Reboot in order for Pats, Rangers alike


Ariana van den Akker/The Herald
Heritage Hills’ Tyler Ward looked to toss an airborne pass in Monday’s PSC Holiday Classic final against Class 3A No. 5 Corydon Central in Reo. The Patriots slipped to a 72-58 defeat, their first loss of the season. Forest Park played the preceding third-place game, falling 56-48 to Crawford County. For a gallery of photos, click here.

Herald Sports Writer

REO — For two area boys basketball teams, Monday’s final round of games at the PSC Holiday Classic at South Spencer was a test of each team’s progress and status nearing the end of the season’s first third.

For Forest Park, a matchup in the third-place game against the same Crawford County team that beat the Rangers in Ferdinand in the season opener offered a chance to see the developments made in one month’s time.

For Heritage Hills, it was the Patriots’ first opportunity to test the lofty goals set before the season against an undefeated and ranked opponent in the tournament championship.

The results?

Back to the drawing board.

The Rangers couldn’t overcome a late deficit in their 56-48 loss to the Wolfpack, and Heritage Hills watched a one-point first quarter deficit balloon to as large as 22 in its 72-58 loss against Class 3A No. 5 Corydon Central.

The stat of the night for Heritage Hills (5-1) was two: as in the two free throws the Patriots attempted the entire game. Perhaps it was 6-foot-7 Division I recruit Bronson Kessinger lurking in the middle, but an athletic group of Patriot guards seemed uninterested in challenging the Panthers’ big men off the dribble for a majority of the contest.

“Our gameplan was to attack the middle and hit some 3s and try to get (Kessinger) to come out after us a little bit,” Heritage Hills coach Matt Sisley explained. “I really wanted to attack the basket a little more and you’ve got to hit 3s when you attack like that, and we did early and then the well went dry. We didn’t comprehend that and just kept shooting too many low-percentage shots.”

After opening the first quarter with 18 points on a superb 6-of-9 from 3-point range, the Patriots shot 5-of-19 from the arc for the remainder of the game. And as they continued to miss from deep, Kessinger went to work in the paint.

The junior — who is getting looks from Western Kentucky, Indiana State, Evansville and Butler — scored 22 points in the first half on 10-of-13 shooting, including two monster dunks after offensive rebounds in transition. Floaters, reverse layups — even a 3-pointer — Kessinger had zero problems finishing around the basket and ended with 27 points and eight rebounds.

“We knew exactly what we were going to do, but when you’re dealing with the physical stature and size, that’s hard to simulate in a 45-minute walk-through and it stunned us a little bit in the first half because our defense was so late. It was like no contest,” Sisley said. “Our defensive help was absent, that’s why (Kessinger) had 22 wide-open points in the first half.”

“We knew they were going to run the offense through him, we just needed to get tougher mentally and physically,” Patriot junior guard Gavin Schaefer said. “We need to be able to go up against a guy like that.”

Schaefer finished with 13 points and was the only Patriot player to attempt a free throw. He converted two of his first four 3-pointers before going 0-of-5 the rest of the night. The junior also had two blocks. Devon Merder finished with a team-high 20 points with eight rebounds and three assists, and Tyler Ward netted 14 points on 4-of-6 shooting. Sam Scherry dished out a team-high four assists for the Pats.

Corydon Central (7-0) rumbled out of halftime with a 10-2 run, and even a quick response by the Patriots to end the quarter — including a buzzer-beating 3 by Merder — wasn’t enough. The Patriots entered the fourth quarter down 56-43 and never got closer than 14.

While Heritage Hills faced an ever-swelling debt, Forest Park (3-4) had to experience a potential comeback slip right through its fingers.

After battling Crawford County tight for most of the contest, the Wolfpack (7-1) scooted to a 41-31 lead with a 3-pointer to kick off the fourth quarter. With the Ranger offense struggling to finish baskets all night, a 10-point deficit seemed steeper, but Forest Park slugged its way back, first with a driving finish from Cody Tempel (eight points) followed by two more free throws from the senior on the next possession. Dakota Begle (13 points) added two more points from the charity stripe after being fouled on a rebound and then Forest Park held tight defensively for two straight possessions before Ben Englert dropped in a floater that touched every part of the rim before falling in.

Begle banged in one more offensive putback to trim the margin to 44-43, but the Wolfpack’s four-minute scoring drought ended with a triple from Ranger Caffrey (18 points). Crawford County quickly pushed the lead back to six and made enough free throws to finish the job.

“We had the same gameplan, same defensive strategy (as our first matchup against Crawford County),” Ranger coach Jeff Litherland said. “I watched our game from a month ago last night, and this morning and it almost looked like tonight’s game was a copy of it. We let them dictate the pace, they killed us with offensive putbacks. ... We (caused turnovers), but we just couldn’t get the ball in the basket.”

The Rangers shot 16-of-44 from the field and connected on just one 3-pointer. After allowing 19 points to Wolfpack big man Ethan McMonigle in the season opener, they held the junior to 10 points, but gave up five offensive rebounds. Crawford County coughed up 17 turnovers, but the Rangers committed 18. And all this just two games after Forest Park knocked off an undefeated South Spencer squad in overtime.

“We play hard, but we’re tired of hearing we play hard,” Litherland said. “We’re supposed to play hard. If you’re on the team, you’re supposed to play hard.”

Ranger guard Joel Weyer scored nine points, grabbed seven rebounds and had three steals, but was held to two points in the second half. It might be an appropriate contrast for the Rangers, who have scored as many as 77 points in a win against Northeast Dubois and as few as 39 in a loss against Heritage Hills.

“It was a good tournament, a lot of good competition,” Litherland said. “We were able to develop some depth with a couple of guys. Overall I’m OK with it, but I’m kind disappointed with our ... execution and our mental approach to being ready to play.”

It was the same kind of mental lapses that Schaefer said hurt his team in the Patriots’ loss. But, as Sisley said, “there’s burn in that locker room.”

“It was a test. It was a measurement test and win, lose or draw tonight ... we needed a game like this,” Sisley said. “We need two or three more like this and we’re going to see if we’re going to pass the test where we’re at right now.”

Contact Joseph Fanelli at

More on