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Comeback win sends Aspen to State

Todd Hartley

Pack your bags for Colorado Springs, the Aspen girls are headed to State!

The Aspen High School girls basketball team advanced to the State Tournament with a come-from-behind 55-48 win over Erie Saturday evening in a 3A Regional championship matchup at the Aspen Skierdome, but the Skiers needed one heck of a fourth quarter to do it.

“That was a huge fourth quarter,” said Aspen coach Lance Finkbeiner. “All five players on the floor contributed.”

Aspen trailed the Tigers 41-34 after three quarters but responded down the stretch to outscore Erie by 14 in the final frame and secure the win.

Kelli Dangler hit a 15-foot jumper to open the fourth and then scored off an offensive rebound the next time down the court to cut the Erie lead to four, and then, with 6:30 to play, Ellen Falender nailed a 3-point shot to tie the game.

The Tigers briefly regained the lead when Rachel Wiebeck converted a free throw, but a Marta Losonczy jumper from 14 feet gave the Skiers a lead they would not relinquish.

The Skiers pushed the lead to three points on a six-foot turnaround jumper by Losonczy, but Erie answered right back with a layup by Vernetta Vernon off an offensive rebound.

With the Skiers leading by one, Jennifer Snook hit a running shot in the lane to make the score 47-44 with 3:07 to play, but Megan Langerak hit two free throws for the Tigers to once again cut the Aspen advantage to one point.

Following a defensive stop, Erie had a chance to take the lead, but Losonczy drew a charge on the Tigers’ Cristen Cleland to give the ball back to Aspen with 2:42 left to play.

At the other end of the floor, Vernon picked up her fifth foul of the game against Aspen’s Jill Evans, who converted both free throws to make the score 49-46, and then Falender came up with a steal at midcourt and an uncontested layup to push the Skiers’ lead to five points with 2:10 to play.

Evans would add two more foul shots and Falender would score on a layup to account for the final margin of victory.

“Looking back, I was thinking about what was the biggest play of the game,” said Finkbeiner.

“Kelli’s putback, Jen’s runner in the lane, Jill’s free throws, Marta taking that charge, Ellen’s steal and the layup, they were all huge.”

Playing before a packed and partisan house, the Skiers started the game ice-cold from the field and fell behind 19-8 after the first quarter.

They would cut that deficit to 29-24 at halftime and then pull within one point of the Tigers with 3:30 to play in the third on a 3-pointer and a baseline turnaround by Losonczy.

But Erie ended the quarter on a 6-0 run to take a seven-point lead into the fourth.

“It’s not that we played horrible,” said Finkbeiner.

“Our shots just didn’t fall. We just played our normal game in the second half and gradually hit a shot or two and gained some confidence.”

Losonczy led the way for the Skiers (21-1) with 21 points, including a pair of 3-pointers.

Evans finished with 12 points, Falender had 11, and Dangler scored eight for the Skiers, who will now head for the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs for next weekend’s State Tournament. Aspen, the No. 5 seed, will open the tourney at 8:45 a.m. Thursday against No. 4 Colorado Springs Christian (20-0).

Erie (14-9) got 15 points from Vernon before she fouled out. Cleland scored 11, Wiebeck had nine, and Langerak, the Tigers’ best player, was limited to eight points by some standout defense courtesy of Snook and Falender. Langerak scored two early three-pointers in Erie’s big first quarter outburst but was held to just two free throws the rest of the way.

“We finally stepped up the defense,” said Finkbeiner, “and then we started converting on offense.”

Though the game was a little too close for comfort, Finkbeiner thinks the experience will help the Skiers as they join the other seven remaining teams for next weekend’s tourney.

“In the long run, that pressure was great for us,” he said.

“We’ll be in close games at State, and this game sort of put us in our place.

“But that was a fun fourth quarter,” he added. “Man, what a night.”

What a night indeed.


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