HOWLAND - John Diehl is in his 20th season coaching Howland High School girls basketball - in fact, he has 399 wins at the moment - but he admits he's still learning.
He found out two things Monday: 1. Austintown Fitch is a much-improved team, and 2. Megan Sefcik can shoot "really, really, really well."
Sefcik, who has made a verbal commitment to the University of Akron, scored a game-high 26 points, but she was just part of a dynamic Fitch offense that led the Falcons to a 72-46 victory.
"Last year, with their same team here, and basically ours too, we played with them until the last three, four minutes of the fourth quarter, so I thought we had a shot tonight, but they've gotten better," Diehl said. "Their post players have gotten stronger, they shoot better down low on the block and we can't match up. They're just too big, too strong."
Oh, and there's that Sefcik girl, too. The 5-foot-11 senior nailed 3s from 4 or 5 feet beyond the arc in the first quarter, hitting a trio of them in the first 6 minutes to help Fitch take a 17-2 lead. She finished 6 of 12 from the field (3 of 7 from 3-point land) and went 11 of 11 from the free-throw line.
"I know she can shoot, but you didn't think you had to guard her out that far," Diehl said. "Jeez oh man. She could play for the Cavs tonight. She was out there deep."
The win gave Fitch (2-0, 1-0) its first All-American Conference, American Division of the year and kept Diehl from a milestone victory (Howland hosts rival Harding on Thursday). The Tigers (1-2, 0-1) gave Diehl reason to believe his landmark win might come sooner with a resurgent second quarter.
Howland senior Gabby Cvengros matched Sefcik's 11-point first quarter with one of her own, pulling the Tigers within 10 after trailing by as many as 18. The Falcons quickly erased any hopes of a Howland comeback with a dominating third quarter. Three players scored at least six points, including 11 by Cassie Custer, and Fitch led by as many as 30 points in the quarter.
"I know everyone is kind of keying for Megan, and now Sarah Melfe has stepped up, so they were kind of face-guarding both of them," Fitch coach Stacie Cepin said. "And that just allows some of the other girls on the team to step up, and they did. That's what's so special about this team - how much trust they have in each other."
Custer finished with 18 points and a team-high nine rebounds, while Maura Bianco added 14 points.
Diehl doesn't anticipate any carry-over effect from the rout into Thursday's matchup with the Raiders.
"It's turned into a good rivalry for our girls and their girls," Diehl said. "We've always had our best gates when we played Harding."
Those in attendance could see history on Thursday. Tip off is set for 7 p.m.