Aspen boys fall in semifinals
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
FORT COLLINS, Colo. ” Coach Steve Ketchum was helpless. His Skiers looked flustered and out of sorts ” and only three minutes had elapsed in Friday night’s 3A state tournament semifinal.
Top-seeded Faith Christian quickly made Aspen’s first trip to the Final Four a forgettable one. The efficient Eagles were flying high after jumping out to a 22-2 advantage after just one quarter at Moby Arena. A shocked Aspen squad couldn’t recover, and its hopes of a state title were dashed with a 52-34 loss.
While Faith Christian (25-1) advances to Saturday’s title game, Aspen (23-3) will tip off in the third-place game at 3:30 p.m.
“Give me a mulligan,” Ketchum said outside the locker room. “That was the best team we played all year, and we made them look good, too. … We played like it was our first time in the Final Four.”
Eagles senior guard Nick Gill caught Aspen off guard just seconds after the opening tip when he buried a 3-pointer, then drove by the defense for the easy lay-in. Senior center Jobi Wall asserted himself down low and from behind the arc, hitting three consecutive shots to stretch the lead to 16.
Four different Faith Christian starters scored before Cory Parker hit two free throws to put Aspen on the board with 17.9 seconds to play in the first.
And while its offense was clicking in both transition and the half court, Faith Christian’s defense was equally imposing.
“They came at us so hard it was helter skelter,” Ketchum said. “They trapped us in the half court, and we couldn’t run the sets we wanted. We had to freelance and have people make cuts. We didn’t do a good job.”
The Skiers didn’t hit their first field goal until one minute had elapsed in the second.
By then, they were trailing, 26-2.
“There were lots of nerves,” Parker said. “It’s one thing to be watching it, but once you put yourselves in that position, it’s something that experience helps with. … I’ve never been a part of something like that, digging such a big hole.”
Aspen settled down in the second quarter. Parker hit two 3-pointers and scored in traffic, and Brian Westerlind and Andrew Papenfus both hit jumpers. Despite outscoring the Eagles in the quarter, they still trailed, 33-14 at the break. Faith
Christian shot nearly 61 percent in the first 16 minutes.
“It takes four quarters to beat a good team, and kudos to Faith Christian. I have no doubt in my mind that they’ll get a win [today],” said Parker, who finished with 10 points, all coming in the first half. “We only competed for three.”
Faith Christian was content to slow down its offense and be very deliberate with the ball in the third quarter. Aspen’s offensive woes persisted; it hit just three field goals.
Aspen momentarily trimmed the lead to 16 when guard Matthew Holmes scored underneath on a pass from Parker.
Time simply wasn’t on the Skiers’ side, however, and, despite outscoring Faith Christian, 32-30, in the final three quarters, they could never overcome their flat start.
“You try to call timeouts, you try to get them relaxed and take the edge off. It didn’t matter,” Ketchum said of the first quarter. He called two timeouts in the game’s first five minutes to no avail. “To win the championship, you have to play mistake free.
Obviously, that wasn’t the case.”
Westerlind finished with six points and five rebounds, and Rittenhouse added eight for the Skiers. Second-leading scorer Michael Taylor was largely ineffective, scoring two points and attempting just one shot. Meanwhile, four different players scored eight or more points for the well-balanced Eagles, who last won the state title in 2002.
Gill led the way with a game-high 14.
While they were visibly deflated ” Taylor tried in vain to choke back tears and Parker buried his face in his jersey moments after the final buzzer ” the Skiers tried to remain upbeat, Ketchum said.
“I told then that they can still make their mark,” Ketchum said. “As far as the answer to the question about who’s the best team in school history, we can answer that [today].”
Parker took a more philosophical approach.
“I brought up this quote that says ‘When you shoot for the stars and fall short, you still hit the moon,'” Parker added. “We had such a high goal, but since that accomplishment fell short, we can still get that third-place trophy. That would be an amazing accomplishment for a group of boys from a ski town.”