Practice may make better where perfect is not an option, but the best thing going for the Fostoria Redmen this weekend was a long talk. And more importantly, a long listen that turned into action.
The Redmen ended a disappointing five-game losing streak to start the season with a 54-50 win at Calvert Saturday night. Suddenly, there can be a happy holiday after all.
"We had about an hour-and-a-half long team meeting this morning instead of a shoot-around," Fostoria coach Rick Renz. "We talked about what each kid needed to do to improve himself and they did it tonight.
"I couldn't be happier going into the Christmas break than to have a win," he said. "And I really hope we can keep this going. We're not going to win every game the rest of the way but we have a chance now to be a lot more competitive than we've been if we just keep working at it."
Fostoria led by four going into the fourth quarter and seemed to have things well in hand with an early burst led by Dominque Fuller.
Fuller scored all 10 of his points in the final period, including six in a 58-second stretch that pushed Fostoria's lead to 51-41 with 1:46 left to play.
But the Senecas, who experienced their first win in seven tries with a 55-42 decision of North Baltimore Friday, challenged to the end.
First Brian Gruss hit two foul shots. Then, after Fuller hit one foul shot for Fostoria, Mike Bennett powered for a three-point play and Donavon Stith scored on a drive off a midcourt inbound pass to trim the margin to 52-48 with 43 seconds left.
David Cook's foul shot gave the Redmen a reprieve, but Bennett hit a jumper from the right elbow with 28 seconds to play. And when Fuller turned it over on an offensive foul, the Senecas had one last chance.
Bennett drove for a shot that was off and the rebound was kicked to Gruss, whose 3-point try to tie bounced off. The Redmen controlled the board and Fuller's foul shot sealed it.
"We gave ourselves a chance; we're just not quite there yet," Calvert coach Ted Willman said after his club fell to 1-7. "When you have two home games back-to-back going into Christmas and you win the first, you'd like to win the second one also.
"We gave great effort," he said. "Our situation has never been about effort. It's been about not being able to execute all the time. We just have to find a way to execute plays fundamentally. We do it some, but we don't do it for long enough periods of time."
Before Fuller put together his big fourth quarter, the Redmen relied mostly on seniors Adonis Cousin and Cook for their offense.
After Calvert took a 10-9 first quarter lead, the Redmen grabbed the upper hand for good when Garrett Sferro hit a 3-pointer. Cousin and Cook each scored five in the second period as Fostoria led 26-21 at the half.
Cousin powered for a game-high 19 points with six rebounds. Cook added 12 points, mostly in transition, had led Fostoria rebounders with seven. Sophomore Kaleb Bemis contributed six points.
"Sometimes, one of the worst things we can do is hit a 3-pointer in the first quarter because then, all of a sudden, we think we're a 3-point shooting team," Renz said. "I tell the kids there's a reason why you're open. It's because they want you to be open.
"I thought we did a much better job of attacking on offense," he said. "That made a big difference for us."
The Senecas stayed in the hunt with a balanced attack. Bennett led with 13 points and eight rebounds. Stith checked in with 10 points, Austin Perry added eight and Gruss had seven points with nine rebounds.
"Eight of our first nine possessions ended in turnovers, plus we had them for something like eight or nine offensive rebounds in the first half," Willman said. "You look at those things and you wonder, 'How are we only down by five points at half?'
"Earlier in the year, we do those things and we probably lose by 20, so we're slowly starting to get there," he said. "We're doing things well in spurts. We just need to be a little more consistent."