Rangers power past Jeeps in bruising battleFebruary 24, 2018
By HENDRIX MAGLEY
DUBOIS — Friday night’s boys basketball game between Forest Park and Northeast Dubois began with a beautiful rendition of “America The Beautiful” and “The Star-Spangled Banner” by Northeast Dubois sophomore Adrienne Betz.
And then, as Jeep head coach Terry Friedman so bluntly put it, “the war broke out”.
Players were sprawling on the ground for loose balls and battles for rebounds. Teams racked up foul after foul as teams got more physical and physical as play went on. Jeep senior Brandon Merkel even had his tooth chipped on a play in the second half.
Forest Park senior forward Braydon Voegerl said it felt like he was back out on the gridiron once again.
“It did feel like a football game a bit,” Voegerl said with a laugh following the Rangers 61-50 victory over the Jeeps in Dubois. “I like it when it gets physical, Coach (Jeff Litherland) told us it’s hard to come up here and win and we knew for certain it was going to be a physical game.”
The Rangers (19-4) came out of the gate with a quick intensity taking an 18-9 lead at the end of the first quarter with Curt Hopf and Daniel Lusk coming up with some big buckets immediately but Northeast Dubois (13-9) had a response prepared for the second quarter.
After falling behind 22-14 early in the quarter, Brandon Merkel got a quick bucket and senior Chase Riecker knocked down a three-point basket to shorten the Rangers lead to just three points.
Forest Park had a few more chances to build their lead toward the end of the quarter but some misses and a pair of turnovers led to a Reece Bauer bucket and Riecker coming through big once again with 1:40 left in the quarter to knock down two free throws to give the Jeeps a 23-22 lead at the halftime break.
Riecker, who was making his first start for the Jeeps this season on Northeast Dubois’ senior night, impressed Friedman with his physical play and hustle on both the offensive end with nine points and his pressure on the defensive end.
“Chase came out tonight with a real edge to him and he brought a lot of energy,” Riecker said. “He contributed a lot of different ways tonight and I thought he did more on the offensive end which is something he doesn’t always normally do.”
The third quarter started out in the Jeeps favor with Alan Kerstiens, who led the Jeeps with 14 points and five rebounds, knocking down a big three-pointer with 6:10 left in the quarter to give the Jeeps a 28-24 lead, their largest of the night. Forest Park would answer every time with Voegerl knocking down some big shots off of the bench — especially late.
After Kerstiens made a big and-one with 57 seconds left in the quarter (and even delayed play a bit as he was slow to get up but eventually was cleared to remain in the game and knock down the ensuing free throw), the Rangers once again looked to Voegerl late in the quarter as his shot with eight seconds left pushed the Rangers back ahead by one going into the final period which appeared to give Forest Park the jolt of energy they needed.
“Braydon Voegerl is a different human than he was when he first came in as a freshman,” Ranger head coach Jeff Litherland said. “He just comes in and does what we need him to. If we need him to get rebounds, he goes and gets rebounds and if we need him to play some tight defense he plays tight defense. I mean, him and the other seniors are playing for their careers now.”
The fourth quarter started with the Rangers going on a quick 4-0 run with two baskets from Lusk who finished with a team-high 14 points. A few and-one plays were daggers in the fourth quarter and it’s no surprise that one of them belonged to Voegerl.
After 1,000-point scorer Sam Englert got in foul trouble early that meant an extended amount of playing time for Voegerl whose and-one play with 5:08 in the fourth quarter brought all of the emotions out of him as he let out a holler while his teammates were quick to pump him up.
“I thought my team would do good but I didn’t anticipate that I would execute the way that I have (this season),” said Voegerl about his senior season as he finished with eight points off of the bench. “Coach has always preached about how you grow in practice and now it’s really starting to show on the court.”
The Jeeps would cut the lead to five again with two minutes left but they would never get any closer as the Rangers would close the game out and win by a final score of 61-50.
Forest Park was led in scoring by Lusk who finished with 14 points and seven assists, Hopf added 11 points and nine rebounds while Collin Hochgesang also finished in double-digits with 10 points.
For Northeast Dubois, Kerstiens finished with a team-high 14 points and five rebounds while Reece Bauer added 10 and Riecker and Alex Harder both finished with 9.
Friedman feels comfortable going into the team’s sectional matchup with Wood Memorial on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. as he feels that the Jeeps have been battle-tested and are now ready to show they have what it takes to become sectional champions just like the Jeeps girls basketball team did.
“Anytime you can play in this kind of atmosphere and get your team ready for that type of emotion and noise, it’s always a plus,” Friedman said. “I think that we can go away from this game knowing that we’re ready for tournament play.”
For Forest Park, this week was full of tough games as they battled PAC rival Gibson Southern to clinch a share of the conference on Tuesday with a 58-50 victory and then had to play in a place that Litherland said has been tough for opponents since he was in fifth grade.
The Rangers are grateful to have shown what they can do against some tough teams in the last week of the regular season as they prepare for their sectional battle with South Spencer on Wednesday at 8 p.m. at Castle.
“These were some very big tests,” Litherland said. “We were able to work on some things that we usually don’t see during the season but we saw them tonight so that was a good opportunity for us.”
Lusk added, “In a game against a county rival like this where the fans are always into it, the players are extra physical — it’s just a tournament atmosphere. I feel like we’ve been preparing for this all year and I think we’re one of the toughest teams around.”
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