Can’t-miss shooter boosts Pats in OT

Carolyn Van Houten/The Herald
Heritage Hills junior Gavin Schaefer won the tap from Forest Park on Thursday in Lincoln City, where Schaefer’s perimeter marksmanship permitted the Patriots to overcome Forest Park 68-59. Schaefer recorded a season-best 27 points and was 4-of-4 from 3-point range in the fourth quarter and overtime. For a gallery of photos, click here.

Herald Sports Writer

LINCOLN CITY — There’s a little maxim in basketball that says always feed the hot hand.

Thursday night in Lincoln City, the Heritage Hills boys basketball team couldn’t feed Gavin Schaefer fast enough.

Schaefer spotted up from the right corner, from the left, from the wings. And his teammates continued to send passes his way as the junior sizzled from 3-point range with a season-high 27 points as the Patriots stifled a ferocious Forest Park comeback and grabbed an emphatic 68-59 overtime win.

“I just caught fire. There’s nothing much to it,” Schaefer said. “I got confidence in my shot and everything and I just knocked them down.”

When the Rangers cut it to 37-34 in the fourth quarter, it was Schaefer who drained a triple from the left wing. When Forest Park closed within three less than a minute later, there was Schaefer again with a 3 from the right corner. And in overtime, with the game still knotted, it was the junior who ignited the Patriots’ closing 15-6 run with his last of six 3-pointers, each of which came off assists.

“He hit that first shot and (gained) confidence,” Patriot coach Matt Sisley said. “(His teammates) went back to him. ... He was in a zone tonight and kids found him. Kids did a good job finding the hot hand.”

That confidence came in handy, especially against a rival looking to avenge a 20-point loss to the Patriots back in late December. Forest Park junior Damon Wilmes matched Schaefer with a career-high 27 points, none bigger than the junior’s 3-pointer to force extra time with less than 10 seconds remaining.

The Pats (13-4, 5-2 Pocket Athletic Conference) entered the fourth quarter with a 37-31 lead that Forest Park quickly cut in half when the Rangers swung the ball around the perimeter to Joel Weyer, who deposited three of his 11 points. The teams traded misses on the following possessions until Schaefer drained a 3-pointer on the left wing. Less than 30 seconds later, Schaefer. Same spot. Three more.

But even after another Schaefer 3 — the junior finished 6-of-7 from behind the arc and a perfect 4-of-4 in the fourth quarter and overtime — the Rangers continued to locate baskets inside. Weyer banked in a layup with 37 seconds remaining to get Forest Park within four. Wilmes hit from point blank the next possession and with 19 seconds left, Ben Englert finished inside for a layup and a 52-50 ballgame. Heritage Hills’ Sam Scherry followed by hitting the first of two free throws and the Rangers pulled down the rebound off the miss and shoved the ball forward to Wilmes, who took one dribble and launched a 3-pointer that bounced off the top of the rim and nearly reached the top of the backboard before falling back down through the net with nine seconds remaining.

Schaefer opened overtime with a 3-pointer from the right corner and the Patriots never looked back. Merder buried a 3 two possessions later and Heritage Hills finished 9-of-10 from the foul line to finish out the contest.

It was a much different result for the Patriots than the last time a PAC neighbor visited. On Jan. 24, Southridge stormed Lincoln City with a double-overtime victory that left Sisley questioning his team’s toughness. Three weeks later, in a game that nearly echoed the Southridge contest, the Patriots answered every attack.

“We kind of dropped the ball at home against Southridge and tonight was a mirror-image game, and I thought our kids came out confident in the overtime and finished them off,” Sisley said. “We hit our free throws and finally got stops.

“Forest Park played extremely well tonight and I thought we had some opportunities to blow the game open (and) didn’t make good decisions at the time. ... It was just a typical rivalry game where it’s hard for anybody to break away.”

Even with the loss, Ranger coach Jeff Litherland took consolation in the play of Wilmes, who shot 10-of-21 from the field, grabbed five rebounds and plucked five steals, all while guarding Merder, whose 14 points were four off his season average.

“He continued to battle and that’s the Damon Wilmes I’ve seen all summer,” Litherland said. “If he can play like that and we can get Englert — he was hobbled with an ankle injury all night — and get Joel on track, we’re very confident moving into March.”

Englert finished with 11 points — including his first 3-pointer of the season — and three steals. Weyer dished out a game-high five assists with four steals and Austin Egloff chipped in four points with three steals.

For the Pats, Merder, Schaefer and Tyler Ward all collected five rebounds. Reserve Caleb Sabelhaus finished with a career-high 10 points on perfect 5-of-5 shooting and Ward and Spenser Minto chipped in eight and six points, respectively.

Just two weeks ago, it seemed as if the sky was falling on the Patriots after dropping three in a row. Heritage Hills has answered that three-game skid with three straight wins, including back-to-back victories against Dubois County rivals after vanquishing Jasper 57-55 last Saturday. The hope is that the days of crunch-time stumbles have finally subsided.

“People don’t understand that you look on paper, somebody is supposed to beat somebody; it doesn’t work like that,” Sisley added. “We can kind point back to (this) Forest Park game when we enter sectional play.”

Contact Joseph Fanelli

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