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Aspen boys, Basalt girls shoot for league titles

Tim Mutrie

Two basketball teams in the valley will claim Class 3A Western Slope League Championships if they can cap off unbeaten seasons this weekend.

Entering the final weekend of regular season play, the Basalt High School girls and the Aspen High School boys remain the only undefeated teams in their respective divisions. If both teams finish unbeaten, both will be crowned 3A Western Slope League champs, a title that is accompanied by a No. 1 seed at the league tournament, beginning Feb. 20, and an automatic berth to the regional tournament, beginning March 3.

Basalt, 9-0 in league, 17-1 overall, plays its season finale at No. 5 Eagle Valley (5-4, 8-10) on Friday.

Aspen (8-0, 13-4) makes two stops this weekend, at Olathe (0-8, 3-13) on Friday and then home against No. 4 Gunnison (5-3, 11-6) on Saturday at 5:30 p.m.

“This is our biggest weekend ever,” Aspen coach Steve Ketchum said yesterday.

An undefeated season in league play for the Aspen boys would be a first-ever in school history, and a first in the league in about 15 years, Ketchum said. For the Basalt girls, a league championship would be their first since 1992.

Basalt coach Debbie Cain says the Eagle Valley game Friday will be a tough finale for the Longhorns.

“They’re big and they have some really good players,” Cain said yesterday. “We’re just going to do what we’ve been doing to be successful.”

Success for the Longhorn girls – a team that lost suffered its only loss Dec. 18 to the larger Class 4A Moffat County – has come from tenacious defense and a balanced scoring attack, led by senior forwards Heather Kappeli and Megan Macuen, juniors Stephanie Kemp and Molly McGrath, sophomore Mariah Mulchay and freshman Lauren Redfern.

“Our philosophy this year is that we have to play defense,” Cain said, “and that’s what we’ve been working on all week. Basketball tends to get so offense oriented, and when it is, it’s easy to get down on yourself when you’re not hitting your shots.”

“This year I have the advantage of having a lot of girls who can score,” Cain continued. “So we always talk about defense because someone is going to hit their shots.”

What Basalt gives up in size to its opponents, it makes up for in quickness, and aggressive rebounding.

“Our speed and quickness helps us,” Cain said, “and rebounds are very important for us because it seems like every team is bigger than us.”

Last year, when the Aspen boys traveled to Olathe late in the season, Olathe upset Aspen by 2 points, forcing the Skier team to share the league title with Eagle Valley.

This year, when the teams meet in Olathe Friday, the circumstances are very similar, with Aspen in first place in the league and Olathe in the last.

“We took them lightly last year and they beat us,” Ketchum said. “Every time our kids get a little cocky, we remind them of that big-time choke.”

On Saturday, Aspen hosts the No. 4 team Gunnison at the AHS Skier Dome at 5:30 p.m..

“They’ve got a lot of weapons: a big guy inside and two guards who can shoot,” Ketchum said. “They’re a very aggressive team and they play physical ball.”

“We’re looking at Friday (against Olathe) as a must win, and Saturday (against Gunnison) will be our chance to make history,” Ketchum said. “If we lose Friday, there’s going to be a lot of pressure on us.”

In other action

Entering last weekend, the Aspen High girls hoops team shared the No. 1 spot with Basalt. But a pair of losses, to No. 2 Roaring Fork Friday and Basalt Saturday, dropped the Skier team into fourth-place (6-2, 11-6), behind No. 3 Gunnison.

The AHS girls travel with the boys to Olathe Friday night. The Olathe girls hold the No. 6 spot in the league, with a record of 4-4 in league and 8-6 overall.

On Saturday, the Aspen girls play Gunnison (7-1, 10-7) at home at 4 p.m., for a chance to crack into the top-3 in league standings.

The Basalt High boys basketball team, the No. 5 team with a 5-4 league record, 11-7 overall, travels to No. 3 Eagle Valley (6-3, 8-10). A win would ensure Basalt a fourth place, and maybe third if Gunnison loses to Aspen on Saturday.


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