Longhorns stop AHS in girls’ showdown
Coming into Saturday’s showdown in the finals of the Clay Belk Memorial Tournament, it was hard not to notice the similarities between the Basalt High School and Aspen High School girls basketball teams.
Both were 3-0, having rolled to easy wins in their games last weekend, and both had dominated the opposition in their semifinal games. Aspen topped Kent Denver 59-30 and Basalt crushed Ridgway 75-16.
So when these two talented squads faced each other in the title game, there was a special atmosphere pervading the Big House, Basalt High’s gym.
“Aspen’s tough,” said Basalt coach Debbie Cain. “We knew it would be a great game.”
The two teams kept up their end of the bargain, waging a thrilling battle on the hardwood that the Longhorns eventually won 56-45.
“It was tight all game,” said Cain. “We were fortunate to win.”
Basalt got 18 points from Kelli Corrigan and 10 from Stephanie Kemp and played spectacular defense the whole game, but it wasn’t until a fourth-quarter 3-point basket by Kate LaMaster with 4:25 left that the Longhorns were able to breathe easy.
LaMaster’s 3-pointer ignited a 9-0 run that put Basalt up 51-41 with just 1:29 to play and effectively ended Aspen’s chances for a comeback. Prior to that, the Skiers had cut Basalt’s lead to a single point.
Aspen, which had thrived on a tenacious, trapping defense in its first three contests, had a lot of trouble solving Basalt’s full-court press and commited 14 turnovers in the first half, compared to just five for the Longhorns.
“I thought we were prepared,” said Aspen coach Lance Finkbeiner. “We knew they’d press, and we practiced for it all week, but we just didn’t handle it.”
“We don’t have a lot in size,” said Cain of her Longhorns and their defensive effort. “We have to play to our strengths, and we’re quick, so we know we have to use that.”
Aspen’s Marta Losonczy and Jill Evans each hit a 3-pointer in the early going to stake Aspen to a 6-1 lead, but behind their swarming defense and the rugged play of Corrigan in the low post, the Longhorns fought back to knot the score at 13-13 at the end of the first quarter.
Basalt took the lead in the second quarter with Ambere Cunningham doing a great job of getting the ball to her open teammates, and at halftime, the Longhorns held a 29-23 edge.
Cain called off the press to open the third quarter, and Aspen responded by surging to a 31-30 lead with 4:40 left in the period, but five straight points from Corrigan put Basalt back on top, and when the Longhorns resumed their full-court press they were able to push their lead to 40-35 after three quarters.
Rebecca Anderson, Aspen’s 6-foot-3 center, began the fourth quarter with a turnaround jumper and a putback of her own miss to make the score 42-41, but minutes later she fouled out and Basalt went on its big run to put the game out of reach.
The Skiers were paced by Evans, who scored 14 points in the loss. Anderson had 12 before fouling out, and Losonczy had 11.
LaMaster had nine points in Basalt’s balanced scoring attack, and Cunningham and Heather Kappeli scored eight apiece.
In Basalt’s semifinal win over Ridgway, every player on the Longhorns’ roster scored, with Megan Macuen leading the way with 13 points. LaMaster had nine points, Molly McGrath scored eight, and Lauren Vagneur, Ingrid Brucker, Kemp and Briana Pederson each had six points.
Kelli Dangler had 14 points and 14 rebounds in Aspen’s victory Friday over Kent Denver. Evans had 10 points and 10 rebounds, Anderson scored 11 points, Losonczy had nine, and Ellen Falender picked up eight points for the Skiers in a game in which they played some of their best basketball yet, according to Finkbeiner.
“It was the first time we’ve played spurts where I was pleased with all aspects,” he said. “It was some of our best moments of the year so far.”
Corrigan and Kemp highlighted the all-tournament team, which also included Aspen’s Evans and Losonczy and Gigi Teague of Kent Denver.
Next up for the 3-1 Skiers will be a home game against Grand Valley at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 16. Basalt, now 4-0, will lock horns with Glenwood Springs at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 17.
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