Rangers again seize awaited moment

Ariana van den Akker/The Herald
Forest Park’s Joel Weyer, left, sprinted away from the goal after scoring the only tally of Thursday’s Class 1A regional soccer semifinal battle at Fort Branch Community School. A 1-0 win over No. 12 Evansville Mater Dei pushed the Rangers into the championship at 1 p.m. EDT Saturday, when they’ll face 13th-ranked Washington Catholic. For a gallery of photos, click here.

Herald Sports Writer

FORT BRANCH — As Forest Park arrived once again at intermission after a scoreless opening half, Joel Weyer heard a familiar credo being stressed by his coach and teammates.

It’s going to come. It’s going to come.

And just as he and the Rangers had realized five days prior in the sectional championship, it did, as Forest Park finally unearthed the tally it seemed so close to seizing in the opening hour of its regional semifinal scuffle with 12th-ranked Evansville Mater Dei on Thursday at Fort Branch Community School.

Once again, the patience paid. Yet there remained one stumbling block that still needed to be hurdled after the Rangers permitted an equalizer Saturday with just 94 seconds remaining in regulation.

Just clear the ball. Just clear the ball.

Withstanding a 10-minute foray from the Wildcats, Forest Park’s defense never broke Thursday. And as Weyer headed away a Mater Dei corner kick with less than five seconds to go, the Rangers could finally exhale as they slid past the Wildcats 1-0 and into the regional championship.

“I think we’ve really grown from that,” Weyer said of yielding the late equalizer to the Patriots on Saturday. “And (we) decided that we’ve just got to keep kicking it out, keep kicking it out. Doesn’t matter where it goes, just keep getting it out of that dangerous area.”

In foiling any type of rebuttal, the Rangers (12-3-3) eliminated the Wildcats (7-12-1) — who had ended Forest Park’s tournament run last season in the regional championship — and secured a spot in Saturday’s title match at 1 p.m. EDT against No. 13 Washington Catholic (14-5-1), a 4-1 victor over Vincennes Rivet in Thursday’s first semifinal. The Rangers and Cardinals fought to a 2-2 tie Sept. 17.

The opening 40 minutes presented a platter of Ranger scoring chances. Dakota Begle’s low sizzler off a free kick from 20 yards away was dismissed by Wildcat goalkeeper Jared Schenk, whose aggressive play kept the Wildcats level for most of the night. Twice, Ben Englert blazed down half the field with the ball at his feet, both times to have his crosses devoured by Schenk.

After his free kick, a disgruntled Begle jumped up and threw his hands down in vexation. Following Englert’s last scoot and service, he raised both arms as if to ask, “What more can we do?”
Eventually, the Rangers found the answer.

“We knew at halftime we were going to get one. It was only a matter of time,” Weyer said.

Added Ranger coach Brent Sicard: “We were getting opportunities. Ben was doing an unbelievable job of getting to the end line and that finishing ball just wasn’t there. We just couldn’t put it in. And I told them at halftime, I said, ”˜It’s going to come. It’s going to come. We’re going to finish one. And we’ve just got to push and push.’ And then we got the free kick.”

Midway through the second half, Forest Park’s Austin Bromm lofted a 30-yard set piece into the Wildcat penalty area. After Ranger forward Alex Russell flicked the ball toward the goal, Weyer headed it past a charging Schenk.

“There were just heads going at it, and I always try to get that second ball off that flick,” Weyer recalled. “I was just there at the right time. I didn’t want the goalie to come up and try to tackle me, but I’m glad I got up in time before he came down.

“When we finally got that, it was just a great feeling. And we knew we had to keep them out of the net, too.”

No small task. The final fortification demanded staunch strides by all.

The Rangers repelled three consecutive corner kicks from Mater Dei with a little more than 10 minutes remaining, the last of which Bromm headed away — one of the junior’s seemingly dozen aerial conquests. Spenser Sermersheim, Evan Dilger and Russell pestered Wildcat defenders in their defensive third, and when the Wildcats could advance the ball forward, like they did with 90 seconds left, Derek Hoffman and Begle raced toward the ball and booted it back into Mater Dei territory. And on the final corner, Weyer’s clearance solidified the shutout.

“Just win the ball in the air,” Sicard recalled thinking. “And Joel hammered that header down and I knew that was it. I turned around and just (fist pump), ”˜Yes!’ To finish it off there, that’s what you’ve got to do.”

Once again, Sicard underlined, the work of defensemen Cole Henke, Cody Tempel and Cody Flamion was pivotal for the Rangers, who outshot the Wildcats 15-8.

The regional victory was just the second in program history for the Rangers, who notched their first last October against Sullivan. And by dethroning back-to-back regional champ and budding rival Mater Dei, the win seemed a bit more savory for Forest Park.

“The last couple years, we’ve come a long way,” said Sicard, whose squad swept Mater Dei this season, also winning 4-0 in September. “Going to the class system, it’s been a little different and you form some different rivalries. And Mater Dei, I think, is now going to be possibly one of the postseason rivalries. … And for us, to get to this point, taking kind of a beating from Mater Dei the last few years until this year, it feels pretty good to knock them off.”

Contact Joe Jasinski at jjasinski@dcherald.com.

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