La Junta’s late basket beats AHS boys 66-65
One point. That’s all that separated the Aspen High School boys basketball team from a return trip to the State Tournament. One measly point.
What coach Steve Ketchum termed a “great season” for the Skiers, the state’s No. 10-seeded team, came to an unfortunate end last Saturday at No. 7 La Junta with a 66-65 loss to the Tigers in a Class 3A Regional championship game when La Junta hit a 15-foot jump shot with two seconds remaining to take its first lead of the game and ice the tension-filled win over Aspen.
The Skiers led the game the entire way and could have wrapped up the victory in the fourth quarter, but with La Junta resorting to fouling Aspen down the stretch, the Skiers connected on just 8-of-17 free throws in the final period and let the Tigers sneak back into the game.
“We talked about free throws before the game,” said Ketchum. “But I don’t think the kids were ready for 2,000 screaming fans every time they stepped to the line. It was a fabulous crowd. They were screaming like crazy.”
Aspen ran out to a 15-point advantage midway through the second quarter and seemed to have the game well in hand, but then star power forward Robert Tomaszek picked up his fourth foul and went to the bench. La Junta responded to the absence of Tomaszek to end the first half on a 13-0 run to cut Aspen’s halftime lead down to just two points.
The Skiers would build the lead back up to seven points in the fourth quarter before the Tigers started fouling.
“They put us on the line over and over again, and we just didn’t convert,” said Ketchum. “And La Junta hit just about every free throw.”
With less than a minute to play and the game tied at 64, Tomaszek was fouled and converted 1-of-2 free throw attempts to give Aspen a one-point edge. The Tigers inbounded and were met with good defense from the Skiers.
“It looked like they wouldn’t get a shot off,” said Ketchum.
But with just a few ticks left on the clock, the Tigers threaded a pass to an open man near the free-throw line, and he buried the shot with two seconds to play to put La Junta ahead. Aspen tried to get off one last shot but was unsuccessful.
In his final game in a Skiers uniform, senior guard and co-captain Corey Robinson, the lone holdover from last year’s state-qualifying team, played “one of his better games of the year,” according to Ketchum, and finished with 15 points, including four 3-pointers.
Tomaszek, another senior and co-captain, paced the Aspen offense with 19 points. Sophomore forward Jeff Brence had “a huge game,” scoring 15 points for the Skiers. Freshman point guard Nick Farrell had seven points, all in the second half, and junior guard Duncan Delano finished with nine points, including two 3-pointers.
But the bottom line, said Ketchum, was “if we hit our free throws, it’s game over. It would have been a double-digit win for us. We didn’t do what we had to do to win.”
La Junta was led in scoring by Aaron Swan and Ken Lewis, who finished with 16 points apiece. Leonard Tafoya chipped in 13 in the win, Josiah Baker finished with nine, and Jeff Sisson scored eight.
The loss to end the season leaves Aspen with a 17-6 record while La Junta (16-6) will advance to the State Tournament next weekend in Colorado Springs.
“It was a great year for these kids,” said Ketchum. “Despite the disappointing finish, I’m extremely proud of the whole team.”
In other boys 3A Regional action, No. 16 seed Roaring Fork fell to No. 1 Weld Central 71-54 Saturday in Keenesburg.
Following a long road trip and playing in a hostile environment, the Rams got off to a slow start and trailed 36-11 at halftime. Roaring Fork rebounded to outscore the Rebels 43-35 in the second half, but it wasn’t enough as Weld held on for the victory and moved on to the State Tournament.
Roaring Fork (14-9) was led by 22 points from Kris Fahrenkrug. Juan Quintero scored 11 for the Rams.
Derek Baumgartner led four Rebels in double figures with his 27 points. Tim Sirios scored 13, and Niko Sirios finished with 11. With the victory, Weld Central ran its record to 22-1 on the season.
Other State Tournament qualifiers in boys 3A include Pagosa Springs (59-52 winners at Eagle Valley), Buena Vista, Monte Vista, Eaton, Highland and Kent Denver.
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