Saturday, February 28th, 2009
By Gary R. Rasberry
Another 20-0 regular season for Rangers
NEW KNOXVILLE - The clash of the top two teams in the Midwest Athletic Conference lived up to all the hype going into the game.
St. Henry and New Knoxville battled it out, countering each other's runs for most of the game.
The Rangers, however, got the last counter and held off the Redskins in the final quarter to secure a 64-60 win in the regular-season finale at Ranger Gymnasium.
New Knoxville, already the outright MAC champion with last week's win, runs the table in the regular season for the third straight season at 20-0 overall and 9-0 in the MAC, extending the Rangers' overall win streak to 47 games and their regular season win streak to 63 games. The Redskins head into tourney play at 17-3 with all three losses coming in the conference (6-3).
St. Henry came out hot to start the first half, only to have the Rangers come back and take a 28-26 lead at halftime.
"First quarter I thought we were a little too wound up," said New Knoxville coach Dan Hegemier. "We were overpursuing. They were beating us off the dribble and kids were a little too wound up. We kept jamming it to Brad. They were playing behind and we kept jamming and he got them into foul trouble."
In the third quarter, the Rangers caught additional fire as Brad Piehl scored seven of the first nine points of the quarter as New Knoxville pushed its lead to 37-26 with 6:18 left in the quarter. It took 21/2 minutes for the Redskins to score their first points in the second half, but when they finally scored, it caused a spark that propelled St. Henry back into contention and they took a 42-41 lead on a Victor Fortkamp stickback with 45 seconds left. Piehl connected on an old-fashioned three-point play with 30.7 seconds left to put the Rangers up by two, but Jason Westgerdes sank two free throws with eight seconds left to send the game to the fourth quarter with a 44-all tie.
"We had the 11-point lead, and we turned it over for two ungodly reasons. I don't know why," said Hegemier. "We got a little too carried away."
"Our kids did an outstanding job of spreading them out," said St. Henry coach Joe Niekamp. "We made some back cuts and got the ball to the basket. Kids had their heads up and did a nice job of really running our halfcourt offense."
The Redskins regained the lead at 46-44 early in the fourth on a Jordan Post bucket, but the Rangers answered to tie the score again. Brent Prenger sank a three-pointer with 5:40 to go to give the Redskins a three-point lead, but the Rangers answered back to take a 52-51 lead on a Cody Horstman layup. Spencer Niekamp, on the bench most of the game with foul trouble, tied the game with four minutes left on a foul shot, but seconds later left the game after getting his fifth personal, finishing with just three points.
The teams continued to trade the lead. Piehl hit a free throw but St. Henry countered with Brad Stahl scoring and hitting the free throw after being fouled with 3:19 left to put St. Henry up 55-53.
The Rangers took the lead over for good with 2:52 to go when Caleb Allen netted a trey. St. Henry encountered more foul trouble when Fortkamp, working on a 19-point, 10-rebound game, fouled out with two minutes left, leaving the Redskins with a smaller lineup.
The Rangers spread out and forced the Redskins to foul, and New Knoxville went 8-for-8 from the foul line in the final two minutes to ice the game.
"St. Henry didn't back down a bit," said Hegemier. "They came right at us and got right back into the game, got the lead and it was back and forth.
"I thought St. Henry played very well. They hit some key shots and passed the ball very well."
"After the game, there wasn't a lot of negatives. I was really proud of the effort our kids gave," said Niekamp. "Particularly against an outstanding team in a tough environment. For them to come back, it says a lot of good things about our team.
"Obviously, you have to give a lot of credit to Knoxville. They're so good. What a great group of kids they have had here and what they've been able to achieve. It would have been nice to be the team to bump them off, but I'm not disappointed in our kids whatsoever."
Piehl dominated the game, scoring 28 points, thanks to a 10-of-15 night from the foul line, and pulled down 10 rebounds.
"He's a tired young man right now," said Hegemier of the Robert Morris recruit.
"The first couple times (going in the paint) were a little easier," said Piehl. "They started throwing both of them (Niekamp and Fortkamp) at me. The longer the game went on, the more double-teaming. It was just the matter of the guys getting me the ball. I'm really proud of the guys."
Allen scored 13 with Austin Arnett adding 12 for the Rangers.
Post picked up the slack of the points Niekamp normally scored in tallying 18 points for the Redskins.
Both teams are off until next Friday as both are top seeds at their respective sectionals. New Knoxville faces the winner of Perry and Waynesfield at the Coldwater Division IV sectional, while St. Henry will face the winner of Parkway and Spencerville at the Wapakoneta Division III sectional.
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