Aspen boys edge Basalt, Roaring Fork
The Aspen High School boys basketball team escaped its rivalry weekend with a pair of wins at Roaring Fork and Basalt to remain undefeated in the Class 3A Western Slope League.
With the two wins, Aspen, 8-0 in league play, 13-4 overall, took a decisive step toward clinching the league championship.
Meanwhile, the Basalt boys basketball team lost two games – to Cedaredge Friday and Aspen Saturday – which dropped the team into the middle of the league standings, but not out of playoff contention.
“We were able to get two wins in two of the toughest gyms to play in,” said Aspen coach Steve Ketchum. “To come out with the wins, we feel extremely fortunate.”
Aspen, the only undefeated team in the league, met Roaring Fork Friday in front of a packed house at Roaring Fork High School in Carbondale.
Roaring Fork, 4-4, 7-7, battled to hold a small lead throughout the game. After the first quarter, with the teams locked in a 10-10 tie, Roaring Fork guard Juan Quintero and forward Trenton Cheney combined to give the Rams a 28-26 lead going into halftime.
The team’s exchanged baskets in the third, though Aspen gained a three-point advantage going into the final eight-minute period. But just over a minute into the quarter, a Greg Williams jumper and another Quintero 3-pointer gave the Rams a four-point advantage. Aspen’s leading scorer, junior forward Jeff Brence, responded with a floater and then drew a foul and knocked down both free throws to bring Aspen to within two points after another Cheney jumper.
With less than four minutes remaining, an Aspen defensive stop and then patient perimeter passing led to an open basket for sophomore Phil Salazar to tie the game at 55. After a rare Quintero miss, Aspen senior Duncan Delano drained a pivotal 3-pointer to give Aspen a three-point lead that the team would maintain down the stretch for a 67-59 win.
Brence recorded 24 points for Aspen, followed by senior forward Jared Kidd with 15. Point guard Nick Farrell added 12 points.
Cheney led Roaring Fork in scoring with 20 points, followed by Quintero with 15 and senior Kevin Broadhurst with 8.
“I thought our kids played a great ball game,” Roaring Fork coach Mike Fahrenkrug said. “It was an even game that came down to a play or two.”
On Saturday in Basalt, a larger crowd assembled to witness the rivalry.
Aspen and Basalt exchanged buckets throughout the first half, finishing the first quarter tied at 12 and the half tied at 22.
After a feisty pep talk in the locker room, Aspen came out and played its best half of basketball of the year, coach Ketchum said later.
While Basalt fans jeered him, sophomore captain Nick Farrell led an invigorated Aspen offense on a scoring binge. Brence scored three unanswered field goals to start the quarter, and Jared Kidd added a 3-pointer to give Aspen a 31-22 lead midway through and a 45-31 lead entering the final period.
Aspen began the fourth with a spread offense, slowing the pace of the game to protect its lead. Basalt’s Brad Unglert, Jack Lutzeier and Ki Mulcahy rallied the Longhorns back into contention with 3-pointers, but Aspen managed to withstand the charge by hitting free throws down the stretch to win 60-54.
Brence led Aspen with 24 points, followed by Delano with 11 and Farrell with 9, including two 3-pointers.
Mulcahy, a junior, led Basalt with 17 points, followed by Lutzeier with 15 and Unglert with 9, with three 3-pointers.
“That third quarter run just absolutely killed us,” Lutzeier said after the game.
“We didn’t come out asa hyped as they were, and they were able to keep it up,” added Mulcahy. “We just couldn’t get back into the game.”
Brence, a junior at AHS, said the Basalt victory was special for the Aspen team.
“We all circle this game on the calender,” he said. “It’s nice to beat these guys, though it wasn’t easy. They didn’t give up.”
Aspen finishes its regular-season schedule this weekend. On Friday, Aspen plays at Olathe (0-6, 3-11). On Saturday, Aspen hosts Gunnison (4-2, 10-5). If Aspen wins both games, the team will be guaranteed the 3A Western Slope League title, a berth to the regional tournament and the top seed at the league tournament, which begins Feb. 22.
“As far as we’re concerned, there’s nothing more important than next weekend,” Ketchum said. “But Basalt and Roaring Fork are two teams I’m not looking forward to meeting in the playoffs.”
Basalt vs. Cedaredge
Basalt opened the weekend Friday against Cedaredge, a team the Longhorns shared second place in the league with, behind Aspen.
The teams played neck-and-neck throughout the game, and entering the final period Cedaredge enjoyed a 41-40 advantage. Down the stretch, Cedaredge sank crucial foul shots to hold Basalt off in the 60-54 win.
Mulcahy and forward Daniel Martinez led Basalt with 15 points each, followed by Lutzeier with 10.
“It was a tough weekend for us,” coach Paul Cain said. “We’ll have to wait and see where this leaves us in the standings.”
The losses dropped Basalt to 5-4 in league, 11-7 overall.
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