Rangers finish strong, advance to stateMarch 19, 2018
By JONATHAN SAXON
WASHINGTON — A couple of familiar themes resurfaced Saturday for the Forest Park boys basketball team in their semistate game against the Indianapolis Scecina Crusaders. Key guys sat for long stretches and the team had seven turnovers in the fourth quarter to make things interesting. But the Rangers were able to overcome both obstacles en route to a 58-47 victory, and the program’s fourth trip to the state title game.
First, Ranger senior forward Sam Englert got himself into early foul trouble. He was called for a technical foul in the first quarter for hanging on the rim as he waited for room to clear out under him before letting go. His second one came soon after, when he was whistled for giving his defender a bit too much shoulder as he was making his move in the post.
It was at that point that Forest Park coach Jeff Litherland decided to take Englert off the floor and preserve him for the second half, after posting five points in the opening quarter. It’s a well-known tune to Englert at this point in the season, but not something he enjoys hearing.
“I couldn’t tell you how many times this season I’ve had that happen,” he said. “I’ve been sitting on the bench for the second quarter all year long.”
However, when Englert sat down, fellow senior and front court mate Collin Hochgesang picked up the slack for the Rangers. After just notching two free throws in the first, Hochgesang scored the first four points for Forest Park to break a 9-9 tie in the second quarter. Scecina answered the Rangers with back-to-back 3-pointers from seniors Cobie Dillard and Makylin Brown, tying up the game at 15-all with 2:49 remaining in the second.
But Hochgesang helped spark a 6-0 run to put some distance between the Rangers (25-4) and Crusaders (19-10), capped by a fast break, and an and-one basket by freshman center Curt Hopf. In total, Hochgesang bagged eight first half points to help put Forest Park ahead 26-20 by the end of the second quarter.
“I just went out there and did what I was supposed to do,” said Hochgesang. “My three wasn’t going down for me, but they gave me the driving lane. So that’s what I did.”
The fun and games continued in the third quarter, as Forest Park jumped out with a 6-3 run to solidify their grip on the game. But Scecina would not go away.
Crusaders junior Manuel Brown started to assert himself in the second half, starting with a coast-to-coast dunk off a Ranger turnover. Brown then was able to get good position among the big boys in the lane, and out jumped five other guys for a rebound and the putback to cut Scecina’s deficit, 33-28, with a bit over two minutes in the third quarter.
The Rangers went on another 6-0 run, but Dillard struck again from long range to keep Scecina in the mix. The Crusaders fended off late attempts in the post by Forest Park, but the Rangers still owned a 39-31 lead at the end of the third.
But Hochgesang and the boys were not out of it just yet. The Crusaders struck fast with a 3-pointer from Dillard to start the fourth quarter, but Hochgesang found his mid-range jumper and countered on the other end. He then found Englert along the baseline in the following possession, hitting him right in the jersey numbers as Englert cut to the basket for an easy score.
Dillard hit back with an and-1 basket, and Manuel Brown came up with another steal, which he nearly turned into a posterizer dunk on the other end. He settled for another 3-point play. Scecina was feasting off of Forest Park turnovers at this point, and was able to get the game within two points, 45-43, with about three minutes left to play.
But this situation was not an unfamiliar one with the Forest Park team. They had closed quite a few tight games as they made their way through the sectional and regional rounds of the postseason, including buzzer-beater wins over South Spencer and North Posey.
During a timeout, Litherland told his boys they just had to win the next few moments to seal another victory and punch their ticket to the 2A state title game.
“We got tough and experienced kids, these guys have played in a lot of championship games,” he said. “In the timeout I was just like, ‘Hey we got three or four minutes here. Let’s win these three minutes and we get to play up in Indy.’”
And with that, the Rangers came out and switched from a man-to-man defense to a trap scheme to frustrate and stifle any comeback efforts from the Crusaders. Hochgesang and Englert came up with late baskets to keep pressure on Scecina, and the Rangers went 13-for-17 from the free throw line to put the game away and stamped their ticket to Indianapolis for the state title.
Both Hochgesang and Englert scored 18 points for Forest Park. Makylin Brown had 16 points to lead the Crusaders, while Dillard had 13 points in the loss.
“We just had our coaches and crowd behind us,” Hochgesang said as he talked about Forest Park overcoming seven fourth-quarter turnovers to beat Scecina. “We knew we could keep our composure and bring this W to our town. We just had to stick to what we know and what he had been doing this whole year.”
“That’s what a group of seniors does,” Englert added. “We’ve been through so many moments this year. We know how to work with all of it, and we just stepped up.”
Litherland called the game a tremendous team effort and was overcome with emotion as he thought about his career journey from coaching third- and fourth-graders to being one game away from his first state title. He is grateful for all the support the team has received during their postseason run, but this part of the season is bittersweet for him. He only has one more game to coach his boys, whom he’s grown rather close to.
“It really hasn’t sunk in,” he said. “I’m ecstatic that I get to spend seven more days with my seniors. I love those guys. I know (next) Saturday will be the end of it, but we have a lot of great memories and hard work together. I’m super happy for them and our community.”
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