By Nate Smith
Washington Times Herald
Although they almost let it slip away early and almost lost it late, the Loogootee Lions defeated the Forest Park Rangers, 34-33, at Jack Butcher Arena on Friday.
The Class A No. 1 Lions (5-0) had to gut out the win from its senior leader Conner Wittmer. With about 10 seconds left, Loogootee found the 6-6 center with a double team down in the post. He muscled through the Rangers for the game-winning shot with 6.9 seconds left.
Forest Park (1-2) had a chance to win at the buzzer but senior Drew Messmer’s shot was blocked. Senior Cam Wagler grabs the loose ball and is fouled to clinch the win.
While the win was something the Lions wanted to stay on top of the Class A rankings, it was not the way coach Mike Wagoner had seen in the first four games.
“We shot well. We didn’t have any turnovers and we took care of the basketball,” Wagoner said. “We didn’t do that tonight. We didn’t shoot well, we didn’t run our offense and we didn’t take care of the basketball.
“Those three things will add up to a loss sometimes but tonight we found a way to win.”
In fact, the Lions looked not like themselves early in the contest. From the first quarter, Loogootee had trouble with Forest Park’s press and physical defense, causing uncharacteristic turnovers and miscues that kept the young Rangers close. At the 2:09 mark in the second, Wagoner had to call a timeout, the Lions were down 14-9.
Wagoner told his team “to take care of the basketball.”
“We were making some stupid passes, some dumb decisions,” Wagoner said. “We make a great defensive stand and one of our forwards goes down the floor and instead of getting it to a guard, he loses it.”
Loogootee responded, with Colin Nelson hitting a three and then Wagler hitting two more from the line on a loose ball foul after the shot. After the five-point play, the Lions showed they are the defending Class A state champions, taking the halftime lead 18-14.
Junior Matt Mathies led the Lion charge after the break with two threes for six of his eight total points on the night, for a 20-10 run. By the halfway mark of the fourth quarter, Loogootee had an eight-point lead at 32-24 and looked ready to cruise.
But Forest Park, who lost all its starters from a year before to graduation, did not quit. The Lions made three straight turnovers in the fourth to let the Rangers back in. At the 1:48 mark, junior Joel Weyer hit a three to give the Rangers the lead, 33-32. Something that made Lt. Gov-elect and Ferdinand native Sue Ellspermann stand up and cheer.
After a Loogootee timeout, the final play went to Wittmer. The center led Loogootee with 11 points, while Wagler chipped in six points on the night. Will Nonte contributed four and Nelson tallied the three. Forest Park was led by Messmer with 12 points, Lance Buechler with six and Weyer with five.
Although the play was not up to usual standards, Wagoner said the positive was from his team grinding to a win.
“We had enough fire in us and had a good defensive stand, come down for the freethrow and get the ball to Wittmer inside,” Wagoner said. “We’ve got the lead and now we have to make a defensive stand.”
Loogootee will host the battle of Martin County today as Shoals makes the winding trek down U.S. 50 to Jack Butcher Arena. The Rangers will host Washington today.
Loogootee won the junior varsity game, 49-35.
FP 9- 5- 10- 9- 33
LHS 9- 9- 12- 4-34
Nonte 2 0-0 4, Mathies 3 0-0 8, Wittmer 5 1-3 11, Wagler 1 4-6 6, Matthews 1 0-0 2, Nelson 1 0-0 3.
Totals: 13 5-9 34
Forest Park (33)
Weyer 2 0-1 5, Schlachter 1 0-0 2, Wilmes 0 2-2 2, Messmer 4 4-6 12, Begle 0 2-2 2, Buechler 3 0-1 6, Temple 1 2-3 4
Totals: 11 10-15 33
3-point goals: LHS: Mathies 2, Nelson; FP: Weyer.
Junior varsity: Loogootee, 49-35.