Forest Park takes down JasperJanuary 9, 2020
By JONATHAN SAXON
FERDINAND — It was an all-out, drag-out brawl Thursday night when the Forest Park and Jasper girls basketball teams collided. In a game that looked like it required boxing gloves instead of sneakers, the Rangers and Wildcats battled it out for every rebound and loose ball, often with plays resulting in four or five players picking themselves up off the deck. Only one team was walking away with the victory, and when the dust cleared, it was the Rangers (12-6) who were left standing with a 54-44 win.
Rangers coach Tony Hasenour was beaming after watching his team go 12 rounds with the Wildcats (7-9) and pull out the win. Earlier in the season, the physical nature of the game might have rattled the Rangers, but they’ve used the season to develop thick skin and cool heads to absorb their opponents’ best shots and keep focused on getting the win.
“That’s one of the most fun things about coaching, seeing the team grow throughout the season,” Hasenour said. “With a game as physical as this was tonight, earlier in the year we would’ve been in trouble. But the girls have bought in to the process everyday at practice trying to get stronger, better and more balanced. I thought tonight was a big win to be able to go against the kind of pressure that Jasper put on us.”
Junior forward Kylie Vaal started the game with a putback bucket, to which the Rangers retaliated with free throws from senior forward Kennedy Sermersheim and a hard drive from senior guard Kenlee Gehlhausen. Senior guard Claire Knies knocked down a three to give the Wildcats the lead, but junior guard Emma Gray snatched it right back with a 3-pointer of her own. Senior center Faith Zazzetti found her first points at the rim, and Gray split a pair of free throws to put the Rangers up 10-5 at the end of the first quarter.
Sophomore guard Ali Welp finished a drive inside to keep the pressure on the Wildcats, but senior guard Brooke Nottingham answered with a three from deep. Neither team was able to definitively establish a rhythm to their offense, but the Rangers managed to collect scores from Gehlhausen, Zink and Zazzetti as they built a 20-13 lead at halftime.
Junior guard Hannah Schwenk got loose to cut the lead to five at the start of the third period, but Zink and Welp got the lead back up to nine in short order. Schwenk and sophomore guard Aspen Sermersheim got the game back within two possessions, but a corner 3-pointer from Zink put the Rangers back up eight with 5:35 left in the stanza.
Sermersheim added another three shortly after and Zazzetti used a putback after making the first of her free throws to give the Rangers a 10-point lead. Nottingham and Knies combined for seven points on ensuing possessions to get the Wildcats within spitting range of the Rangers, but a putback from Welp helped stem the rising tide. Nottingham and Schwenk scored three more points before the end of the third, and suddenly the Wildcats were only down 35-33 going into the fourth frame.
However, that’s as close as Jasper was able to get, as Forest Park used the final minutes to pull away once and for all. Zink went to the free throw line four times in the fourth quarter and made six of her eight shots. Sermersheim, Welp, Zazzetti and Gehlhausen also all made shots from the line to help the Rangers stifle any further comeback attempts by the Wildcats.
Zink finished with 15 points and six rebounds, while Zazetti had 12 points and five boards. Nottingham had a game-high 19 points, while Knies had 11 points and eight rebounds.
“We really preached in the locker room not to worry about who was on the other bench,” said Zink, who mentioned that the Rangers practice six-on-five with the junior varsity sometimes to prepare for physical games. “We came out and were like, 'We’re going to play our game'. Our work ethic and hustle all came together for a great win.”
The Wildcats were disappointed they couldn’t come away with a win, and that their winning streak was snapped at three games. They're hoping to put the game behind them and get back to the winning formula that they were cooking with going into Thursday night.
“We’re doing a better job of moving without the ball,” said Wildcats coach Jessica Mehringer. “That’s been key for us. We've got to have more than two people going offensively. That frees up our other kids to get better catches. What we’ve seen in those three wins is they’re figuring out how to get open when they don’t have the ball in their hand.”
“I think we should be motivated by tonight’s loss,” Nottingham added. “I know I’m not happy about it, and neither are any of my teammates. We’re just going to come out hungrier for more and not be satisfied with tonight.”
Thursday night’s win marked the third in a row for the Rangers, and Hasenour thinks it all starts with the fact that the players have fully committed to playing their brand of team defense. Their biggest action item is to keep on sharpening their rotations and placements on the floor so they can use the rest of the season to set themselves up for success in the sectional tournament.
“One thing we’ve been focusing on all season is defense,” he said. “The girls have had some growing pains, but since the Christmas break, our girls have really bought in on the defensive end. We feel good about our situation if we can get all 11 of our girls playing good team defense.”
On Saturday, the Wildcats welcome Evansville Mater Dei at 1:30 p.m., while Rangers host Pike Central at 2:30 p.m.
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