Senior’s surprise entrance caps Ranger victory

Marlena Sloss/The Herald
Forest Park’s Curt Hopf dribbled past Southridge’s Logan Seger as the Rangers defeated the Raiders 69-54 at Hoosier Gym in Knightstown on Saturday. The gym was built in 1922, with wood flooring from 1936, and was the central location for the 1986 basketball movie Hoosiers where the film’s Hickory Huskers played their home games. For more photos from the game, click here.



KNIGHTSTOWN — With about 30 seconds remaining in Saturday’s boys basketball contest between Class 2A No. 6 Forest Park and Southridge at historic Hoosier Gym in Knightstown where the movie “Hoosiers” was filmed, it felt like a scene from the movie was about to unfold.

One Ranger player removed his warm-up shirt to reveal a Ranger jersey with the No. 24 on it — a jersey that had only been sported by junior Garrett Betz a few times this season when he dressed for the Rangers varsity roster, except this time it couldn’t be Betz as he was already wearing a No. 44 out on the court.

It was none other than senior Noah Fleck who was making his season debut after being on crutches just a few weeks ago while nursing an injury.

When the Forest Park crowd realized it was Fleck making his way onto the historic court, they erupted into cheers as the senior would get to play on the same court where Shooter Flatch (played by Dennis Hopper) and the movie’s Hickory Huskers played their home games.

“I really wanted to come back for this game, even if it was only for about 30 seconds or so,” said Fleck, after the Rangers 69-54 victory over the Raiders. “I wanted to be able to get my feet wet and just to be able to say I’ve played in this gym when I’m older is an experience of a lifetime.”

The Rangers (13-1, 3-0 PAC) tried to get Fleck involved late, running a play specifically designed for him to get open in the right corner for a three-point shot.

Even though Fleck’s shot bounced off the right side of the rim, it was a culmination of his season-long rehabilitation process — even if he is still about a week or two away from being fully recovered.

“We wanted him to have that experience of playing (in Hoosier Gym) after everything he’s been through his senior season. He’s worked hard and I know he’s been chomping at the bit to get back out there and help us out,” Ranger head coach Jeff Litherland said. “If he would’ve made that shot, I know the players and us coaches would’ve went crazy because we’ve seen him working every day in practice since November and he’s just sitting on a chair shooting free throws and staying late every night. He earned those 30 seconds on this court just because of how hard he works.”     

The first half of basketball was back-and-forth with both teams going at it early and often as the Rangers and Raiders went into the halftime break tied up at 28 after Forest Park climbed out of a 22-15 hole to end the quarter on a 13-6 run.

The second half, however, belonged almost exclusively to the Rangers as Southridge didn’t score their first points of the second half until Garrett Voegerl made an inside shot with 1:39 left in the third quarter.

“We came out kind of flat and I told the guys at halftime to just do your job, be yourself and have fun,” Litherland said. “I told them I know it’s a conference game, I know it’s important but at the end of the day, it’s just a basketball game.”

The Raiders (7-8, 1-5 PAC) had trouble slowing down Forest Park’s offensive weapons. Sam Englert led the way with 20 points, Daniel Lusk finished with 16 points before leaving the game in the fourth quarter with a bloody cut on his forehead and Curt Hopf finished with 17 points and a dunk — something he never thought he’d do in this historic of an arena.

“It still really hasn’t hit me yet, but I think it’ll get there,” Hopf said with a laugh. “I honestly wasn’t quite sure what I was expecting (playing in Hoosier Gym) but it was a lot smaller and also a little more fun than I thought it would be. It doesn’t really get any better than this.”

For Southridge, coach Ted O’Brien knows his team has been “battle-tested” early and often this season with several tough road games — including three battles with the Rangers — and he’s hoping the tough contests will end up paying off come sectional time.

But for now, O’Brien wants to see his team play with the intensity they showed in the first half for all four quarters.

“I still don’t think we’re in as good of shape as we could be, we just ran of out gas and we used up so much energy in that first half,” said O’Brien, whose team was led in scoring by Colson Montgomery who finished with 21. “I think the best basketball is still ahead of us, we just have to keep our guys together and make them understand that all of these (regular season) games are practice games for the tournament. They have a lot of room to grow and can be dangerous come March.”

The movie “Hoosiers” has been a staple of Indiana high school basketball history and depicted a small-town school overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds to defeat a much bigger South Bend school in the state finals.

Hoosier Gym will likely be the smallest gym that either the Rangers or Raiders will compete in this season and the loud, raucous atmosphere impacted both teams.  

Along with the crowd noise, there were several small things that took both teams time to get used to, such as the double half-court line, the benches directly behind the basket and hardly any room along the sidelines.

“We almost got a 10-second call because we weren’t used to the double half-court line. (Hoosier Gym) was so small — I’m not used to playing in small gyms like that but everything else is still the same, you just have to play,” Montgomery said.

While it was tougher for O’Brien and his team to enjoy the atmosphere due to the end result of the game, he still was grateful his team got to spend some time in the historic venue.

“We got to watch the movie together on Thursday and I think they really understood what this is all about,” O’Brien said. “Obviously it’s tough to put it into words after a tough loss but our guys eyes lit up when they got here and getting to sit in the actual locker room that’s in the movie, it was a lot of nostalgia.”

For Litherland and the Rangers, the best part about the weekend trip to Knightstown and the day practice at Spiceland Gym before playing at Hoosier Gym? The team bonding.

“When you’re up here for two days and two nights, the only people you have are your teammates and your coaches and you kind of rely on each other,” Litherland said. “Just to see these guys work together and have the same common goal, putting their egos and there differences aside was probably the coolest thing we experienced this week.”

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