BHS wins District title |

BHS wins District title

Ben Husband

GRAND JUNCTION – The Basalt High School boys’ basketball team began the Class 3A District Tournament in unfamiliar territory.

But the Longhorns finished in familiar territory.

In the meantime, the Aspen High School boys’ basketball team again suffered the pain of yet another defeat at the hands of their rivals.

The Longhorns, who began the District tourney as the fifth seed, defeated Aspen (No. 2 seed) 52-34 in the championship game at Central High School Saturday night to win their second consecutive District title and their third trip to the Class 3A Regionals.

For the Skiers, who advanced to the championship game with a 56-38 win over third-seeded Olathe Friday, it was their first District title game after a near-superb season.

The Longhorns advanced to the championship game with a 61-48 upset win over top-seeded Eagle Valley in Friday’s semifinal game.

Basalt, seeded No. 5 among the 16 teams in the Regionals, will host No. 12 Burlington (16-6) on Friday or Saturday.

Aspen, seeded No. 11, will travel to Del Norte, the No. 6 seed.

The winners will advance to the 3A High School State Basketball Championships at Clune Arena at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs beginning March 4.

In the championship, Basalt senior Sean Koutsakis led all scorers with 19 points, including five 3-pointers.

Koutsakis scored 16 points in the second half – 11 in the third period to help give the Longhorns a 36-19 lead heading into the final period.

Aspen was led by senior Ryan Kerr’s 14 points.

Kerr opened the final period with a scoring frenzy as he hit for 13 straight points that included four 3-pointers.

But his heroics came too late as the damage was already done.

“This feels awesome,” said Basalt’s senior point guard Rodney Crawford. “We’ve got one more weekend to go, so it isn’t over yet.”

Entering Districts with three league losses and having to climb their way back to the top was an act of teamwork, Crawford said.

“We just all pulled together,” he said. “Our bench came up for us big in this tournament and right now, we are just on a roll and we’ve got our goals set high.”

Longhorn coach Bill Crowley said the win “feels great,” but he also said that the team goal is “so much bigger than winning Districts.”

“We are just focused on what we want to do and that’s reaching that State Tournament,” Crowley added.

The last two years, Basalt has suffered losses on the doorstep of the State Tournament losing to Centauri in 1997 and to Denver Christian last year.

“This is without question the hardest step for us in the last two years,” Crowley said.

Getting over the Regional hump will have to come from “experience.”

“We’ve been down this road,” Crowley said. “And we are focused on what we are going to do – we’re all excited for this next step and our focus is definitely in the future.”

Aspen first-year coach Steve Ketchum, who guided the Skiers to a 15-6 record, said his team has nothing to be ashamed of.

“These kids shouldn’t be upset about anything,” he said. “They’re bummed out because they lost to Basalt – they gave a great effort and they worked hard.”

Aspen, which began the game in a delayed offense to look for the wide open shot, had trouble connecting all night.

“We couldn’t hit anything,” Ketchum said. “That’s the end of the story – our shots weren’t going in.

“But it’s over with,” he continued, “the only thing that is important to us now is getting to state and we are going to go into practice and build on the thing we already know how to do.” Another tough break for Aspen For Aspen, losing in general was tough to swallow.

“I’m not sure if it’s because we lost to Basalt,” said Skiers senior team captain Lucas Farrell. “You always want to win and have that first-place trophy.

“And you want to go into Regionals with the momentum of a win,” he added.

“But we’re still here,” Farrell said. “We’re still the same team and if we maintain our focus and go into Regionals with concentration then we’ll do fine.”

The Longhorns, who defeated Aspen three times this year, haven’t lost to the Skiers since Farrell’s freshman season.

“For me, ” Farrell continued, “it just hurts personally because we’ve never beaten these guys [Basalt]. I thought we had one more chance, but it didn’t work out.”

“I don’t know what it is,” Crawford said. “They are a very good team and we have a lot of respect for them and every time we play them, we know that we are going to get their best, but in turn, we give them our best.

“We’ve always liked playing against them,” Crawford continued, “We are all close friends and it’s like playing a pick-up game – but we just have their number.”

Crowley said, “It may be more of a mental edge than anything.

“They are a very good basketball team and I’m not taking anything away from them as players,” he said. “And for the seniors, it may have been their last chance.”

The only way Aspen and Basalt can face each other again would be in the State Tournament. And Crowley said he “would welcome that challenge, too.”

For more on Basalt’s championship run including its big win over Eagle Valley, see Friday’s Aspen Times Weekly sports section.

Above: Basalt senior Sean Koutsakis and his Longhorn teammates are District champs for the second consecutive year. Todd Bennett photo.

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