Finishing kick tips Rangers to history

 

Ariana van den Akker/The Herald
Forest Park’s Blake Altmann sliced his portion of the net after the Rangers captured Saturday’s Class 1A soccer regional championship against Washington Catholic in Fort Branch. The 2-1 win earned the Rangers their first regional title and a trip to this Saturday’s semistate at Floyd Central, where they’ll battle fifth-ranked Speedway at noon. For a gallery of photos, click here.

By JOE JASINSKI
Herald Sports Writer

FORT BRANCH — Dakota Begle had to admit, he was a little nervous.

When he strolled up to the penalty spot with six minutes remaining and the score deadlocked at 1, the thought that popped into the Forest Park soccer captain’s head contained two stark outcomes.

“I’d like to say I wasn’t nervous. Every guy would. But to be honest, I was a little nervous,” Begle said. “I knew that that strike could either end my career or keep it going.”

As Washington Catholic goalkeeper Jon Mitchell lunged to the right, Begle calmly tucked the penalty kick in the opposite corner.

“I had the nerve,” Begle said. “I picked my corner and put it in.”

The Rangers led by a goal earlier, forfeited the advantage and once again located the moxie to persevere. Label it their comfort zone, their preferred time to thrive or their finest moment. As the Rangers willed their way past the 13th-ranked Cardinals 2-1 in the Class 1A regional championship on Saturday at Fort Branch, the result once again pinpointed the team’s defining property.

“Anytime a team shows that much heart and composure, it’s tough to knock them off,” Begle said.

“We talked about it all season, how we were going to be the first team to make history. ... I’m glad we finally made it happen.”

A year after Forest Park notched the program’s first win in a regional, the Rangers once again added to the collection: a first regional title.

Collaring the title came as no easy task.

Just as they had in their previous two tournament contests, the Rangers (13-3-3) found the salvo to snap an all-squared match in the second half. And as was the case in their sectional title match against Heritage Hills, the game-winner came after the opposition had responded with an equalizer.

As the Rangers continued pressing in the opening half, freshman Evan Dilger flicked a nifty one-touch pass over the defense from just outside the 18-yard box. A streaking Ben Englert rushed onto the bouncing ball, took one touch past a defender and rifled a shot to grant Forest Park a one-goal lead in the match’s 28th minute.

From there, the Rangers relied upon their slightly altered defense to preserve the marginal advantage — no small chore given Washington Catholic’s offensive competence, Forest Park coach Brent Sicard said.

“It was another one of those (games) where we rolled (to a) 1-0 lead and the clock won’t count down fast enough,” the Ranger coach said. “I knew all it was going to take was one chance from (Cardinal forward Blaine Fuhs) because he’s such an attacking threat.”

Ariana van den Akker/The Herald
Forest Park’s Alex Russell, right, won the ball from Washington Catholic’s James Brown.


To counteract the danger, Sicard installed senior Derek Hoffman as a fourth defender, which allowed teammate Cole Henke to shadow Fuhs. Hoffman remained stout, as did center back Cody Tempel and outside defender Cody Flamion. Every attack the Cardinals (14-6-1) mounted seemed destined for one inevitable outcome: a booted clearance from someone on the Ranger back line.

Yet a split-second counterattack was all it took for Fuhs and company to formulate their rebuttal with 10:46 to play. Cardinal midfielder Brody Wilson slotted a through-ball to Fuhs, who barely outpaced Henke and slid a shot past a charging Blake Altmann in goal.

“It’s kind of one of those (goals) that takes all the air out of you,” Sicard said. “But these guys have responded … and made sure that they weren’t going to lose.”

Some four minutes later, Englert once again blazed down the right sideline and into the Cardinal penalty area, running onto a penetrating pass from Alex Russell. But before he could engineer a shot, a Cardinal defender bodied Englert to the turf inside the box, producing Begle’s opportunity.

“That’s a chance you’ve got to bury, too. It’s not a given,” Sicard said.

“You still need to step up and put it away. And that’s what Dakota did.”

And after six Rangers retreated into defense in the closing minutes, the clock finally displayed zeroes and the celebration was on. As the regional plate was presented, players and students barreled toward each other before converging in elation. Midfielder Joel Weyer and several other teammates found Sicard for spirited hugs.

“We did it!” Weyer exclaimed as he wrapped his arms around his coach.

Indeed, they did. And now equipped with the regional crown, the Rangers set their sights on uncharted territory: a semistate semifinal skirmish with No. 5 Speedway (21-2) at noon Saturday at Floyd Central.

Saturday in Fort Branch, however, there was little looking ahead. The Rangers stayed in the moment.

After being doused by the remnants from a water cooler, Sicard put the win in perspective. Twenty-eight years after his father, Ken, Bill Potter and Rock Emmert founded the Ranger soccer program, the win represented the next level off a solidly built foundation, he explained.

“For me, this right here means a ton,” Brent Sicard said as he touched the Forest Park soccer patch on the left side of his jacket that reads “Est. 1985.”

“Thirty years later, I feel proud to say that it’s been in my family the way my dad started the program, and for me to come in and carry it on, it means a lot.”

After carving out a 2-by-2-foot section of net from the field’s north goal, an almost giddy Ranger midfielder Austin Bromm tried to put it all in context — the comeback, the title, the moment.

“Future generations will keep looking down on us like, ”˜Let’s be like those guys. They won the first regional,’” Bromm said with a smile. “It’s amazing. Just crazy.”

Contact Joe Jasinski at jjasinski@dcherald.com.




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