Rangers aiming to capitalize on chances

Photos by JImmy Lafakis/The Herald
Forest Park players stand for the national anthem before a game against Gibson Southern in Fort Branch. 


FERDINAND — As the Forest Park Rangers prepare for games, head coach David Welp offers concise breakdowns of their opponents. The Rangers prepare for players who can shoot, drive and display all-around talent. Welp aligns those three attributes with NBA stalwarts Kobe Bryant, Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen.

Knowing the personnel has assisted Forest Park in its stellar 16-5 (7-3) campaign. The Rangers have rattled off seven consecutive wins and have captured 10 victories in their last 11 games.

“I think we’ve got guys who just persevere through games,” Welp said. “Sometimes, it just doesn’t go our way. There are stretches where the games don’t go our way, but we persevered through some tough games this year. I’m very happy that our guys compete every single game until the end. There are going to be ups and downs in games. I love how our guys just battle and compete. That’s the biggest word — ‘compete.’ Our guys compete on a daily basis.”

Forest Park junior Drew Howard shoots a layup during a game against Evansville Christian in Ferdinand. Howard surpassed 1,000 career points in the regular season. 

The Rangers’ robust offense overwhelms their competition. Forest Park averages 63.3 points per game, good for the second-highest total in the Pocket Athletic Conference. South Spencer leads the conference with 65.9 points per game, and the Rangers will meet the Rebels on Tuesday for an opening round Sectional 48 game in Huntingburg.

“We want our guys to have confidence in themselves and be ready to catch and shoot the basketball,” Welp said. “I think it’s important that you have balance because the defense isn’t able to load up on one player or two players. We’re able to score in different ways. Multiple players can score off the bounce. They can score in catch-and-shoot. We have a couple guys who can post up. We do a good job of balancing the floor and spacing the floor.”

Indeed, the Rangers’ balance is pivotal. Forest Park’s upperclassmen-heavy roster showcases four seniors — Wade Leonard, Blake Hagedorn, Simon Jacob and Collin Rothgerber. Drew Howard, Landon Nalley and Cooper Uebelhor spearhead a talented junior group.

Forest Park’s 70-58 road victory over Gibson Southern cemented a flawless February record. Perhaps no regular season triumph was greater than the Rangers’ Feb. 12 66-60 overtime victory over Heritage Hills in Ferdinand.

“When we need stops, I know our guys are able to do it,” Welp said. “Looking back at the Heritage Hills game, we were able to get a couple of steals. We were able to get in the passing lanes. Our guys understood that we needed to play defense. To win a championship, you’ve got to play defense. Every team can win this sectional.”

According to Welp, the Rangers emulate end-of-game situations multiple times a week in practice.

“Our guys are focused,” he said. “They understand that they have to compete on every single possession. Those get magnified, and end-of-game situations get magnified even more. Our guys are well-prepared. They do a great job of just finishing games.”

Maintaining a keen eye on the competition is key, but the Rangers also know how to remain loose. Welp shot around with the team for a few moments before the junior varsity game against Gibson Southern began.

A passionate section of Forest Park fans made the trip to Fort Branch. The spectators were rewarded with a historic moment in the varsity contest — late in the third quarter, Howard notched his 1,000th career point.

Forest Park junior Landon Nalley smiles after being introduced before a game against Evansville Harrison in Ferdinand. 

“I love the support from our fans and from our communities that make up Southeast Dubois,” Welp said. “I love the band. The band has been tremendous. I even stated that they’re like our sixth man. They provide so much energy. Our community, our fans, the band — they all provide a lot of energy. We’re able to feed off of that. We’ve had some tough games here lately at home, and it’s been fun to see our players play in that kind of environment and atmosphere.”

The Rangers have enjoyed regular-season success, but the chance to compete for a sectional title currently looms over the horizon. A brand new campaign will commence when the ball is tipped at Memorial Gym.

“It’s just a fun time of the year to be able to show what we have worked for all season,” Welp said. “It’s what we have prepared for all season. I think our guys are excited and ready to compete at a high level.”

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