Rangers discover newest leading lady

Rachel Mummey/The Herald
Forest Park’s Sarah Brosmer, left, Ally Wendholt, Jordan Voges and Mariah Morgan celebrated as they checked Southridge off their list after winning Tuesday’s clash of county rivals at Buechler Arena. Morgan scored a team-best nine points, all in the second half, boosting Forest Park to a 34-31 victory and their first win over the Raiders since 2009. For a gallery of photos, click here.

Herald Sports Editor

FERDINAND — Now appearing in Forest Park’s rotating cavalcade of options: Mariah Morgan.

It’s been one emergent scorer du jour after the next all season for the Rangers: First Lydia Lange and her 20-point night, then Kereston Hochgesang and Ashley Reckelhoff pacing a record-setting spree of 13 3-pointers. And Tuesday night, with the Ranger girls basketball team entangled in a slow scoreboard staredown with county enemy Forest Park, the latest offensive catalyst arrived seemingly out of nowhere.

Her total may have been modest, but in the Rangers’ 34-31 slip past the Raiders, nine points by Morgan qualified as a team-high. She and fellow sophomore Rachel Hopf combined for 15 of Forest Park’s 19 points in a second half in which the Rangers never trailed but the Raiders constantly lingered.

And with Southridge’s attention naturally funneled toward three other players, it allowed Morgan some time and space to discover her touch.

“She just did a great job of taking advantage of that. That’s going to be a big key for us to have that kind of balance, have somebody to step up on a given night — the person who’s given the opportunity to take it,” Ranger coach Marty Niehaus said. “I was real pleased with the way she played, but by the same token, I thought it was a great team win. Everybody stepped up big, and it took all of us to get the job done.”

Including Hopf, who coolly canned both ends of one-and-bonus free throws with 14.8 seconds remaining, nudging Forest Park up by three points. For an equalizing basket, Southridge (2-4, 0-1 Pocket Athletic Conference) looked to Kadie Dearing. The sophomore who amassed a game-best 13 points and three assists worked free for an on-line 3-pointer from the left wing, but the attempt skipped off the rim.

On the final shot, the Rangers (3-1, 1-0) got entangled trying to switch off on Raider guard Kayla Voegerl, who earned Indiana Basketball Coaches Association District 3 Player of the Week honors for her 30-point outing against Boonville a week earlier. That left Dearing with an unrestricted look and Niehaus squirmed, thinking to herself, “Oh, that sucker’s going (in).” When it missed, Morgan completed the cleanup, clasping the last of her seven rebounds and running out the clock.

Helping restore order is Morgan’s thing. She watched 2013 Forest Park graduate Amanda Jacob accomplish it, and now it’s Morgan’s turn in the lineage of Rangers to assume the starting point guard role as a sophomore.

“It’s definitely a lot of pressure, because personally, I did look up to Amanda as not only an idol, but we were pretty close,” Morgan said. “Knowing that I was going to be taking her place, I knew to take her spot and I needed to push myself (to) the best of my ability.”

There’s one realm where Jacob and Morgan differ. Jacob was sometimes reticent to pull the trigger. Morgan isn’t bashful about firing.

“Whenever I’m open, I like to get a few shots in, make sure that I don’t just pass it off (all the time). I like to take it to the bucket, yeah,” Morgan said.

If there were points to be earned for degree of difficulty, Morgan collected those, too.

After sinking a catch-and-fire 3-pointer on the move in the third quarter, Morgan swished a duo of off-balance jumpers on inbounds plays in the fourth period. It helped tug Forest Park through a second half in which, outside of Morgan, the Rangers were 3-of-23 from the field.

Forest Park countered by flustering Raider shooters to an equal degree.

The Rangers shaded Voegerl with one defender to deny her favored right-handed drive, and another defender hovering near the elbow if Voegerl tried that angle. Southridge coach Greg Werner also credited Forest Park for goading the Raiders to take bad shots — something his players rarely do, he said. Plus, Werner said his team “got manhandled inside physically”; the Raiders didn’t notch a bucket in the paint until they started pushing back in the second half.

“We didn’t match that (physicality) until the third or fourth quarter and get ourselves back into it,” Werner said. “We’re a better offensive team than what we played, and we’ll get them there; it’ll just take a little time.

“We have good enough players to score all over the floor, out of the five or six kids that we have. What we have to do is we have to make sure that we keep building their confidence, moving them forward, get better. If they get better, we’ll be fine.”

The Raiders did stage a last stand, melting a seven-point deficit with a chance to tie in the final minute. Aubrey Main — who helped muffle Lange to three shot attempts and four points — knifed inside for a bucket and foul with 38.9 seconds remaining. But the potential tying free throw bounced off, leaving the Rangers to hang on and celebrate what Niehaus termed a “classic Southridge-Forest Park game.”

Classic, maybe not in traditional terms, Niehaus acknowledged. More like classically typical and grinding. Not since 2004 has either team breached the 50-point mark in the Raider-Ranger rivalry.

“Even back before Greg was coaching over there, it was always low-scoring, ugly basketball. If you got like a six-point lead, you’re like, ”˜Whoo. This is huge,’” Niehaus said. “Those games, they’re fun to play in, and I know it’s just going to make us better as we keep rolling along.”

Contact Brendan Perkins at bperkins@dcherald.com.

More on DuboisCountyHerald.com