Basalt High girls basketball bounces toward league title |

Basalt High girls basketball bounces toward league title

Tim Mutrie

While the Basalt High girls basketball team edged closer to clinching the Class 3A Western Slope League championship, the Aspen High girls hoops team slipped from first to third in league standings.

Basalt downed Cedaredge 42-26 Friday night and then knocked off rival Aspen 43-26 in an emotionally charged contest Saturday. With the wins, Basalt improved to 9-0 in league play, 17-1 overall, and emerged as the uncontested No. 1 team in the league.

Aspen, the only other unbeaten team in the league entering the weekend, dropped two games – to Roaring Fork Friday and then Basalt – to slip from first in the league, tied with Basalt, to third, behind Roaring Fork and Basalt.

“At this time last year, Aspen and Basalt were both undefeated in league games and they got us,” said Basalt coach Debbie Cain. “This time we got them. It was exciting for our girls.”

Against Cedaredge (2-6, 10-7) Friday, Basalt led throughout the contest. Basalt senior Heather Kappeli led the Longhorns with 17 points en route to the 42-26 win. Junior Stephanie Kemp added 10 points.

Meanwhile on Friday, Aspen traveled to Roaring Fork (7-1, 11-5) a team that suffered its only league loss to Basalt a week earlier. Roaring Fork’s defense limited Aspen to just 11 points in the first half, while junior point guard Emily Markham and senior center Ren Udall led the Rams’ offense to 25 points in the half.

Roaring Fork increased its lead to 39-22 after the third eight-minute quarter and then slowed the pace of the game in the final period to withstand Aspen’s efforts to rally back.

In a fitting conclusion, Markham, who finished with 27 points, sank a jumper at the buzzer to give the Rams a 53-33 win. Udall added 13 points for Roaring Fork.

Aspen center Lizzie Suiter led Aspen with 11 points.

“Emily [Markham] was hitting her outside shots, and that freed up Ren [Udall] inside,” said Roaring Fork coach Joe Markham, who’s also Emily’s father.

“They’re a great team,” added Aspen coach Lance Finkbeiner, “but they couldn’t have played better. Did Markham miss a shot?”

The loss spoiled the so-called battle of the unbeatens when Basalt and Aspen met Saturday.

Aspen came out strong with two straight 3-pointers by senior Cory Reno early in the first period. Aspen finished the quarter with nine points, thanks to another Reno three, while Basalt gathered 12 points. Aggressive defense limited Aspen’s low-post opportunities, while Basalt drew scoring from point guard Molly McGrath and senior Heather Kappeli.

Basalt stretched its lead to seven at the half and maintained that advantage heading into the final quarter with a 29-22 lead. Controlling the clock and the pace of the game, Basalt worked for good shots and ran away with the game for a 43-26 win.

McGrath led Basalt with 11 points, followed by Lauren Redfern with 10, Heather Kappeli with 9 and Megan Macuen with 6.

“Stephanie Kemp had a great game defensively,” Basalt coach Debbie Cain said. “We wanted to totally deny [Aspen’s leading scorer] Lizzie Suiter the ball, and when she got it, we wanted to collapse on her. Stephanie and Heather [Kappeli] did a good job of that, because that was our game plan: stop Lizzie in the low post.”

Basalt’s defense limited Suiter to 4 points. Reno added 11 points, including the three 3-pointers that accounted for all of Aspen’s nine first-quarter points. Senior point guard Ellen Falender added 6 points.

“It was tough; they never let up,” said Falender, who leads Colorado’s Class 3A in assists and steals. “You always expect that. We just didn’t have it at all. Now we really know what we need to do.”

“They have one of the toughest defenses in the state, and they did a great job,” said Aspen coach Finkbeiner. “Our defense was fine; we held them in the 30s, aside from the fouling at the end. We just didn’t score. Stagnant offense, that was our problem, and that was our problem against Roaring Fork.”

Basalt finishes its league schedule Friday at Eagle Valley, 4-3, 7-9. If Basalt wins, it will clinch the 3A Western Slope championship for the first time since the late ’80s and collect the No. 1 seed for the the district tournament, which begins Feb. 20.

Aspen travels to Olathe (2-4, 6-6) Friday and then hosts Gunnison (5-1, 8-7) on Saturday.

“Sometimes you learn more from a loss,” said Finkbeiner, “and I’d rather that happen now than in the playoffs. The bright side is we know we can beat [Basalt and Roaring Fork], but the bottom line is we didn’t. I look forward to playing them again.”

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