Fleck’s miracle shot keeps Ranger run aliveMarch 5, 2018
By HENDRIX MAGLEY
NEWBURGH — Just a few short months ago, it looked as if Noah Fleck’s entire senior season was going to be spent on the bench with crutches by his side as he rehabbed a broken foot that he suffered during football season.
But after sticking through the rehab process and vowing to not give up, Fleck’s game-winning 3-point bucket at the buzzer to seal Forest Park’s second-straight Class 2A sectional championship with a 47-44 victory over North Posey on Saturday night in Newburgh made the senior forget about any doubts he ever had about what would happen this season.
“When I found out that I had broken my foot and had to have surgery, I kind of just sat and asked God why he did this to me,” Fleck said. “But I think I found my answer tonight.”
Fleck, who has made just 10 3-point shots throughout his four-year Forest Park boys basketball career, was left wide open in the corner after the Vikings put their focus on Sam Englert, Daniel Lusk and Collin Hochgesang — Hochgesang had his own dagger on Wednesday to keep the Rangers’ sectional hopes alive with a game-winner against South Spencer in the first round.
And when the ball left Fleck’s hands on Saturday night? Well, he had a hunch that what was about to happen next was going to be good.
“As the ball came down the court, I faded to the corner and everyone was worried about the other guys and they weren’t worried about me, so that left me wide open and as soon as it left my hand, I knew it was good,” Fleck said.
“I knew the time was ticking down, but I didn’t know exactly how much was left, but I just kept telling myself that shot was going in.”
The Rangers led by as many as seven points with just 2:25 left in the fourth quarter but the Vikings weren’t going away quietly as sophomore Josiah Ricketts hit shots left and right and couldn’t seem to miss.
With about 15 seconds left, Ricketts drove in and got a floater to fall from about the free-throw line to tie the game.
Ranger head coach Jeff Litherland decided not to call a timeout after the play and let the Rangers handle the final possession. The rest will be remembered in Ferdinand for a long, long time.
“I don’t think I could’ve written a better ending,” Litherland said. “Noah’s never been a great shooter and he’ll tell you that. I’ve seen him in pain. I’ve seen him cry. I’ve seen him work so hard just to get back and play on this team.
There’s a lot of guys who would’ve just sat on the bench and said, ‘I’m done,’ but he worked hard every day to get back and he’s just a true Ranger.”
After Hochgesang made the game-winning shot against the Rebels on Wednesday, Curt Hopf said the shot was ‘a sign from God’ that it was the Rangers’ destiny to continue on this journey.
While the crazy finishes are exciting, once they’re all said and done, Fleck is aware of the stress the close games bring to all of “Ranger Nation.”
“I’m sure we aged some people out there by a couple of years,” Fleck said with a laugh. “But it’s awesome to see your fans come out and rush the floor.”
Hochgesang added: “Those close games may be good for the crowd, but they’re not so good for us. However, hitting those big shots sure give us much more confidence than winning by 30 or 40 would.”
The Rangers (22-4) led the majority of the game, but the Vikings never trailed by more than seven points as Ricketts gave Forest Park fits.
With two elite scorers in Ricketts and Jacob Sanford, the Rangers felt that if they could slow down at least one of the two main threats for the Vikings, they would be in good shape.
“Our goal was to hold them under 50 points because we knew that Ricketts and Sanford are two great players and we were aware that Ricketts can make any type of shot on the court,” Litherland said.
“Our guys played great defense and we really haven’t shot the ball well and that could be due to nerves or North Posey’s defense. But the bottom line is that Noah Fleck ended it with a damn good shot.”
Hochgesang led the Rangers with a team-high 14 points with nine of them coming in the fourth quarter. Hopf finished with nine points, Lusk added six and Fleck added five.
Englert was held to just four points as a few early fouls put him on the bench early as the Vikings tried to take away his aggressiveness that was seen against Tell City on Friday.
Ricketts led the Vikings (13-13) with 26 points while Sanford, North Posey’s other major threat, was held to just five points.
The Rangers have been in the Class 2A Sectional No. 48 championship game the last four years and have now won the last two — both in dramatic fashion, as last year their lockdown defense stymied an Evansville Mater Dei comeback victory in the final seconds. This year it was the offense that took care of business as the clock hit zero.
“Back-to-back sectional champs sounds amazing,” Fleck said.
Litherland added: “Hearing ‘back-to-back’ sounds great. We started this journey in May, busted our rear ends all offseason and to see what those guys go through for this one night it’s just so special to see them come out on top.”
The Rangers’ journey isn’t complete yet as they’ll head to Paoli on Saturday for a noon battle with South Knox (17-9) in the first game of the regional, and if they win, a battle with the winner of Austin (15-11) and No. 10 Southwestern (Hanover) (24-2) will await them later that evening with a chance at being one of the final four remaining teams in Class 2A.
With everything that’s happened for the Rangers so far this postseason from the two buzzer beaters to the impressive play of the bench, it almost feels like an extended run was Forest Park’s destiny all along.
“It almost feels like we have a third chance now,” Fleck said. “It’s important for us to keep this confidence into regional and keep up the defensive effort we’ve had because they’re right — defense does win championships.”
Hochgesang added: “After that game (against South Spencer), I was just like, ‘How are we still here?’ But we’re still here now and we’re not done yet.”
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