AHS boys escape shootout against Hotchkiss, 82-71
The No. 1 seed Aspen High boys basketball team summoned another huge fourth-quarter to escape a shootout with No. 8 Hotchkiss in the first-round of the Western Slope District Tournament last night at the AHS Skier Dome.
Trailing by 3 at the start of the final 8-minute quarter, Aspen’s Nick Farrell and Jeff Brence combined for 48 points total as the team out-gunned Hotchkiss 29-14 down the stretch to pull out an 82-71 victory.
“These kids surprise me,” Aspen coach Steve Ketchum said after the game. “They have more heart than I thought. They don’t give up, even when things don’t look good.”
With the win, Aspen advances to the district tournament’s final-four, which begin this afternoon at Palisade High School in Grand Junction.
Aspen takes on No. 4 seed Gunnison, a team Aspen beat 53-40 in the final game of the regular season last Saturday. Gunnison advanced to the semis with a 55-52 win over No. 5 Basalt last night.
Aspen and Gunnison are slated to tip off at 5 p.m. tonight. (A complete tournament bracket appears on page 28-A.)
Hotchkiss, a team Ketchum says has the best starting five in the league, matched every Aspen run in the first half. Aspen dashed to a 14-6 lead in the opening minutes of the first quarter, but Hotchkiss cut the deficit to 18-15 by quarter’s end. In the second, Aspen’s 34-23 lead quickly dwindled when Hotchkiss’ shooters got hot, cutting the margin to 39-35 on a Joey Kurtz jumper at the halftime buzzer.
Hotchkiss assumed the lead in the third, drawing on Robert Hawk’s 23 points total, and entered the fourth with a 57-53 lead. “They just shot our lights out,” Ketchum said.
But a phenomenal fourth by Aspen – outscoring Hotchkiss by 15 points – gave the Skier team an 11-point victory.
Senior co-captain “Ducan Delano really stepped up for us,” Ketchum said, sinking three 3-pointers in the second half, and four total, for 13 points. Six-foot-9 center Blake Beyea played “a break-out game,” Ketchum said, netting 13 points in a inspired effort for Aspen in the low-post.
Sophomore point guard Nick Farrell finished with 26 points, while junior forward Jeff Brence added 22. Senior forward Jared Kidd knocked down 7 points.
“Hotchkiss played about as good as they could play,” Ketchum said. “They were hitting shots in our faces, and beating us one-on-one. They’ve got tremendous athletes, and the fact that they’ve got a losing record in league play doesn’t make sense given their talent.”
By winning the 3A Western Slope League outright last weekend, Aspen earned an automatic berth to the regional tournament, which begins March 3. However, should Aspen win the district tournament this weekend, the team is guaranteed to host their regional tournament game, against a lesser seeded opponent than if Aspen gets knocked off in the semifinals or the finals.
“I’m proud of them. We survived another day, but we’ve got to win two more,” Ketchum said. “Our mission is not fulfilled yet.”
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