Freshman's surge keeps Ranger run alive

Photos by Daniel Vasta/The Herald
Forest Park’s Drew Howard dribbles the ball down the court during Wednesday's Class 2A boys basketball sectional in Huntingburg. Howard helped the Rangers climb out of a seven-point deficit to begin the fourth quarter as the freshman guard hit six three-pointers to give the Rangers a 54-50 first round victory over Perry Central. His 20-point outing in his first-ever sectional game was a new career-high for Howard in points scored. For more photos from the game, click here.


HUNTINGBURG — Down by seven points heading into the fourth quarter, the Forest Park boys basketball team knew it needed a spark to avoid a first round sectional exit.

While those situations can be stressful for some, freshman guard Drew Howard accepted the challenge.

In his first career sectional appearance, Howard knocked down six three-pointers (four in the fourth quarter) for a career-high 20 points in the Rangers 54-50 comeback victory over Perry Central on Wednesday night in the Class 2A sectional in Huntingburg.

“We were kind of getting down on ourselves so I knew we had to get a spark so I just hit a shot,” Howard said. “I was like alright, I’m going to keep shooting and then I just was able to keep making them.”

At the beginning of the season, Howard wasn’t even officially on Forest Park’s varsity roster.

However, it wasn’t a surprise to head coach David Welp that he ended up working his way into the Rangers rotation — and eventually, the starting lineup.

“We knew he was capable of becoming a phenomenal athlete,” Welp said. “I can’t expect any more out of him than what he did tonight. He led us in more ways than scoring —he runs the point, takes care of the basketball and gets us in our offense. I’m just very proud of his performance.”

Howard, who finished with seven rebounds and four assists to go along with his team-high 20 points, admits he was a little nervous for his first ever sectional game.

But once he got into his rhythm and the Forest Park student section got behind him, it was smooth sailing.

“I was nervous but then I hit the first couple of threes and that got the nerves out,” Howard said. “Once the crowd got into it that pumped up and just got me confident.”

Another player that had his fair share of big plays for the Rangers was sophomore forward Curt Hopf.

Hopf finished with 17 points and had two big dunks — the first one put Forest Park (15-9) ahead 24-15 before the Commodores (8-16) made a 7-0 run prior to halftime while the second one came during the Rangers late 5-0 run that gave them lead for good.

The big man had his fair share of key plays during his first-ever sectional last year but he’s giving the upper edge to Howard’s performance this season.

“I don’t know if I did that good in sectional,” Hopf said with a laugh. “I’m extremely proud of him coming in as a freshman and knocking down those huge shots — there’s nothing more you can ask of him.”

Forest Park led 25-21 at the halftime break but the Commodores started to gain momentum midway through the third quarter thanks to sophomore forward Patrick Mitchell. The big man hit two big three-pointers to give the Commodores a 32-30 lead. Tate Mullis, Cain Hohne and Ryan Hubert helped push Perry Central up 40-33 to end the quarter.

Howard started the fourth quarter off with a three-pointer for Forest Park and tied things up at the 4:51 mark. Sophomore forward Simon Jacob was aggressive late and was able to get to the free-throw line six times where he made five of his shots.

Forest Park seniors Claire Mehling, left, Emily Clifton and Katelyn Englert react to a play on the court during Wednesday's Class 2A boys basketball sectional in Huntingburg. The Rangers student section was out in full force, and there's no denying the strong backing of the crowd helped push Forest Park to a fourth-quarter comeback. For more photos from the game, click here.

While the Rangers and Commodores exchanged buckets, and therefore the lead, Forest Park controlled it for good after Howard’s two three-pointers and Hopf’s monster dunk with 3:06 remaining made it 50-44.

Perry Central got back within four points but free throws from Jacob and seniors Elliott Rothgerber and Garret Jochem sealed the deal for the Rangers.

With the victory, Forest Park advances to Friday’s semifinal round where they’ll face Evansville Mater Dei (16-7) at 8 p.m. — the Wildcats defeated the Rangers 69-48 in Ferdinand earlier this year.

The Rangers are prepared for whatever the Wildcats may throw their way come Friday.

"Mater Dei is a tough opponent — they're going to exploit us at times and challenge us in a lot of way different ways," Welp said. "We're going to take it possession by possession with a next play mentality. We're going to have to step up again to compete with them."

Hopf added: "We're underdogs right now and we knew that coming in. We want to keep this Cinderella story going."

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