Steady Pats keep climbing higher and higher

Sarah Ann Jump/The Herald
Heritage Hills’ Abby Wahl shot as Forest Park’s Faith Zazzetti defended during the Patriots 50-40 win on Thursday night in Ferdinand. Wahl and Zazzetti both led their teams in scoring, Wahl finished with 23 for the Pats and Zazzetti added 12 for the Rangers. For more photos from the game, click here.


FERDINAND — The Heritage Hills girls basketball team has heard about their potential for weeks, months, maybe even a little bit over the past couple of seasons.

But with their 8-1 record and a 50-40 victory over Forest Park on Thursday, the Patriots are hoping they can put an end to the ‘potential’ talk and focus on the right now.

“We’re tired of hearing about our potential, we know our potential and now we want to reach it,” said senior Abby Wahl, who finished with a team-high 23 points and shot a perfect 7-for-7 from the field. “We all want this and we’re willing to work as hard as we can for it.”

The start is the quickest one the Patriots have gotten out to in over 15 years and it hasn’t come easy with wins over teams such as Jasper, Princeton, Northeast Dubois and Class 1A No. 5 South Central (Elizabeth).

Knowing that the majority of the Patriots roster, especially seniors such as Wahl and Kate Kaetzel, has played together since the second grade speaks volumes about the team’s chemistry.

“(Kaetzel) knows where I’m going to be before I even get there,” Wahl said with a laugh. “We just read each other so well and it’s been that way since were junior Patriots.”

While the Patriots ended up winning by double-digits, the game was neck-and-neck throughout. Heritage Hills jumped out to a quick start but the Rangers never fell too far behind.

However, whenever Forest Park started to creep back in and attempt to grab the lead, the Patriots were quick to shut them down.

“It felt like we were just playing catch up the rest of the way and just couldn’t quite catch up,” Ranger coach Tony Hasenour said.

A big turning point came in the game’s third quarter. The Rangers (6-3) were able to draw within one point with 1:42 left when Kenlee Gehlhausen got a shot to drop after driving in the lane.

On the next possession, Wahl was able to drive the lane and draw a foul and after making both free-throws the Pats lead was back up to three points.

And while Hasenour said the Rangers felt comfortable down just three at that point in the game, the play that happened next took the wind out of them.

“Kaetzel’s three right there was a dagger, just a really deflating shot for us,” Hasenour said about the senior’s three-point basket with 35 seconds remaining in the quarter which pushed the Patriot lead to six going into the final period. The Rangers would never get any closer than seven points.

Wahl said that what happened in the final minutes of the third quarter would go on to define the rest of the game.

“After they cut it to one, we kicked our butts in gear and said ‘Okay, this is way too close for comfort,” Wahl said. “We started to push from there and I honestly think it was the extra push we needed.”

Heritage Hills coach Kim Brown knew that Forest Park would key in on Wahl so she was happy to see Kaetzel play a vital role in the Patriots win as she finished with 10 points with six of those points coming from downtown.

“We rely on Abby so much and (Forest Park) was able to exploit that a bit so I told them at timeouts it doesn’t have to be Abby,” Brown said.

“With Kate, it’s not that we don’t expect her to score more but she’s already doing so many other things. She’s very vocal and she’s helped the freshmen with what they need to do to get better.”

Kaetzel’s voice definitely carries the loudest for the Patriots when she’s out on the court.

Whether it’s giving instructions to a teammate about a screen that’s coming their way or calling out plays while in the post, teammates listen when Kaetzel is talking.

“Talking on defense is key and coaches push that on us all the time at practice,” Kaetzel said. “Being able to be the team’s vocal leader is always kind of what I’ve wanted to be.”

Even though the Rangers were able to contain Wahl in bits and pieces, there were moments where it just seemed that no matter what Forest Park did, Wahl was still able to break through.

From grabbing rebounds over two players to making a hook shot that almost looked impossible, Hasenour said that’s just a testament to how good of a player Wahl is.

“She has the size and strength but she doesn’t solely rely on that. She’s a skilled ball-handler and can shoot from outside but also play in the post, I mean we might not see a better post player than who we saw tonight,” Hasenour said.

“Just when you think you’re climbing back in it, she makes a big play and that’s what good players do.”

A big positive for the Rangers was sophomore Faith Zazzetti who finished with 12 points — all 12 of them coming in the second half after she had to sit for the majority of the first half after picking up three early fouls.

After starting the beginning of the season on the bench, Zazzetti has worked her way into a starting role and has continued to impress Hasenour and her Ranger teammates.

“We’ve been preaching all year about her believing in herself which she’s done the past couple of weeks and the results are starting to show,” Hasenour said. “She’s been scoring in double figures which helps both her and the team.”

The Rangers have a tough schedule next week as they travel to Evansville Central (8-1) and have a home battle against Paoli (9-1).

But Hasenour says that Thursday’s loss and last Friday’s loss against Gibson Southern will help motivate them through this next tough stretch of games.

“You’re not going to be caught off guard hopefully because you know what the intensity will be like,” Hasenour said. “There haven’t been many games this year where we’ve went ‘Oh, that’s an easy win tonight” and next week will be more of the same tough games. We want to gradually get better as the season goes so we can peak at the right time.”

At the beginning of Thursday’s game, Brown told her team to prepare for a “dogfight” against the Rangers as the teams always seem to have close battles.

And at the end of the day, the Patriots feel that they’re a better team after holding off Forest Park.

“They definitely played a heck of a game and found some of our weaknesses,” Kaetzel said. “Our coach told their coach they made us better tonight and I believe that’s true.”

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