GLENWOOD SPRINGS - Aspen boys basketball coach Steve Ketchum figured his young Skiers would go 0-3 at this weekend's Demon Invitational.
Now, after a string of impressive finishes, some offseason questions have been answered. Now, "The bar is raised, and the sky's the limit," the coach said.
Aspen outlasted host Glenwood Springs and Eagle Valley on Thursday and Friday, then hung right with defending 3A state champion Faith Christian for three quarters Saturday afternoon. In the end, though, a lack of depth caught up with the Skiers, and the Eagles confidently converted at the foul line in the waning minutes to secure a 50-42 victory in a rematch of 2010's state title game.
"To hang with a championship-level program like that, we're absolutely thrilled," Ketchum said. "I probably would've been pleasantly surprised if we were 1-2 at this point. We're 2-1, and we know the best is still coming. We're going to get a lot better once we eliminate some of these mistakes."
Aspen made a serious bid to remain unbeaten. They led by two points after the first three quarters of this back-and-forth slugfest despite struggling to take care of the ball.
"I don't know how or why it happened, but it seemed like we had as many turnovers as points in that first half," Ketchum said. "We literally had kids dribbling upcourt and tripping over their feet and falling to the floor. ... Those turnovers made the game close for Faith Christian and prevented us from pulling away. We could've been in charge, in command."
Things started unraveling in the fourth for the Skiers, who clung to a 34-32 advantage after 24 minutes.
The Skiers managed just eight points in the final frame, all of which came from sophomores Luke Rider and Evan Patzoldt. Rider led Aspen with 17 points.
Clayton Crawford added nine points, while Trent Lichtenwalter pitched in with seven. The two juniors and senior Dan Schwartz played all 32 minutes.
"At some point that really wore on them, and they struggled just a little," Ketchum said. "We had four bad minutes in the fourth. Call it anything you want - fatigue or mental mistakes - but we looked like we were flailing and weren't in sync. I think individuals were trying too hard to make something happen, and they looked bad. Faith ended up taking a solid four- or five-point lead."
David Hawkins finished with 20 points for the Eagles (3-3), who hit nine of 14 free-throw attempts in the fourth to steadily pull away.
"The kids are more upset with themselves than anybody else. They're probably frustrated because we could've won this game if it wasn't for all those mistakes," said Ketchum, whose team opens 3A Western Slope play at 7 p.m. Tuesday against visiting Grand Valley.
"Still, I'm smiling and very happy. Because of their success this weekend, the bar has been raised. The standard we're going to hold them to is going to be much higher."