Jeeps lose steam but anticipate sunny future

Photos by Alisha Jucevic/The Herald
Northeast Dubois’ Owen Fuhrman, right, and Reece Helming watched the final minutes of Saturday night’s Class 1A sectional final against host Wood Memorial in Oakland City. The Trojans pulled away for a 53-38 victory and ended the Jeeps’ season for a third straight year. For more photos from the sectional title game between Northeast Dubois and Wood Memorial, click here.


OAKLAND CITY — Even after his  team’s season ended, Northeast Dubois boys basketball coach Terry Friedman couldn’t help but look forward.

Yes, the Jeeps had just lost in a Class 1A sectional final where they only managed 14 points in the second half. Friedman said there were mistakes and decisions a team can’t make against a team as good as fifth-ranked Wood Memorial.

But there’s a unifying factor among all the Jeeps who played in Saturday night’s 53-38  defeat — they’ll all be back next season.

“We have a young team,” Friedman said. “I think there were times tonight where our youth showed out on the court. This is a learning process. The good news is we have everybody back next year and have a chance to get better over the summer and into next year.”

The Jeeps featured only one senior this season, Scott Betz, and he missed the final month of the season with a shoulder injury. That meant the Jeeps were forced to grow up, and Saturday may have served as the final step in a maturation process.

Through a half, Friedman said he couldn’t have asked for anything more from his team. Northeast Dubois (13-12) ended the first two quarters down 27-24, and the Jeeps had tied the game at 16 when Alan Kerstiens hit his second 3-pointer with 3:26 remaining in the second quarter.

Kerstiens scored 12 points to lead the Jeeps, who seemed to have an answer each time it looked like Wood Memorial (21-5) might start to pull away early.

With 2:36 remaining in the half, Jeep guard Alex Harder finished a layup through contact and converted the free throw to cut the lead to 21-19. The Trojans erased that immediately with Walker Nurrenbern’s 3-pointer. But the Jeeps came right back, this time with Griffen Bauer finishing another three-point play to trim the lead back to 24-22.

Bauer finished with nine points, all in the first half, while Harder scored five of his eight points in the first 16 minutes.

“We just came out with a lot of intensity,” said Jeep junior Chase Riecker, who finished with six points and a pair of steals. “We knew if we could get some stops we would open up our offense.”

Jeep junior Chase Riecker, who drove past Wood Memorial’s Tristan Vickers, is among a host of players slated to be back next year as seven Jeep underclassmen started at some point this season. For more photos from the sectional title game between Northeast Dubois and Wood Memorial, click here.

That stopped after halftime. The first sign something was wrong was when a couple Jeep fans started screaming and pointing from the top of the stands when both teams came out for the second half. The problem was, they were too far up to be heard by the Jeeps, who then watched Wood Memorial’s Tyler Fleisher glide in for a dunk to open the second half after the Trojans purposely lined up on the wrong side of the court, leaving the basket wide open.

Fleisher finished with 14 points to go with six rebounds, four assists and three steals, and his steal and dunk with 2:28 remaining in the third quarter stretched the lead to 35-28. Two more Fleisher free throws extended the lead to 41-28 with 41 seconds remaining in the third frame.

“Obviously they had home-court advantage and that opening play fooled us,” Riecker said. “We weren’t paying attention and it was a stupid play and it rattled us a little bit. It was tough to get back after that.”

Riecker said something else — if the Trojans were going to ever try that again, say in next year’s sectional final, there’s no way the Jeeps would fall for it twice. Riecker also said he and his teammates picked up some other valuable lessons throughout the week, mainly to not let the opponent act as the aggressor after the Jeeps reached this point by doing just that themselves.

Riecker was one of seven juniors to play in the loss Saturday night, and Friedman felt his core of juniors was a year early to the party.

“Although we never got a consistent starting lineup and a consistent rotations, our kids kept working and kept getting better,” Friedman said. “I think it’s a real tribute to them to finish the year with 13 wins. I think we can take what we learned this year and build this into a championship team. That’s our goal.”

Because of that adversity — the injury to Betz on top of Harder missing time with a broken hand — some younger Jeeps were forced into action, building depth Friedman said was the reason his team made it to Saturday at all. Now, he said he hopes that depth can continue to grow.

At times in the third quarter, where Northeast Dubois scored only four points off two putbacks from Kerstiens, it didn’t look pretty. But if all goes according to plan, that will serve only as a trial run for what the Jeeps hope comes next season.

“Definitely win a sectional,” Riecker said. “That’s always the ultimate goal. Other than that, I don’t think anything else matters. Just a sectional, that’s what we’re looking forward to.”

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