Dubois faces Holland in ‘Best Of All Time’ finalApril 20, 2020
By HERALD STAFF
After another round of voting by our readers, we are down to just two teams in our search for the best high school boys basketball team in Dubois County history.
Voting is now open in the final matchup between the 1977 Northeast Dubois Jeeps and the 1968 Holland Dutchmen. Cast your vote for who you think should be crowned “Best Of All Time” before 11 p.m. on Thursday at DuboisCountyHerald.com/BestOfAllTime.
The winner will be announced in Friday’s Herald.
1. Dubois (1977)
They say there’s a first for everything, and that applied to Dubois in the 1970s.
The Jeeps had never won a sectional championship. They entered the 1976-77 season looking to change all of that. Leon Wehr, Steve Sander, Mike Archer and Bernie Merkel had all been a unit prior to their high school days. They won an eighth grade tournament at Shoals in 1973, but they only had one more year to be the ones to break the dry spell.
“I think that we knew, going into the season, that we had a good core group of players and we had the possibility of doing something special,” Merkel said. “I don’t really recall ever feeling any pressure just because we’d never won a sectional. We pretty were just going game by game, trying to win everything that we could.”
Dubois began the 1976-77 campaign with a 2-2 record. Something clicked, though, after a 57-52 loss to Barr-Reeve in the fourth game of the season. The Jeeps were winners in a 66-60 game against Orleans in the fifth game of the season, and that began a five-game win streak.
Merkel credits the team with having confidence in one another to get the job done.
“It was like a brotherhood back then,” he said. “Everybody got along. We didn’t have any animosity. There wasn’t anybody jealous of somebody scoring more than the next person. We really didn’t care who scored, who did what. We all had the same goal, and that was to win games.”
However, even successful teams have their adversity. Such was the case for the Jeeps that year when Archer went down to a broken left arm injury on Feb. 8 against Crawford County. He had the most points and the highest average of anybody on the team that season. Dubois lost that game, 61-56.
“At that point, we weren’t really sure that we’d ever get him back. But he was our leading scorer, he was our number one player,” said Terry Friedman, the current coach of the Jeeps.
Friedman was one of the players who went into the rotation while Archer was out. The Jeeps won their final five games of the season without him. Friedman thought then that the team believed they were pretty good and could do something special.”
Archer was cleared the week of the sectional to compete for the Jeeps. He didn’t start the semifinal game against Forest Park, but before anyone knew it, he stepped onto the court to a rousing ovation. Against the odds, Archer not only played, but scored 18 points, playing a pivotal role in sending Dubois to the 1977 sectional championship against Jasper.
He brought it even more the next night against the Wildcats. Archer again came off the bench, scoring 25 points despite wearing a cast on his arm. He had 43 points in two sectional games, and his other senior teammates all contributed when the game went to overtime. Sander and Wehr had layups, while Merkel sank free throws, and the Jeeps were sectional champions for the first time ever, 60-55, bringing about one big party to the town of Dubois.
“I realized when we came back into town, how much it mean to that whole town,” said Greg Wineinger. “It was like the Yankees won the World Series. The street was lined. Our bus couldn’t even get through town.”
The 1976-77 Jeeps went further than any team went before them, but they weren’t done yet. Their first order of business in the regional was meeting Crawford County. Archer was back this time, and Dubois sought to avenge its loss to the Wolfpack the month before. It was a tight affair, and Archer’s presence helped the Jeeps on the winning end this time. He scored 14 points in a 42-37 win, as Dubois advanced to the regional championship game that night.
Friedman thought Archer being back had everything to do with the win against the Wolfpack.
“The coaches met with me on Monday morning after we’d won the sectional and said, ‘Terry, we’ve decided we’re going to make a change in our starting lineup and move Mike back into the starting lineup,” he said. “And I looked at them, and I said, ‘Well, heck, yes. Of course he has to start.’”
Friedman may have gotten out of the starting lineup at that point, but his play against Washington in the regional championship was no less crucial. The Jeeps led the Hatchets, 61-57, with 17 seconds to go, when he sank two free throws for a six-point lead. He stepped to the line again and made one of two free throws for a 64-59 edge. The Jeeps prevailed, 64-61, to advance to semistate.
“The number one thought that came to my mind was, ‘I just cannot let my team down,’” Friedman said. “We were in position to win the game, and it was very tight. Washington was very good, and the pressure I felt was, ‘I just cannot let my team down at this point. I have to somehow will these shots in there.’”
Just like that, Dubois, a school with an enrollment of 385, was headed to semistate. During their season, “Rocky” was released on Nov. 21, 1976, and Jim Mueller took the Jeeps to see the film one day before the semistate tournament. It was as if a real-life Rocky was trying to bring a championship back to Dubois County.
“We went down, I guess it was on a Friday, had practice there at Roberts Stadium and that evening, they took us to a theater to watch ‘Rocky,’” Merkel said. “We kind of could relate to that movie because in the movie, Rocky was kind of the underdog fighting for a chance at the title, and we certainly — being the small school that we were — were definitely considered an underdog because we were playing — at that time, it was a one class system. If you look at it now, we were a 1A school playing against 4A schools.”
Rocky survived the first semistate game — a 66-64 win against Evansville Central, thanks to a bucket by Wehr from an Archer assist. That night, however, Rocky ran into Apollo Creed in the form of Terre Haute South, and the Braves denied Dubois a semistate championship, 71-57.
The Jeeps are still waiting for their first semistate title and, as of 2020, are the only one of the four active Dubois County teams to never have won one. But being part of the first team ever to get to that point is still special for Friedman.
