CARBONDALE - Touche.
Just as the Roaring Fork boys scored a rare win on Aspen's home court on Jan. 19, the Skiers handed the Rams a loss at home in Carbondale on Tuesday night in a key 3A Western Slope League matchup.
A 12-4 third quarter propelled the Skiers to an eight-point lead at the end of the period, en route to a 56-54 win despite a furious comeback effort from the host Rams.
The win keeps Aspen in the hunt in the league at 8-2 (10-3 overall), just behind second-place Moffat County.
The Rams suffered their first loss in league play but retain the top spot at 11-1 (12-3 overall).
"It definitely gives us confidence to get a win in this place," said Aspen junior Clayton Crawford after the game. "They're a great team, and this is a tough place to steal one."
It was the Rams who stole one back in January, when senior Dakotah Grett's 3-pointer in the final seconds of overtime sealed the 45-42 win for Roaring Fork, its first in seven years at the Skierdome.
The Rams very nearly pulled off the comeback Tuesday night, as well.
Grett's steal and layup with five minutes, 40 seconds to play in the game pulled the Rams to within one point, 38-37, setting up what always seems to be an epic battle whenever these two teams meet.
The Skiers pulled ahead by seven at one point, but clutch 3-point shots by the Rams down the stretch kept making things interesting.
Tanner Nieslanik, Ben Carpenter and Grett combined for six 3-pointers in the final eight minutes alone.
The Rams managed to get it back to within one point with half a minute to play, but clutch free throws in the closing seconds by Aspen's Luke Rider and Crawford gave the Skiers the edge.
"Every time Aspen and Roaring Fork get together, it's just absolutely a battle," Aspen coach Steve Ketchum said. "It always goes down to the wire, and it's a great, exciting game for the fans. Roaring Fork's 3-point shooting was just unbelievable tonight."
The Rams opened a 14-11 lead in the first quarter of play, but Aspen battled back to tie it at the intermission, 26-all.
Crawford and Trent Lichtenwalter both had a huge third quarter during a 12-4 run. Each of the Skier players ended up with 16 points.
"To win against a good team, you have to execute on every possession, and we didn't do that," said Roaring Fork's Nieslanik, who led his team in scoring with 15 points, followed by Grett with 13 and Trae Moxley with 10.
Aspen and Roaring Fork were even on the boards for the night, with 17 rebounds each.
Rams coach Larry Williams was hoping to maintain some breathing room at the top of the league standings.
At the same time, the loss does "get the monkey off the kids' backs trying to stay undefeated," Williams said.
"We just forced way too many shots tonight instead of letting it come to us," he said. "This is something we can learn from and use to practice a little harder on some things."
Up next, Roaring Fork has three road games in a row, at Gunnison and Basalt this weekend and at Moffat County Feb. 16, when the league championship could be on the line.
Aspen hosts Moffat County Tuesday in another critical game that will help determine the league outcome.
The Lady Rams cruised to an easy 64-23 win over the visiting Aspen Skiers on Tuesday to end a two-game slide following tough league losses to Grand Valley and Olathe last weekend.
Roaring Fork (8-7 overall, 8-4 league) opened a 29-13 lead at the half and outscored the Skiers 19-2 in the third quarter.
Megan Gianinetti led all scorers with 14 points, while sister Hattie Gianinetti and Maddie Nieslanik each had 11 points for the Rams. Aspen was paced by Anna Stevens, who had nine points.