Peacock led Rangers to success in mid-1970s

Courtesy photo
Jim Peacock enjoyed unprecedented success at Forest Park as basketball and baseball coach in the 1970s, before moving on to even greater success at Ben Davis. Although retired from coaching since 2007, he continues to stay busy as an insurance agent.

BY COREY STOLZENBACH
sports@dcherald.com 

Jim Peacock can still picture it in his head 45 years later.

It, in this case, is the flashback of the 1975 sectional championship at Southridge between Jasper and the Peacock-coached team at Forest Park. The Rangers led by four points late in double overtime. It looked as if Ferdinand would finally have a sectional championship to celebrate. Players, parents, coaches and fans didn’t know how it felt prior to the Crusaders being part of the consolidation into Forest Park, and the early Ranger teams not winning one either.

With the Rangers’ lead reduced to two, they tried to air a long inbound from Jim Mehling to Dubois County scoring champion Mike Becher, but there was Jasper’s Jim Schultheis to intercept the ball. His shot was no good, but Terry Tucker was there to tip it in at the gun to tie the game and force a third overtime.

Peacock probably had the same thoughts on Wednesday as he did back in 1975.

“When will we have this opportunity again?” Peacock asked. “When are we going to have an opportunity to win a sectional?”

They could not prevail in triple overtime. Jasper had won its fifth straight sectional championship. Joy escaped Forest Park, and heartbreak prevailed.

Peacock took ownership of the botched inbounds pass. He wished the Rangers had a better out-of-bounds play.

“I’ve often said to people that, if that team, if the Forest Park team, had had a more experienced coach, the end of that game may have turned out differently,” he said.

Peacock was 25 when he coached in his first sectional in 1974. He took over for Sonny Bingaman one game into the 1973-74 season after the latter had been relieved of his duties. Peacock went from assistant coach to head coach. He looked forward to learning at the varsity level after previously being the freshman coach.

It was a rebuilding year. Peacock learned on the fly with a long learning curve, and the Rangers went through a 5-15 regular-season record.

“I think I learned, how much preparation it took during the practice week, devising game plans, knowing the opponents and just basically handling and working with kids,” Peacock said. “That was big. All of those things ended up being things that were very helpful to me going forward.”

Forest Park’s players were already familiar with Peacock since he coached them when they were freshmen, and it wasn’t a rough transition of getting to know one another. He felt they would be much more experienced and better prepared during the 1974-75 season.

The Rangers went 16-4 — their four losses came by a combined 12 points. Forest Park had Becher and also Rick Wilgus, who became the longtime coach at North Posey and Evansville Memorial, leading the way that season. They finished 18-5. Peacock later told The Herald Wednesday night in a text message that Forest Park had better players than it had a coach.

However, the duo of Becher and Wilgus was not back in 1975-76. The Rangers made changes to their style. They played with more speed and quickness. Forest Park tried to get the ball out in transition and have its offense feed off of its defense. The Rangers played with more defensive aggressiveness.

Peacock thought the 1975-76 team had to have its own identity, different from the previous year’s team, and he was proud of the players. They got back to the sectional championship, leading Southridge, 42-39, at one point. However, an 18-3 run for the Raiders gave them, and not the Rangers, their first-ever sectional championship with a 57-45 triumph.

“I think we kind of ran out of a little mojo at the end there,” Peacock said. “It was our third game of the week, and we just didn’t get it done at the end of the game.”

Ferdinand had to wait until 1990 for Forest Park to win a sectional championship, but what shortcomings Peacock and the Rangers had on the basketball court, they made up for on the baseball diamond.

They displayed their prowess when they roared to an 18-2 win against Southridge in the 1975 sectional championship, and Curt Lamkin shut down the Raiders on the mound that day. Peacock wasn’t sure if anything could take away the sting of losing to Jasper in triple overtime, but he helped make history at Forest Park in another sport.

“I can truly say that I’m glad to see those seniors were the first group to ever win a sectional championship at Forest Park,” he said. “I hope they’ll always be remembered for that.”

Peacock said that championship game was a perfect storm. He praised Becher and Lamkin for both being outstanding pitchers. Wilgus played center field for the team, and Ken Wahl was the team’s catcher. Peacock said his core guys were on a mission, and they got it done.

However, errors were the Rangers’ downfall in their first regional tournament. They committed seven errors in the regional championship against Bedford North Lawrence, and a 7-6 loss prevented them from going to semistate.

Peacock found himself disappointed at one point in the season because he didn’t believe the Rangers were playing to what they were capable of. He noted they went to play a game at Tecumseh, but they didn’t compete that game and played poorly.

