Aspen girls take second at state tourney
They’d been here before, these Skier girls: trailing their opponents on the scoreboard as the game headed to the final period of play. After all, they had been down by as many as seven points going into the fourth quarter in each of their three previous basketball playoff games and had come back to win them all.
So now, on the short end of a 28-22 score with eight minutes to play in the championship game of the State 3A Basketball Tournament, the Aspen girls, along with most of the sizable crowd packing Clune Arena at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, had to figure they had the Faith Christian Lions right where they wanted them.
But some ferocious defense by the Lions, combined with a number of missed opportunities by Aspen, limited the Skiers to just four points the rest of the way, and Faith Christian pulled away for a 36-26 victory and a state title, ending the Skiers’ storybook season, the most successful in school history.
“I’m so proud of all the girls,” said Aspen coach Lance Finkbeiner. “It’s been an awesome season. We’re No. 2 in the state. There’s no reason to hang our heads.”
Finkbeiner’s pride was certainly merited for this senior-dominated crew that put together a magical, 23-2 campaign, but it was likely of little solace as, with 13.9 seconds remaining and the game’s outcome decided, Aspen’s second-teamers took the floor and the starters went to the bench for the final, painful moments of most of their basketball careers.
“Marta will probably go on to play college ball,” said Finkbeiner of his power forward, German exchange-student Marta Losonczy, “but for the rest of these girls, this was it. … It’s not the funnest way to end such a wonderful season.” Beatin’ Eaton For the first two games of the weekend, things had gone very well for Aspen.
The Skiers went on a 16-3 fourth-quarter run to erase a late three-point deficit and earn a 47-37 victory over Colorado Springs Christian in the quarterfinals Thursday morning, and then they came back from seven down in the semifinals to beat defending state-champ Eaton 35-33 and avenge a loss in the opening round of the 1998 State Tournament.
Aspen trailed the Reds 25-18 in the third quarter and were still down five headed to the fourth, but Losonczy started the frame with two layups off offensive rebounds and added a free throw to tie the score at 25 with 6:07 to play.
Following an Eaton timeout, Aspen grabbed the lead when Kelli Dangler scored on a running layup with 4:53 to play, but the Reds regained a 31-29 edge with 1:42 to go on a layup by forward Justine Anderson.
Aspen then switched to a trapping defense, forcing an Eaton turnover and tying the game 31-31 on an eight-foot turnaround jumper by Losonczy. But the Reds’ Anderson was fouled grabbing an offensive rebound with 37.1 seconds to play and made both free throws for a two-point Eaton lead.
On Aspen’s next trip down the floor, forward Jill Evans set up Losonczy for a six-foot jumper that tied the game 33-33. Eaton then came back and, with nine seconds left, put up a shot that came up short. Dangler pulled down the rebound for the Skiers, who quickly called time out.
With 8.8 seconds remaining, the Skiers inbounded the ball to Evans, who passed over the top of Eaton’s press to Ellen Falender. The junior point guard moved the ball up the court to Dangler, who looked for Losonczy. A crowd of Eaton defenders surrounded Losonczy, but Evans broke free on the opposite wing, and Dangler hit her in stride with a pass. Evans laid the ball in at the buzzer for a 35-33 Aspen lead and what seemed like a victory.
But the referees declared that Eaton had called timeout and put two seconds back on the clock, giving the Reds one last shot. However, Evans intercepted the half-court inbounds pass to preserve the win for Aspen.
“The game went our style,” said Finkbeiner after the semifinal victory. “We wanted to slow them down, and I think we did an excellent job getting out on their shooters.
“That’s what championships are about: defense,” he added, prophetically, as it would turn out.
“It wasn’t me,” said a modest Evans of her game-winning shot. “It was Kelli who made the pass. I just wanted to score.”
“I knew Marta would be doubled, and I knew Jill was on the opposite side,” said Dangler. “So I just lobbed it over. I knew Jill could make it.”
“Since they were shorter, our game plan was to get the ball in to the lane to Jill and Rebecca and me,” said Losonczy, who led all scorers with 19 points in the game, including nine in the decisive fourth quarter.
Evans finished with 10 points for Aspen, while Dangler scored four and senior center Rebecca Anderson had two.
Justine Anderson led the way for the Reds with 11 points. Val Koester had 10 and Allisa Thompson and Maggie Ledall scored four each. Too much Faith The semifinal victory set up the showdown with Faith Christian High School in the finals, and the momentum seemed to carry over into the first quarter for Aspen.
The Skiers got four early points from Dangler and ran out to a 9-4 lead before the Lions scored the last four points of the quarter to trail just 9-8 after one period.
Falender started the second quarter by driving to the hoop, getting fouled and sinking both free throws for a three-point Aspen edge, but then Faith Christian’s Wendi Dewey nailed a 3-pointer to tie the game and fire up the Faith fans, including the full band and squad of cheerleaders that made the trip south from Denver.
Losonczy quickly silenced the Lion faithful, however, with a 3-pointer of her own and a layup that gave Aspen a 16-11 edge. But then the Skiers got careless with the ball and Faith Christian went on a 7-0 tear to take an 18-16 lead at halftime.
The Lions built the lead to 22-16 early in the third quarter before Losonczy stopped the run with a 12-foot shot with 4:20 left in the period. Tellingly, considering the tight Faith Christian defense, Losonczy’s jumper was the first shot of the quarter for the Skiers.
Following a basket by the Lions’ Lindsey Satterfield, Losonczy was fouled scoring a layup and swished her free throw to make the score 24-21, but that was as close as Aspen would get. Despite a pressure defense that forced a number of turnovers, the Skiers managed just one foul shot the rest of the quarter to find themselves down 28-22 with eight minutes to go.
Faith Christian’s Jetta Weber started the fourth quarter with a 3-pointer to push the Lions’ lead to nine before the Aspen defense tightened up. The Skiers held Faith Christian scoreless for the next 5:17 but were only able to score two points themselves over the stretch.
The Skiers had their chances to cut into the lead, but first Dangler, then guard Jennifer Snook and then Falender missed key free throws.
Faith Christian pushed its advantage to 12 points on an old-fashioned three-point play and a layup by Rachael Grove that made the score 36-24 with just 40.3 seconds to play.
Dangler made two foul shots down the stretch to account for Aspen’s final points, but by then the Lions’ win was secured and the tears were just beginning to flow for the heartbroken Skiers.
Losonczy scored 13 points in the loss to pace the Aspen offense. Dangler and Falender each finished with six points, and Snook had one.
Faith Christian was led by Grove’s 11 points. Weber finished with eight, Satterfield scored six, and Dewey had five.
“The credit goes to [Faith Christian’s] defense,” said Finkbeiner. “We tried different things, but we just couldn’t get it rolling.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that we’re a better team than them, but they were better today.”
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Aspen teachers and school officials have come to an agreement regarding reopening in-person education Monday.