” he said. “In the second quarter, we gave up 19 but we really brought it in the third quarter. That carries over and that starts with our offensive break. That really got us going.”
The fourth period belonged to Jefferson.
Freshman Sam Hitchcock came off the bench and buried two 3s to score eight of his team-high 17 in the period.
Point guard Sage Cantini kicked in 10 in the fourth to finish the game with 15 points, 10 assists and 6 rebounds.
All told, the Falcons outscored the Eagles 28-14 over the final 8 minutes.
French was pleased with Cantini’s performance in the second half.
“We challenged him at halftime to be a little more aggressive and go get the ball and I thought he attacked very well,” he said. “He finished and was making some foul shots as well. I thought he had a good second half.
“(Then) Sam from Day 1 he’s come in and played so hard. He’s a tough kid and he really took a lot of big shots tonight and made a lot of big shots. I’m really proud of the way he played.”
For Vespa, while the defeat was disappointing, he liked how his team played for the most part.
“It’s a process, learning how to do this and part of that is learning how to work hard in practice and part of that is learning how to win games,” he said. “When you haven’t won a lot of games before; it’s a skill. That’s something that we’re gonna learn. Overall, I was pretty happy with how things turned out today.
“I didn’t really know what to expect today. There were things I thought we did pretty good and things I didn’t think we did very well.”
Something that went very well for Geneva was the play of point guard Brandon Kovach.
Kovach scored 13 first-half points, including three triples in the second quarter, to help give the Eagles the lead. All-told, he scored a game-high 22, including four 3-pointers.
“We just talked to him about the different things he can do to be a leader and he did that tonight,” he said. “He shot the ball well, he’s the point guard and he’s kind of the one who can make us go and he did that tonight.”
With the Falcons a little short-handed because of injury, French was pleased that his team not only got a win, but saw a few role players step up in the victory.
“I thought Andrew Burnett came in and played really well,” he said. “His defensive intensity picked us up and he had a good finish on an and-one at the end. It’s always good to get that first one, get that momentum. Now, we’ve got a week to get ready for our next one. We’ve got to get in the gym and work on handling the basketball; too many turnovers (27) tonight.”
Geneva scored the first six points of the game and led 13-12 after the first.
Jefferson’s Sam Caskey (12 points) scored five-straight, including a trey, to give the Falcons a 19-13 lead early in the period.
The Eagles ended that quarter on a 19-10 run to take the halftime advantage.
Vespa liked how his team battled throughout.
“We have a group of really tough guys,” Vespa said. “They’re going to battle guys, whether you’re 7-feet tall or 6-feet tall, and that’s something we worked on in practice. We’re going to be smaller than everyone else this year. No one is going to be intimidated by us getting off the bus but hopefully by the end of the game we get some respect.”