“We came back and we pretty much just had a heart-to-heart, I guess, with me doing most of the talking,” Peacock said. “We decided that this was not the way we wanted to be defined as a team. This was not the way we wanted to be remembered.”

The Rangers had Mehling as their ace in 1976. He blanked Jasper, 9-0, in the sectional, but returned in relief later that night in the top of the sixth inning. Indiana High School Athletic Association Rules allowed for a pitcher to pitch 10 innings in three calendar days, so Mehling could be used in relief.

Mehling held Dubois at bay, and the Rangers rallied from a 2-1 deficit to a 3-2 walkoff win in the bottom of the eighth for their second straight sectional championship. Peacock would often make a change from Mehling to someone else if Forest Park had a large lead.

“What Jim had was, No. 1, he was a tremendous athlete, very strong kid,” Peacock said.

Peacock described Mehling to be overpowering who relied heavily on his fastball, and tallied a lot of strikeouts. He said the righty didn’t have a breaking pitch, but did have good control.

He pulled Mehling in the first game of the regional tournament against Washington. Mehling had a no-no going through five innings, but Peacock wanted to save him for that night. The Rangers led, 3-0, going into the top of the seventh, when the Hatchets tied it on a three-run shot. It was a Forest Park walkoff in the bottom of the seventh when Paul Ruhe’s RBI single brought home Jim Kippenbrock for a 4-3 win.

Peacock never questioned yanking Mehling.

“That was not a difficult decision for me at all,” he said. “It was an easy decision because it had already been made before we ever started.”

Mehling took over against Loogootee in the third inning of the regional championship, and the Rangers gave him plenty of run support. He mowed down the Lions, and the Rangers were regional champions for the first time ever.

Many turned out to see Forest Park compete June 19 at semistate in Jasper, and the Rangers once again turned to Mehling, who shut down Evansville Mater Dei, 4-0, in the first game. He used seven of his 10 innings in the first game. Kippenbrock started the semistate championship against Bloomington South, while Mehling played center field. But when the fifth inning rolled around, that’s when Mehling came on in relief.

Bloomington South suffered the same fate as everybody else who played Forest Park that season. Not only did the Rangers advance to state for the first time ever, they did so in Dubois County. Peacock can remember asking, “Why not us?” during the tournament run, but he also thought the Rangers did a good job of not looking ahead that season.

More than 1,000 Forest Park fans cheered to watch the Rangers take on Sullivan in the state tournament for the right to advance to the championship. Forest Park committed errors that Sullivan capitalized on, but the Rangers couldn’t get anything against Sullivan’s Charlie Noble. Noble allowed a double to Forest Park’s Tom Olinger in the fifth inning, but that was it, and the 1976 Rangers finished two games shy of winning it all.

Peacock described Noble as someone with great stuff and velocity.

“He was a left-handed Jim Mehling,” Peacock said of Noble.

Peacock left Forest Park in 1979, and took a hiatus from coaching until he began coaching AAU basketball. He agreed to become Steve Witty’s assistant at Ben Davis beginning in the 1992-93 season, and he got see the Giants win a lot of hardware in the 1990s.

They made it all the way to the state championship game in his first season as an assistant, losing to Jeffersonville in the 1993 title game. However, better times were ahead, as Peacock helped coach the Giants to state championships in 1994-95 and 1995-96. The 1994-95 team featured Damon Frierson, who was Indiana’s Mr. Basketball in 1995. The Giants were the first team in Indiana to make the Final Four four years in a row.

“It was fun for me to be an assistant coach,” he said. “I was heavily involved in the everyday scheme of things in terms of practice. Coach Witty was really good to me in letting me do scouting-type things and put game plans together, and we had a great relationship.”

The Giants were the penultimate state champions prior to Indiana going to class basketball. Peacock saw it from both sides, but he was against the transformation. He thought it watered it down. Peacock thought the benefits, which he saw, did not outweight the opportunity student-athletes enjoyed when it was a single class. He’s proud of what the Rangers did in 1976, in a “come one, come all” tournament.

Peacock stayed on as an assistant at Ben Davis until 2007, and continues to work to this day for the J. Peacock Agency as an American Family Insurance agent in Indianapolis.

“It’s a fear of not knowing what I would do if I didn’t have something to do,” Peacock said. “I’m the type of person that needs to be engaged. I’m not a handy kind of guy. I couldn’t do projects around the house. I don’t see myself sitting around the house and watching TV.

“I need something to do, and I’ve always had something to do,” he continued. “I’ve always been fortunate enough to have something to do.”




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