By Maurice Kirby | @MoKirby_31
Sports Capital Journalism Program
INDIANAPOLIS — The Oak Hill Golden Eagles overcame foul trouble and uncharacteristic mistakes to win the first state basketball championship in their history, defeating Forest Park, 56-44, for the IHSAA Class 2A championship at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
The Golden Eagles, 26-5, held Forest Park to its second-lowest point total of the season. The Rangers, a 50-percent shooting team, were held to 18.2 percent shooting in the second half and 34.1 percent overall. Forest Park, 25-5, was making its fourth championship game appearance in search of a third state title, its first since 2006.
Senior center Caleb Middlesworth led the Golden Eagles with 25 points – nine above his average – with nine rebounds and three steals. The Golden Eagles were able to overcome the struggles of senior forward Spencer Ballinger, whose foul problems limited him to 5 points – 10 beneath his average – in 15 minutes.
“I think this game exemplified what this team has been about all season long,” said Oak Hill coach Kevin Renbarger. “Ballinger gets into early foul trouble and someone else has to pick up the slack.”
Senior guard David Arens scored 13 points. Senior reserve center Reid Newhouse who had averaged 1.5 rebounds this season, had five in 17 minutes.
Forest Park was led by freshman forward Curt Hopf who finished with a double-double — 10 points and 10 rebounds — in 26 minutes for the Rangers.
Forest Park, which had not allowed a tournament opponent to score more than 49 points, was within five points at halftime and Jeff Litherland, the coach of the Rangers, was confident despite shooting 5-for-18 in the first half. Oak Hill’s 39-34 halftime lead was the result of a 3-point shot by senior Cal Mann with 1:31 to go in the second quarter, the first of the season for a guard that had averaged 0.3 points per game. “It was a big shot in a big moment,” Renbarger said.
However, shooting was not the only issue Forest Park was facing. “I think a lot of it was jitters,” Litherland said. “And also, (the Golden Eagles) are long. We haven’t seen that length and a lot of our passes just didn’t get to where we wanted them to go.”
Oak Hill’s defensive presence took control of the game at the start of the fourth quarter. Forest Park turned the ball over four times in the first 2:54, contributing to an 8-0 Oak Hill run that gave the Golden Eagles a 47-34 lead with 4:28 remaining. The turnovers were due in part to the press Oak Hill put on Forest Park midway through the third quarter and continued on until the end.
Oak Hill’s lead never fell below 10 points in the fourth quarter.
“Oak Hill can be a tough place to play,” Renbarger said. “It can be a tough place to coach. There are high expectations, and when you don’t meet those expectations, they let you know.”
Renbarger is a 1990 Oak Hill graduate. He has never coached anywhere else. The biggest victory of his 13-year career, the one that lasts forever, was number 200. “I know when we go out to the concourse,” Renbarger said, “there are going to be 70-year-old men with tears in their eyes.”