Aspen boys hoops collects title after weekend sweep
In what was supposed to be a rebuilding year for Aspen High School boys basketball, a Skier team of young overachievers captured the Classs 3A Western Slope League Championship in front of a frenzied home crowd Saturday night.
With the 53-40 victory over Gunnison Saturday, a win over Olathe the night before, Aspen brought its regular season to a close in record fashion.
“This was our first undefeated season in school history, and we did it with a young team,” Aspen coach Steve Ketchum said. “I could not be prouder of this group of kids.”
AHS entered the weekend with an 8-0 league record. The only thing that stood in the way of the school’s best basketball season to date was a Friday night game at Olathe and Saturday’s home game against Gunnison.
Although Olathe has failed to win a league game all season, Ketchum took the game seriously.
“They’re a scary team. They’re really good at home, and they’ve lost a lot of close, close games,” he said.
Ketchum fears were almost realized as AHS struggled in the first quarter, leading by only two points at the start of the second quarter. Shooting was a major problem, but one the team was able to fix in the second half.
“We came out in the third quarter and just played phenomenal,” Ketchum said. “We played all the end of our bench and Olathe made a comeback and cut our lead to 20.”
In the 64-44 win, AHS junior Jeff Brence was the high scorer of the game with 16 points, followed by Nick Farrell with 14.
Gunnison arrived at the Skier Dome Saturday with hopes of dashing dreams of a perfect AHS season, and the Cowboys definitely put a scare into their opponents with a hard-fought first half.
Aspen had control at tipoff, but Gunnison led a fast first quarter, ending with 17 points to Aspen’s 8. The Skiers gained control, however, as senior Jared Kidd began second-quarter action with a fast-break bucket, quickly followed by two dunks and two 3-pointers. Gunnison had the last word in the first half with a buzzer-beating three-pointer, but Aspen had managed to pull ahead 30-24.
A rejuvenated Skier squad came back in the second half, driven by thoughts of impending tournaments, and increased their lead 42 to 33.
“We’re really a second-half team,” point guard Nick Farrell said. “We calmed down and came out with a great defense.”
“The third quarter has been our best all year,” he said. “We always seem to struggle in the first half.”
The second half was a wake-up call to the Skiers’s offense, as well, and the game ended in a 53-40 Aspen win.
Kidd led scoring with 22 points – shooting 5 for 7 from the field, and 4 for 6 from three-point land – and racked up four blocked shots.
“By far his highest production rating of the year,” Ketchum said.
Friday night’s leaders, Brence and Farrell, scored 16 and 10 respectively, and Farrell added nine assists and 13 rebounds.
“It was a big weekend, two big wins,” Kidd said.
AHS is now ready to focus on the district playoffs as the No. 1 Skiers take on the winner of Tuesday’s Rangely vs. Hotchkiss game at home at 7:30 p.m. Thursday. While the Skiers hope to continue their winning streak, the team’s league championship title has earned them an automatic trip to the regional tournament next month.
“The thing we want to concentrate on now is getting a home game for regionals,” Ketchum said.
Kidd said the AHS boys would be concentrating on just about every area of their game until the tournament.
“We’re going to be sharpening everything up,” he said.
No matter what the outcome of the post season, Ketchum said he is pleasantly surprised by Aspen’s finish, at 10-0 in league and 15-4 overall.
“If anyone had told me at the beginning of the season that we’d be 10-0, I would have taken that bet and laid down my life’s savings,” he said. “I’m proud of these kids. They’ve really surprised me. I still hardly believe it happened.”
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