New Ironton head basketball coach P.J. Fitch feels honored to fill the position.
The Minford (Ohio) native has 10 years of high school head coaching experience in Ohio. He follows Mark LaFon, who resigned in March after guiding the Fighting Tigers for 14 seasons.
“In my opinion, this is one of the top jobs in southern Ohio so I wanted to pursue it,” Fitch said. “The football program is tradition-rich, and basketball as well. I think they’ve made three trips to the Final Four.”
Fitch, also Ironton’s assistant principal, played college basketball at Shawnee State and received his Masters degree from Ohio University. He’s no stranger to Tiger Town.
Fitch worked in the health-care field at the former Lawrence County General Hospital in Ironton for seven years and developed a fondness for the area.
Now he’s back, hoping to help add more successful chapters to Ironton’s athletic history.
“I definitely welcome new challenges,” Fitch said. “I see it as an opportunity at a tremendous school.”
Ironton’s football playoff run this season put the process of molding his first squad on hold. As this publication was being assembled, the Tigers were preparing for a third-round game in the Division V playoffs.
The majority of Fitch’s prospective players are locked into a football regimen with the basketball season just around the corner. Ironton’s opener is Dec. 10 at Gallia Academy.
“I’ve got nine kids now, only two of what I consider as varsity players,” Fitch said. “I have some younger kids that didn’t play football who are working hard on skill development.”
For the rest, basketball waits.
“You have to be creative not being able to put a lot of stuff in early, but that’s a welcomed challenge,” Fitch said in mid-November. “It means our kids are successful in other sports and we support that. Hopefully they keep rolling and win the state. I will piece things together.”
Fitch favors a fast pace and attacking style.
“I believe in being up-tempo with a purpose and discipline,” he said. “We can be patient when we need to be, push when we have an advantage and generate offense from defense.”
Fitch coached Beaver Eastern from 2008-15, compiling a 114-62 record. His teams won 10 championships, including four conference titles, two county crowns and four sectionals. Eastern captured a district crown in 2012 and was also regional runner-up that season. During Fitch’s stay at Eastern, his son Garrett finished 23 points short of the school’s career scoring record.
“My teams always hung their hat on defense and rebounding,” Fitch said. “I found if you do that, you can be competitive every year. If you happen to be good offensively, it can be a special year.”
Ironton lost three starters from last year’s 18-7 team, including All-Ohio guards Charlie Large and Ethan Wilson.
“We have to find a point guard and some offense,” Fitch said. “Once we get everybody together and once they learn my system, it will work with athletes here at Ironton. The challenge is not having them yet.”
From the senior class, guard Brayden Easterling and 6-foot-3 post player Trent Milleson made an impression on the coach in early workouts.
“Easterling is an outstanding 3-point shooter,” Fitch said. “I look for him to have a solid impact.”
Football seniors slated to help include Colin Freeman, Jordan Grizzle and Gage Salyers. Junior Reid Carrico, an Ohio State football commit, averaged 11.5 points and 7.8 rebounds last season. Other juniors in the mix are Caleb Hopper, Erickson Barnes and perhaps Will York. Hopper and York are working their way back from injuries.
“Barnes is a shooter and has been working real hard all summer,” Fitch said. “He’s got a chance to come off the bench if not start. “
Braxton Pringle, a 6-3 sophomore, and freshman guard Landon Wilson are top underclassmen.