Rangers fight, but sectional stay brief

Heather Rousseau/The Herald
The Forest Park bench showed its frustration as the Rangers’ attempt to rally expired late in Friday’s Class 2A girls basketball sectional Friday night at Buechler Arena. Forest Park led North Posey by six points at halftime and still owned a one-point edge midway through the fourth quarter before the Vikings nabbed a 41-38 win to end the Rangers’ season. For a gallery of photos, click here.

Herald Sports Writer

FERDINAND — The future is encouraging, but the Forest Park girls basketball team wanted to win now.

That’s why against a North Posey squad riding a 10-game win streak — and which beat Forest Park by 10 points just a week ago — the Rangers fought, they scrapped, they stretched for rebounds, they dove for loose balls. And, eventually, they shed tears when a desperation 3-point heave fell off the mark, closing the season with a 41-38 loss to the Vikings in the Class 2A sectional semifinals Friday night in Ferdinand.

A bounce here, a basket there; that was the diagnosis from Ranger coach Marty Niehaus, whose team lost in the sectional opener for the second straight year.

“I never felt like we were out of this thing,” Niehaus said. “Even there at the very end I felt like we had a chance to come back.

“It was a tight game. Any little play here or there. Nobody should feel bad. ... I thought we all gave great effort.”

The Rangers (12-10) entered the fourth quarter clinging to a two-point lead, but in the end, a veteran North Posey group that started five seniors brought too much defensive pressure, delivered from the free throw line and outscored Forest Park 15-10 in the final period.

Niehaus was composed while disappointed afterward. It was the type of loss that had come to define much of the Rangers’ season; high highs combined with low lows, but always the effort and poise Niehaus asked for.

“I told (the seniors) it was a hard way to go out, but I was very proud of them,” Niehaus said. “I thought they did a great job all season. They’ve been great kids to work with; really represented the Lady Rangers in a great manner. (I was) really pleased with them all year and their effort tonight.”

The Rangers outrebounded North Posey 42-26, including 14 on the offensive end. But the Vikings (17-7) committed just seven turnovers to Forest Park’s 15, including a stretch of five straight by the Rangers in the fourth quarter. Both teams converted 12 field goals apiece, but the Vikings knocked in 16 free throws to Forest Park’s eight.

“We all gave it all we had and I don’t think any of us should really feel bad about how we played tonight,” Ranger junior Jordan Voges said.

Heather Rousseau/The Herald
Ashley Reckelhoff, who drove past Hannah Harness, was one of five Forest Park seniors who played their final game. The senior bunch helped the Rangers improve last season’s win total by two.

Forest Park cornered the lead for the first time at 11-10 when Mariah Morgan connected on a 3-pointer from the right side with 11 seconds remaining in the first quarter. From there, the Rangers rolled to halftime with help from Rachel Hopf, who worked inside for 10 points in the first half. The sophomore finished with 15 points and 13 rebounds, both team-highs.

Hochgesang closed the second quarter with one of her three 3-pointers, and the Rangers entered halftime with a 22-17 advantage.

“During halftime we were all pumped up. ... We were ahead, we were doing good, but we knew (North Posey was) going to come back,” Voges said. “We knew they were the type of team that could come back and fight.”

“I think perhaps (North Posey) just ramped up their intensity a little bit,” Niehaus added. “They were playing a little tentative, a little sluggish, and I think they got back to their regular game a little bit and made it a little bit tougher on us.”

North Posey’s refocusing was channeled into a trapping zone defense that gave the Rangers fits the rest of the contest. Forest Park clutched a 28-26 lead heading into the final period, but the Vikings gained their first advantage since the opening period when Emma Werry dropped in the first of two free throws. Hopf punched in a basket from the left block the next time down, but then Hannah Harness converted a layup and Forest Park turned it over on the next four possessions. With 40 seconds remaining, Madison Worman deposited two of her game-high 18 points from the foul line, nudging North Posey ahead 37-33.

After a timeout, Reckelhoff started from the left wing, used two screens and dropped in her first 3-pointer of the night to trim the margin to 37-36. North Posey made two more free throws at the other end and then on the next series, on the exact same setup, Reckelhoff was fouled while shooting a triple with 4.5 seconds remaining.

The senior pulled the Rangers within one, missing the first but recovering to drill the next two. Worman converted both free throws with 3.7 seconds left, though, and Reckelhoff’s off-balance heave from the volleyball line hit the top of the backboard.

Hochgesang finished with nine points, and Morgan drained two 3-pointers for her six points and added three assists. Reckelhoff countered a light offensive night with five rebounds and Voges collected seven rebounds.

Voges knows the 3-point shooting of Reckelhoff and Hochgesang will be missed, and Adria Giesler, Sarah Brosmer and Ally Wendholt are also in the departing senior contingent. But Voges and Morgan will return as starters along with Hopf, who grabbed big minutes late in the season as the replacement for Lydia Lange, who missed the last eight games with a torn ACL.

But that will be next year. And Friday that didn’t seem like much consolation to the Rangers, who finished the program’s 10th straight season with 10 or more wins. The future is promising, but Niehaus couldn’t help but think how close the Rangers had been.

“I thought it was a good year,” Niehaus said. “We had some ups and downs, but I thought we bounced back pretty well here toward the end. ... Like I said, a bounce here or there it’d be a different story tonight.”

Contact Joseph Fanelli at jfanelli@dcherald.com.

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