Rangers defeat Evansville Christian, 74-63

Photo by Jimmy Lafakis/The Herald
Forest Park junior Landon Nalley (24) drives to the basket during the first quarter of Friday evening’s game
against Evansville Christian in Ferdinand.


FERDINAND — Drew Howard needed just four seconds to score his first basket for Forest Park (14-5) during Friday evening’s game against Evansville Christian. The junior guard received the ball off the opening tip, zipped through the lane and flicked the ball through the nylon. 

The Rangers used the opening surge to their advantage. Forest Park captured a 74-63 win over the Eagles in a back-and-forth affair. 

“Any time you get a basket to start the game, it gives you a little lead and helps build confidence,” Rangers head coach David Welp said. “Drew did a good job of attacking the rim tonight. I think he would even say that he would like to do a little better job of finishing, but I thought he helped set the tone with the opening play.” 

Both teams traded buckets early in the contest. Forest Park senior Blake Hagedorn stretched the floor with a high-arcing corner 3-pointer early in the contest. Fellow senior Simon Jacob planted his feet in the same spot, fired a triple and tied the early count at 12-12. 

The Rangers settled into their press and stopped the Eagles on a few critical possessions. Eager to build off his initial success, Howard penetrated through the paint and laid the ball off the glass with a silky left-handed finish. When the Rangers gained the 18-12 advantage, the Eagles burned a timeout. 

Forest Park held a 21-14 lead after one quarter, but Jacob showed off his true marksmanship in the second frame. He and Howard stretched the lead to 36-18 before the Eagles connected on some deep shots. 

“I think it’s important that you have balance, especially as we go throughout the season and get to the sectional,” Welp said. “Guys were confident to shoot the basketball. Multiple guys were able to catch and shoot — they had their hands and feet ready. They did a good job tonight of being ready to shoot the basketball and having the confidence to shoot the basketball.”

Howard pushed the margin to 41-24 with a quick pilfer and another left-handed layup in transition. He racked up a game-high total of 13 first-half points, and the Rangers held a 41-27 lead at the intermission. Jacob scored nine points on a trio of 3-pointers, while Hagedorn added seven points.

Notably, the Rangers eclipsed the 20-point mark in each of the first two quarters. Hagedorn cleaned the offensive glass and laid in a second-chance shot on Forest Park’s first possession of the third frame. Another key trip ended in Hagedorn’s powerful and-one layup — boosting the lead to 49-35. 

Howard ripped down a plethora of offensive rebounds in the third quarter. Evansville Christian hung around, but his boards and baskets kept the Eagles at bay. Forest Park junior Landon Nalley knocked down a deep 3-pointer in the frame’s waning moments, and the Rangers seized a 60-44 lead before the buzzer sounded. 

The Eagles rattled off five quick points to open the fourth quarter. Jacob extended the lead to 64-52 with a soft layup through the hoop, and the Rangers continued to play strong defense throughout the middle of the frame. 

“I thought we did a good job of getting defensive rebounds and finishing the play,” Welp said. “Whenever they were making runs, I thought our guys did a good job of hitting some tough shots. I thought we did a good job of ending that run and starting our own run.” 

Hagedorn finished the game with a team-high 18 points. Drew Howard added 17 points, Jacob contributed 14 points and freshman Reid Howard chipped in with 13 points. The Rangers made 18-of-24 shots at the charity stripe.
Forest Park will play an 8 p.m. Pocket Athletic Conference game Saturday at Tecumseh. 

“It’s going to be a battle,” Welp said. “We’re going to have to put our hard hats on and be ready to play.” 

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