Rohleder helped Rangers win postseason titles

Herald archival photo
Luke Rohleder celebrates with Forest Park fans on March 22, 2003, after Forest Park defeated Eastern Hancock, 77-69, to advance to the state championship game against No. 1 Cass.

BY COREY STOLZENBACH
sports@dcherald.com

Forest Park didn’t have a lot of hardware to account for in boys basketball prior to the 2002-03 season.

The Rangers had only won two sectional championships — in 1990 and 1993. They hadn’t even won a regional game, let alone a championship. But everything changed in 2003 when the Rangers captured their first sectional since 1993, and went all the way to the-then Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

Forest Park went 12-9 during the 2001-02 season, but almost the entire starting lineup was coming back, with junior Todd Lamkin being the newcomer. Fellow junior Adam Brames returned to the lineup, as did seniors Phil Weyer, future University of Southern Indiana player Geoff Van Winkle and Luke Rohleder.

“We had a junior class that was full of a lot of talent, and they were all friends, and then the senior class was the same way,” Rohleder said. “All of us were all friends, and we all played well together. It all kind of meshed together and made a really talented team. We spent a lot of time together, so we all got to know each other pretty well.”

The 6-foot-5 Rohleder averaged about 13 points per game his junior year. He positioned himself well to be an offensive rebounder and a presence in the post. The Rangers had a goal of getting out of the sectional this time.

This group had been playing together since seventh and eighth grade, and their chemistry jelled during camps that summer, a chemistry that would lay the foundation to a strong start to the season that would only continue throughout.

Forest Park began the season 4-0, winning The Herald Tipoff Classic in November 2002.

“That just goes back to Coach (Tom) Beach and the other coaches getting us prepared to start that season,” Rohleder said. “We came out ready to go and took off with that momentum, and won that tournament.”

The Rangers primarily ran a man-to-man defense, but also used the press, all while running a motion offense. They didn’t lose often, and if they did, it wasn’t by much. Their first loss came Dec. 13 at Loogootee, 35-34, and then they won eight in a row. Forest Park wouldn’t lose again until a 65-62 overtime game Jan. 13 at South Knox. Their other two losses in the regular season were also by single digits.

“We had played Jasper the night before (the South Knox game) at Jasper and beat them (64-58),” Rohleder said. “That was a high. We had beat our main rival and we came to South Knox and let our guard down. We really learned that no matter what game you win, the next game, you got to come out with the same amount of fire and be ready to play.”

The Rangers had no problem against South Spencer in the sectional opener, but host Southridge gave them a close one in the semifinal. The game was within four points almost the entire way through, and the Raiders led the Rangers at the half. Rohleder told The Herald that Forest Park spent a lot of time on free throws, with players coming in to shoot in the morning before school started, and the team made six free throws down the stretch to help make a 45-38 distance.

Standing in Forest Park’s way for the sectional championship was a Crawford County team that bounced the Rangers from the 2002 sectional with a 71-65 score. But this time, they were ready for the Wolfpack, getting their revenge with a 59-45 win, and Rohleder chipping in a team-high 13 points.

He was a sectional champion at last. Rohleder remembered when he saw Forest Park win the 1993 sectional, and his older sister, Sara, was on that Forest Park girls team that finished as the Class 2A state runner-up in 2000.

“We wanted a piece of our own [nets], kind of make our own mark in Forest Park basketball history,” he said.

Brownstown Central gave Forest Park a close game, but the Rangers got by with a 70-63 win for their first-ever triumph in the regional tournament. That set the showdown with a seasoned Evansville Mater Dei squad that was no stranger to the regional round, and won two regional championships in the previous four seasons.

On this night, however, experience was chucked out the window when the Rangers handed Mater Dei their largest loss of the season, 70-52. Forest Park went on a 17-1 run at one point in the second half to create separation, and the team fed off of freshman Brandon Hopf’s 30 points that helped make the difference for the regional championship.

“Brandon was a great player, and I think he saw in the first half just what he could do to help the team,” Luke said. “When he took over, it was just like, ‘We got to keep getting him the ball.’ Once he started, he was unstoppable.”

The Rangers went to the Southport semistate matched with Eastern Hancock for the right to go to the state championship. Forest Park didn’t get off to the quickest start, and Eastern Hancock built an early lead. But the eighth-ranked Rangers gave the Royals a much tighter game down the stretch. It was a loud game, where Forest Park couldn’t hear plays being called. Plays were coming from the bench and being written on a clipboard.

Van Winkle went off to the tune of 34 points, while Luke added 17 and Hopf 12. The lead changed 11 times, but Forest Park held the final one, 77-69, for its first-ever trip to state.

Fans were forbidden from storming the court. So, the Rangers brought the party to the fans as they celebrated in the stands.

“I wasn’t sure they’d be able to contain the fans, but they were able to stop them,” Luke said. “So, we came to them, and the party started again.”

In order to finish the job, the Rangers had to find a way past top-ranked, undefeated Cass, and had to do so in an atmosphere like no other.

For Luke and the Rangers, the Kings showed why they were No. 1 in their class. The final score was close, but Cass’ 2-3 matchup zone defense forced 12 Forest Park turnovers, and the Rangers finished 23-5, with their fifth loss coming in the state championship game with a 57-48 score.

The game still haunts Luke to this day.

“I think we were ready to play them,” he said. “I think it was just the atmosphere of being in Conseco Fieldhouse had us off of our game.”

Then there was life after high school basketball.

Luke Rohleder, Dec. 2003

Luke followed in his father Mike’s footsteps by joining the Navy after he graduated. Mike was a Seabee during the Vietnam War, and Luke became one as well. He was stationed in Mississippi when Forest Park broke through and won back-to-back championships in 2005 and 2006. Luke listened to both games, and was proud of what the program became, that they achieved the goal that eluded the 2003 team.

He remains in the Naval reserves today as a chief petty officer. Luke went on a tour of duty to Iraq in 2009.

“The role of the Seabees and what I was doing was supply route repair,” Luke said. “We basically followed anywhere the Marines went, and took care of anything they needed as far as facilities, repairing roads after a roadside bombing or clearing the roads ahead of them. Our job was to do anything we needed to keep the Marines moving, to be able to keep the fight going.”

Luke also currently works as a project superintendent for Ragle, Inc. in Newburgh. He plans on staying in the reserves until he can retire in three years. Luke can get promoted and extend his service, but as a father of four young boys, he’s looking forward to spending more time with his family.




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