Rangerball stuns Rockford 52-51 in the first round of districts


After finishing the regular season 10-4, the boys varsity basketball team traveled to Rockford High School for the first round of the MHSAA playoffs. As a two seed in the district tournament coming in with a 15-2 record and an OK Red conference title, the high-octane Rams entered the game heavily favored. Especially after knocking off FHC to advance to the second round in last year’s playoffs, Rangerball’s victory was highly improbable. Nevertheless, an incredible late-game effort by coach Kyle Carhart and his Ranger squad helped the team push past Rockford, 52-51.

“I really think the gritty, tough nature of our players was one of the driving forces behind the comeback,” coach Carhart exclaimed. “It was apparent in their expressions during timeouts and tough moments; they never gave in and continued to believe.” 

Having the extraordinary challenge of containing Navy basketball commit Sam Krist, FHC gave up several big shots in the first quarter. As senior forward Jacob Ervin scored two buckets to end the first quarter, the Rangers found themselves trailing 11-8. 

The next eight minutes continued the back-and-forth nature of the game; however, Rockford kept its steady hand. It was senior Jonah Spates that kept FHC afloat, scoring on a fastbreak and knocking down a three-pointer. With under two minutes in the half, a trifecta of consecutive buckets gave the Rams the lead. Despite a triple from junior Conner Milton, Rockford superstar Sam Krist swished a three of his own at the buzzer. The mere 28-22 deficit for the Rangers at halftime proved that this was anybody’s ballgame.

Entering what could have been the final half of the season, FHC came out determined to close the gap. A huge “and-one” basket from Conner Milton midway through the third quarter cut the Rockford lead to just one. The Rangers struggled to shoot for the rest of the quarter, scoring just two more points. Even with the Rams’ lead up to 38-32 to open the fourth quarter, FHC’s ability to turn up the intensity is something that is far from unprecedented this season. 

“Everything we do in the game revolves around our prior practices,” senior Jacob Ervin said postgame. “This game was no different, as we have been preparing for every scenario for the past few days. It just so happened that we were down and had players like [Jonah] Spates and Chris [Battiste] make big plays down the stretch.” While the need for a late-game rally was not what it had mapped out, this Ranger squad began to fuel the fire for an astonishing surge.

With just eight slim minutes to mount a comeback, Conner Milton set the tone for what would be a program-defining fourth quarter. Milton, standing at six feet four inches, scored a pair of buckets that included an impressive tip-in over several Rockford players. Still down by eight points, FHC began to turn the tide. After being sidelined due to foul trouble, junior Jacob Bonnett entered the game with one thing on his mind: scoring the basketball. Bonnett scored twice in a row on extraordinary drives to the hoop then drew a foul on a similar move. Knocking down both free throws, Bonnet’s six unanswered points saw the Rangers behind by just two points. 

A game-tying basket by Conner Milton was quickly followed by two enormous three-pointers for Jonah Spates, as the 14-1 run for FHC suddenly flipped the energy in the building with a 50-44 lead for the Rangers. Rockford, however, would not go away so easily. A quick response of five straight points for the Rams cut the deficit to one point, which would be overcome by a drive-and-score basket for the Annapolis-bound Sam Krist. 

Down by one with under twenty seconds to play, the seniors on this team stepped up. Taking the ball out from the baseline, Peyton Bush lobbed a gorgeous pass to fellow senior Chris Battiste. Battiste did the work from there on out, laying the ball in to give FHC the lead one final time. Although the Rams managed to get a wide-open look from the corner for three, it fell just short. At the sound of the buzzer, FHC ran away with perhaps one of the biggest upsets in school history. 

Although the senior class’s efforts told the tale to finish off the game, it was junior Conner Milton that led Ranger scorers. Similarly, Jacob Bonnett posted 12 points in his limited minutes. 14 points on the night from senior Jonah Spates also headlined the stat-sheet, as he notched three triples and five rebounds.

“It’s tough to describe,” head coach Kyle Carhart said when asked about his emotions following the win. “I am extremely happy for all of our players. They’ve endured a lot this season, and celebrations like this remind us all why we wanted to play as badly as we did.” Picking up his monumental first playoff win as head coach, Carhart’s group has to spin on its heel and make the trek to Northview having beaten the Wildcats twice already this season.

“As for taking it into Thursday, we have to start fresh with a great mentality,” Carhart claimed. “Northview has great players, and we will need to be great together in order to find some success.” 

Rangerball’s matchup at Northview will take place on Thursday, March 25th in the second round of districts.