Long journey carries seniors to State send offMarch 19, 2018
By HENDRIX MAGLEY
WASHINGTON — The Forest Park boys basketball seniors remember last year’s regional game against Crawford County very well.
The Wolfpack ended the Rangers 18-10 season with a 42-38 loss as Crawford County advanced all the way to the Indiana High School Athletic Association Class 2A state championship game before losing to Frankton.
Immediately following the loss last season, Noah Fleck and his fellow seniors began to work harder than ever to ensure they wouldn’t go through something similar again. On Saturday, they accomplished one of their lifelong dreams — they advanced to a state championship.
“I honestly think the driving force was that loss (to Crawford County) in the regional last season,” Fleck said following the Rangers’ 58-47 victory over Indianapolis Scecina in Saturday’s semistate at Washington. “I think us seeing where Crawford County ended up last year drove us to work that much harder and work together as a team. I think for a while now we’ve had the mindset of, ‘We’re going to state no matter what,’ and we didn’t let anyone get in our way.”
The Ranger seniors — Fleck, Sam Englert, Daniel Lusk, Collin Hochgesang and Braydon Voegerl — have been friends for as long as they can remember and they’ve always shared a special bond of keeping each other’s heads high when things aren’t looking great.
There were times this year when things didn’t look so bright for the Rangers — a three-game losing streak, Fleck missing the majority of the season due to a broken foot — but somehow, some way, the Rangers always found a way to overcome the obstacles.
“Wins like today really feel a lot better considering some of the turmoil we’ve been through,” Voegerl said. “We’ve been through a lot together as a team and we’ve just stuck through it. When you work as hard as you possibly can, it gets to where we are right now.”
Forest Park’s route to the state championship was not an easy one. In fact, there were several times in the sectional when it looked like their postseason run would be cut short.
In the opening game against South Spencer, Forest Park trailed by six with two minutes left, but Hochgesang’s buzzer-beating floater gave the Rangers the win at the last second. In the sectional championship, Forest Park had a seven-point lead with two minutes left, but North Posey tied the game with less than 10 seconds remaining. Everyone in Ferdinand knows what happened after that as Fleck’s 3-point basket kept the Rangers path to state alive and well.
“This postseason has been a crazy ride,” Englert said.
“I never thought that (going to state) could happen, but as the season went on, I kept seeing more of a chance that we could do it,” Lusk added. “We’ve fought hard all year and now we get this chance — it’s a dream I’ve had my entire life.”
This year’s state finals appearance will be the fourth in Forest Park history (lost to Lewis-Cass in 2003, won against Harding in both 2005 and 2006), as the Rangers have had a tradition of having a winning boys basketball team.
Lusk can recall skipping a baseball game in 2011 to watch the Rangers battle Yogi Ferrell and Park Tudor in a semistate game. Englert recalls hearing stories of Ranger teams before them that have captured the hearts of the Ferdinand community — just like their team is currently doing.
“As a kid, I just dreamed to someday be in their shoes and now it’s here and it’s just awesome,” Englert said.
“I can remember walking into Buechler Arena as a little kid and just looking up at the wall at the state banners,” Fleck added. “It’s something I’ve always wanted and our team has always strived for it.”
Walking into the Hatchet House more than an hour before tipoff on Saturday, there was a line of people outside waiting to purchase their tickets and get a good seat to watch the day’s games.
Most of the fans standing outside were seen wearing green — and not just because Saturday was St. Patrick’s Day.
“Getting off the bus at 2:30 and walking in the gym and just seeing a line of Ranger fans just felt so amazing,” Fleck said. “Knowing that people were here a couple hours early just to get a seat is such a great show of support. If you look at some other teams, they don’t travel as much, but it’s just so much easier to get into the game with Ranger Nation behind you.”
One of the biggest positives of growing up in a small community such as Ferdinand is the support system that follows Forest Park. The town’s population is just 2,157, but you would think it’s larger than that judging from the amount of fans who attend pep sessions and rallies following Forest Park’s victories.
“If there’s one thing I love about the town I grew up in, it’s the fact that we have one of the best sporting fanbases in the state of Indiana,” Voegerl said.
“Without the support behind us, I don’t think we’d be the same,” Englert said. “Their support just rubs off on us and it’s been like that the whole way.”
Forest Park’s mission isn’t quite complete yet and honestly, that fact makes head coach Jeff Litherland a little sad.
Litherland says he’s felt lucky to have been able to coach this team throughout the ups and downs this season and the past couple of years. And to watch the end result for the seniors wrap up like this with a state championship berth against Oak Hill next Saturday? Well, that’s almost too much to handle.
“Yeah, we’re going to play for a state title, but I know Saturday is the last day I’ll have with these guys, so it’s a little bittersweet,” Litherland said. “I’m simply amazed, honestly — I’m going to be coaching in the state championship game. I’ve always watched it on TV but I never thought I’d actually coach in one, but here we are. I’ve been pushing these guys to keep playing one more weekend because they’re like my own kids. Heck, I see them as much as my own, especially these seniors. They’ve meant so much to me and it definitely is a little bittersweet.”
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