Skiers headed to ‘big dance’
The Aspen High School boys basketball team made school history Saturday when they earned themselves a spot at the State Tournament. The Skiers pounded the Del Norte Tigers 70-58 to advance to the 3A High School Basketball State Championships that begin Thursday at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. It will be Aspen’s first appearance at the state competition. “This is unbelievable,” said Andrew Smith, who fought off the pain of a badly bruised ankle to score 12 points. “This is the one moment we have all been thinking about all season long; it’s just incredible.” It was the first time Smith had been in a game in almost four weeks. And every step of the way to victory was filled with agony from his injured ankle. “I was amazed that I was able to go out and do so well,” he said. “I don’t see how I was able to. My foot didn’t feel good.” Aspen, which earned the eighth seed in the State Tournament, will play top-seeded Buena Vista in the first round at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at Clune Arena. Buena Vista has been one of the top-ranked teams in Class 3A all season long. A dream come true “I’m still shocked,” said senior guard Lucas Farrell. “I just froze when the buzzer went off. I looked up at the clock and then saw my mom crying and I started freaking out. “This is something that we wanted so bad and made it. We finally did it. This feels so good right now.” Before the season started each member of the Aspen team agreed that their goal would be to reach the state tournament. “This is unbelievable,” fellow senior Ryan Kerr added. “This was my main goal in my main sport. This is what I’ve wanted for the last three years, and it’s finally happened.” When the buzzer went off “I thought to myself, ‘We did it!’ ” said coach Steve Ketchum. “We made it to the big dance. The monkey was off our backs and the pressure of winning another big game was gone. “This was a truly celebrated win for this team.” A quick start Aspen jumped out to a 14-12 first quarter lead behind eight points from Farrell. Thanks to Smith’s nine in the second period and a 3-pointer at the buzzer from Kerr, Aspen held an 11-point advantage at halftime, 38-27. “I told them at halftime that we were 16 minutes away from the State Tournament,” Ketchum said. “The game was in our hands.” In the second half, Aspen went up by as many as 18 points behind aggressive defense and a powerful offense, led by Stefan Koenes with 18 points. Farrell added another 14 and Smith and Kerr each scored 12. Kerr connected for three 3-pointers. “We wanted to win,” Farrell said. “We knew that it was do-or-die and we didn’t want this to be our last game.” Farrell said that when Smith began to play “like he was before he was injured,” he felt victory was assured. “He was running faster than everybody else on the court,” he said. Fear in the final minutes The Skiers built an 18-point lead midway through the final period. But when it seemed the game was out of reach for Del Norte, the Tigers made a comeback attempt. Del Norte went on a scoring frenzy, cutting Aspen’s lead to just six with a minute left in regulation. “Of course there was some nervousness in the air,” Ketchum said. “But I knew that we were a good enough team to win this game even at that point. I kept telling the guys that we were going to win.” With just under a minute remaining, AHS senior point guard Harris Mufson was fouled, sending him to the free throw line. A Del Norte player was then given a technical foul for arguing with the referee about the call. Farrell hit both technical foul free throws, Mufson hit one of two and the Skiers scored another basket to go up 11 and put the game out of reach. “They handled the adversity,” Ketchum said. “To be able to keep your focus under that type of a pressure situation is a great tribute to this team.” When the game was over and everyone else was out of the gym, Smith sat in the bleachers and stared into space. “I was just thinking about how good it feels knowing that we are going to state,” he said. “We were talking about this before the season even started – this is just awesome.”
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