Shared venture provides a jolt to busy Rangers

Herald Sports Writer

FERDINAND — Four games in seven days is a lot of basketball.

But that’s been the stretch the Forest Park boys team has endured since Dec. 27 when the Rangers knocked off previously undefeated South Spencer in Reo. So even after two straight losses to end the PSC Holiday Classic, a sluggish start to Friday night’s Pocket Athletic Conference tussle against Tell City, could if not be appreciated, at least be understood.

So much for tired legs.


An energized Ranger team blew by the Marksmen from the opening tip all the way to a 61-44 final. A 22-point first quarter kicked off an offensive rejuvenation that included 18 assists on 25 baskets and 11 Rangers scoring.

“It’s a conference game, it’s a home game and we’re trying to build some momentum here and trying to get the guys to focus on intensity and sharing the basketball,” Ranger coach Jeff Litherland said. “I thought our player movement and ball movement was 10 times better than it was Monday (against Crawford County). We moved the ball, versus one guy dribbling and four guys standing around.”

There was certainly no loitering Friday night in Buechler Arena. Forest Park (4-4, 1-0) employed a full-court press for much of the evening, and when Tell City (2-6, 0-2) tried the same, the Rangers had no problem avoiding the pressure; the Marksmen had just one steal in the first half. When Forest Park’s offense did operate out of the halfcourt, every Ranger got a piece of the action as seven players collected baskets in the first quarter.

“We had a lot of intensity coming out,” Ranger junior Damon Wilmes said. “We were kind of ticked off at the last two games because of our losses and we decided to get back (against) these guys.”

It was Wilmes who led the charge early. First, he connected off a Joel Weyer assist for a corner 3-pointer. The following possession, he laid in an easy two after a Tell City turnover. Two minutes later, reserve David Lusk conducted a two-on-one fastbreak and found Wilmes, who converted the basket as he was fouled and sank the free throw for a 16-2 Forest Park advantage. When Ben Wendholt banked in an uncontested 2-footer with three seconds left in the first quarter, Forest Park was already clutching a 22-8 lead in a period the Marksmen coughed the ball up 12 times.

“We were planning on turning them over, pressuring them, making them play a little faster than they wanted to, and we wanted to push the basketball and attack,” Litherland said.

The pace and Marksman turnovers slowed in the second period, but the Rangers still entered halftime with a 38-19 advantage. It was the start of the third though that had Litherland rehashing some unwelcome memories.

“The second half kind of looked like the Crawford County game,” he said.

Tell City opened the third quarter with an 10-2 run with six points from Brennan Malone, who closed the night with 11 points. The Marksmen also rolled out a more reserved zone defense and, for the first time of the evening,  the lively Ranger attack seemed suddenly stagnant. Tell City got as close as 40-29 with 3:23 remaining in the third before Litherland issued a stern warning.

“I called a timeout and said, ”˜I don’t want to see you back over here,’” he said, with the not-so-subtle message that he didn’t want to have to call another timeout.

This time, Weyer kicked off the scoring.

The senior connected from 3-point range, and two possessions later, Dakota Begle heaved a pass across the floor to Wilmes, who bagged his second triple of the night. He waited exactly 46 seconds before knocking in another 3, this time off a pass from Weyer for a 49-29 lead.

Crisis averted.

Wilmes finished with a team-high 16 points on 6-of-11 shooting, dished out two assists and grabbed three rebounds.

“I’m on Damon quite a bit,” Litherland said. “He’s very talented, but I don’t know if he understands what his skills are yet. Tonight, he came out (and) he was crashing the boards, taking charges, had a few nice assists, but his energy level was there. ... For Damon to come out like that throws a whole new monkey wrench (in an opponent’s) plan on how they’re going to guard us.”

Most Ranger starters were on the bench by midway through the fourth quarter. Weyer delivered a complete performance with seven points, five rebounds, four assists and four steals. Reserves Lusk and Austin Egloff scored 10 and eight points, respectively, and Begle added six.

It was the kind of drama-free, cathartic victory Forest Park needed after a congested week of basketball. The Rangers finally get a rest until next Saturday when they take on Litherland’s alma mater, Class 2A No. 10 Perry Central (7-1), in Ferdinand.

“We came out and did what we had to do; took care of business,” Litherland said. “I thought as a basketball team we got better tonight. And it’s nice to get a win like this, especially ... with little time preparing. And to go out and execute what we prepared on was a sign of good things.”

Contact Joseph Fanelli

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