“I think about all of the great Dubois teams that preceded us, that came before us,” he said. “For years, it was our 50th year in the sectional and the great teams that followed us that were not successful. You think about them and being part of the Jeep legacy and it’s something that I use to this day with my team every year that you put on that Jeep uniform, and it’s part of something bigger than you are, and I think the ’77 team will always be remembered for the team that broke the ice and became the team that the standard for Northeast Dubois basketball.”
7. Holland (1968)
Some teams have enjoyed a lot of sectional championships throughout their history, but for others, sectional championships were a premium. One example of this is Holland, who won its first-ever sectional title in 1953, and its second in 1967.
The story of the 1967-68 Dutchmen isn’t just one of a team that won a sectional for the second year in a row, the only time Holland ever did so, but one in which they kept on winning and winning and winning.
The only players to return for the Dutchmen from the previous year were a pair of seniors in Don Buse and Gerald Hilsmeyer, as well as a junior in Steve Henke. It would be up to a new cast of characters — Gary Dougan, Phil Meyer, Nathan Schnellenberger, Don Kippenbrock, Larry Kahle, Lynn Kahle and Don Bacon — to help make magic happen along with the returning trio.
“Don Buse was sort of the center at the heart of the team, but it takes more than one man to make a team, and we had a bunch of guys that was willing to be able to sacrifice, was be able to work hard and was be able to work within a framework that I expected them to work in and they did,” said Woody Neel, who coached the Dutchmen that year.
They opened their season on Nov. 3 against Ireland, which they won, 60-38, behind an 18-point effort from Buse, 17 from Dougan and 12 points from Schnellenberger. But the winning was just beginning. Another eight wins followed by the time they rolled into the County Tournament, which they won, and ran past Dubois, 70-43, in the championship game. Holland had 18 points each from Buse and Hilsmeyer, and another 10 from Henke.
Holland stood at 11-0, and people were taking notice.
“I also remember once we got past the County Tournament with Ferdinand, we began hearing from our fans, ‘Are we going to go undefeated?’” Henke told The Herald in an April 12 text message. “Then it turned to, ‘We are going undefeated.’ So, that pressure did build with us and our fans our desire to do so built with that, and we did not want to let our fans down. With a population of only 500 people, basketball was everything, just like the movie ‘Hoosiers.’”
Going undefeated, though, can have its tests along the way, and the Dutchmen encountered that. They had some especially close calls with Ferdinand, outlasting the Crusaders, 63-60, in overtime and then 54-53 in the tournament.
“They had a very good team,” Buse said of the Crusaders. “I thought, talent-wise, they were right along with us. They had good size and they had beat us the year before. They’ve always had good talent over there — there’s no question about that. Year in and year out, they’ve always had kids that can play and wanted to play and played the right way. So, yeah, they were one of our toughest opponents my senior year.”
Another close call the Dutchmen survived in the penultimate game of the regular season. The Dutchmen squared off against Tecumseh, and had their backs against the wall. However, in a time when “Mr. Clutch” Jerry West was making his run as one of the best players in the NBA, the Dutchmen had their own “Mr. Clutch” in Larry Kahle, who, with six seconds remaining, made two free throws to make it 60-59 in favor of Holland, and the Dutchmen escaped that night.
“I believe the reason we were overlooking Tecumseh and nearly got beat was that we were overconfident with the results of the previous four games to the Tecumseh game, where we averaged 102 points a game and only gave up 48 points a game,” Henke texted. “I remember we were also putting in new plays and defenses preparing for sectional, and not preparing for Tecumseh as much as usual, so that might have contributed to us taking them for granted. So, we overlooked Tecumseh and they brought us back to earth as we finished the undefeated season with Haubstadt and an 18-point win.”
Holland’s 53-35 win against Haubstadt made the Dutchmen just the second Dubois County team ever, and first since Dubois in 1943, to go undefeated in the regular season, a perfect 20-0.
“Once we went undefeated, even now, those boys that are still in the area — the fans still talk about, they still talk about it,” Neel said. “It is something that they have great pride in, and I can understand that.”
The Dutchmen got back to the sectional championship game, but before they could repeat, they had Round 3 with Ferdinand. The Crusaders, again, played the Dutchmen, leading by five with just three minutes to go. Holland, however, went on a 10-0 run to win, 57-53, and capture another sectional championship.
The stakes got higher the next week when Holland had the right to face Oolitic in the regional tournament. Whichever team would win between the Bearcats and Dutchmen would be the last undefeated team in the state of Indiana that year. Oolitic certainly proved a challenge, leading, 55-46, with 4:51 to play.
The Dutchmen, however, would not go down. They rallied on an 11-2 run to tie it, 57-57, but Oolitic held a 59-58 edge late. Buse’s layup and Hilsmeyer’s free throw put the Dutchmen ahead, and they escaped, 61-59, to become the last undefeated team in the state that year.
They met Jeffersonville in the regional championship, and it was all Holland early on. The Dutchmen had leads of 17-10 and 21-13. They led, 32-22, with 3:16 to go in the second half. However, Jeffersonville came out strong in the second half. The Red Devils trailed, 38-34, at the half, before going on a 10-0 run, and despite Holland’s efforts, it could not reclaim the lead. The Dutchmen fell, 72-70, in the regional championship. They finished the year 24-1.
“We did well in the sectional, and I was proud of the kids how we performed in that,” Neel said. “I really thought — some people are going to think I’m crazy — but I think we really had a chance to go to the semistate, and from there, who knows what would have happened?”
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