Rangers roar back in 31-point quarter

Ariana van den Akker/The Herald
Forest Park’s Jaxon Cronin, left, Ben Wendholt, Dylan Buechler, Dakota Begle and Ben Englert whooped it up in the locker room after the Rangers completed a rousing fourth-quarter rally Friday at Dubois. The Rangers won 77-72, scoring 31 points in the fourth quarter to wipe out a 10-point deficit. For a gallery of more photos, click here.

Herald Sports Editor

DUBOIS — Forest Park’s brand-spankin’-new offensive, which took time to install and some trial to improve, finally started shimmering.

Only the Ranger boys basketball team began running perilously low of bodies to operate it.

“We finally get it down. And then all our players foul out,” Ranger coach Jeff Litherland said. “Coach (Aaron) Berg asked me, ”˜Who’s taking the ball out (of bounds)?’ I said, ”˜I don’t know, I’ve never had this lineup in there.’”

One by one they fell. First, David Lusk in the third quarter. Then, defensive sparkplug Cody Tempel. Then Damon Wilmes and Austin Egloff. In Friday’s rough-and-tumble scrum between county foes in Dubois, personnel began running thin, and Litherland gazed further down his bench for reinforcements.

When it came to points and energy, though, the Rangers manufactured that in surplus.

Four guys among the rotation of top eight players fouled out, but most of the main guns stuck around to guide the Rangers through a ferocious fourth-quarter revival. There were foul issues to shrug off, plus the 30-point masterpiece by Jeep senior Tyler Haas. But that’s nothing that 31 points in the fourth quarter can’t solve, as the Rangers dug in and stormed back in a 77-72 comeback triumph.

After loosening his tie during the game, then removing it, then stomping in irritation at points over officiating, then unleashing a full-body fist pump in the final minute as his team pulled away, Litherland stepped back in the aftermath. He distilled a night of craziness to one main bullet point.

“These kids are tough. They are tough-minded individuals,” he said of his team. “For us to score 31 points in a quarter, we were in attack mode.”

The flip of momentum occurred almost in a snap.

Joel Weyer ignited the scoring rash with one of his four 3-pointers on the night. Moments later, Weyer located Ben Englert on a run-out bucket. Twenty-four seconds later, Dakota Begle dropped two free throws. Another 24 seconds, and Englert dropped the last of his seven assists to Begle for a layup, gashing the Jeep edge to 57-55.

Between transition buckets and straight-ahead lanes to the hoop by spreading out the Jeep zone, the game’s latter stages almost became a layup line as Forest Park scored eight times in the paint in the fourth quarter.

“We were working the ball well, found the open shooters, found the open drives,” Begle said. “The seams were there all night, it just took us a little bit to get going and find them.”

Begle and Weyer both cranked out 17 points and Wilmes tossed in 13, while one of the Rangers’ newest starters dazzled in the lead role. Englert produced team-highs of 19 points and seven assists. The junior coolly buried a pair of free tosses with 45 seconds left as the Rangers snagged the lead for good at 73-72, and afterward Litherland hinted at Englert’s potential, saying “Ben doesn’t know what he can do.”

Englert fused with Weyer and Begle to score 30 of Forest Park’s 31 points in the fourth quarter. And the remaining point came from Ben Wendholt, who, along with Dylan Buechler, hopped off the bench late to help combat foul trouble and left Litherland beaming at the full range of contributions.

“I was pretty frustrated with some of the (foul) calls, but this couldn’t have turned out any better for our team,” he said. “We had guys come in, JV guys that have very little varsity experience on the road at Dubois, making plays in the fourth quarter when the game’s on the line, it’s huge for us. If we can continue to instill confidence and poise in these guys, we think they can be a tough out.”

Litherland also cast praise elsewhere, telling Haas two things after the game. One: Good luck the rest of the year. And two: “I’m not going to miss playing against you,” joked Litherland, who saw Haas light his team up for 31 points as a freshman when Litherland coached the JV squad.

Haas neared that territory again in a virtuoso effort that included 13 rebounds and 20 free throw attempts as he was almost singularly responsible for Forest Park’s foul trouble. Fittingly, Haas had a Superman-esque moment in the second half when blood spotted his jersey. He ducked into coach Terry Friedman’s office under the basket to change, reappeared with his No. 33 jersey switched out for 31, then promptly notched the next two Jeep buckets after the wardrobe change, including a turnaround jumper from a nearly impossible angle off the glass.

“Tyler Haas was outstanding on both ends of the court, and we asked him to do a lot tonight,” Friedman said.

The duties, which included ballhandling against the Ranger press, were amplified as Cameron Riecker, the Jeeps’ 17-ppg scorer, coped with both foul trouble and the flu. Jacob Gress helped compensate with 14 points, and like Litherland, Friedman commended his reserve crew of Tristan Linne, Kaden Quinn and Luke Kerstiens for plugging the void. Friedman isolated one area, though, as the obvious sticking point.

“Defensively, I was very disappointed tonight in our coverage, The last quarter, they ended up putting the ball on the floor and going to the basket off the dribble on us and through our zone, and we just didn’t do a very good job of guarding it,” said Friedman, whose team shot 60 percent from the floor until missing all five shots in the final 35 seconds.

“It’s early, it’s a game we felt like we probably should have won, but we’re still learning, we’re still kind of a work in progress out front (on the perimeter). We’ve got a tough one again (tonight) with Crawford County, so we’re just going to keep working here and see if we can’t get better.”

Any involvement in Friday’s frenzied atmosphere couldn’t hurt progress.

The teams swapped the lead, two points by two, from the time the Jeeps led 64-63 to when the Rangers inched ahead 73-72. Englert briefly lost his shoe in a fracas for a loose ball in the first quarter. And in the last 30 seconds, three players flung themselves after a loose ball, which pinballed in three directions before skipping out of bounds.   

Stakes were elevated in what Begle said “might have been the most fun game I’ve ever been a part of.” His coach one-upped that.

“This was probably the biggest win for us in almost two years,” Litherland said.

“I told them, ”˜Guys, if you can win up here against this team in this environment in December, if you can keep that concentration level, you can win a lot of big games, and even win big games.’”

Contact Brendan Perkins at bperkins@dcherald.com.

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