Despite state showing, Aspen proud of season | AspenTimes.com

Despite state showing, Aspen proud of season

Jennifer Davoren
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Aspen Skiers Brett Mufson goes low to get around Denver Christian's Ben Kurtz in Thursday night action at The Colorado State Basketball Championships at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, CO. The Skiers lost the game 44- 51. Jacob n. Ware photo.

The Aspen High School boys were bounced from the Class 3A state basketball tournament on Friday in a 61-52 loss to league rival Eagle Valley at Air Force Academy near Colorado Springs.

The loss was the second in a row for the Skiers. The team’s hopes of upsetting No. 1 seed Denver Christian fell short Thursday night in the first round of the tournament. AHS lost the first-round contest 51-44, moving them to the tournament’s “consolation” bracket to fight for the 3A fifth-place title.

The game was also AHS’s second loss to Eagle Valley this season. The Skiers pulled out a one-point victory in an early-season meeting, but the Devils routed Aspen during a game in Gypsum in January.

Aspen entered Friday’s game with high hopes – junior Josh Lackey put the Skiers on the board first – but the Devils managed an early lead and held it for the rest of the afternoon. Eagle Valley, behind the 3-point prowess of senior Micah Bernhardt and junior Justin Wood, took an early 17-15 lead in the first that they stretched to 31-21 by the half.

Eagle Valley made a late bucket to seal a 46-38 lead in the third, but AHS managed to overcome shooting troubles in the fourth quarter to give the Devils a scare. The Skiers’ attempt at a comeback proved to be too late. Though shots by junior Nick Farrell moved AHS to within five points of Eagle Valley, 57-52, with 1:26 left in the half, Eagle Valley managed two jump shots in the game’s last 30 seconds to claim the 61-52 victory.

High scorers for Friday’s game included Farrell with 17 points, with three 3-point buckets, followed by Lackey with 11 points (also with three 3’s). Junior Zac Paris and Aspen’s lone senior, Jeff Brence, added seven points apiece. Juniors Phil Salazar and Brett Mufson and sophomore Moss Schermerhorn also got on the scoreboard for AHS on Friday.

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Eagle Valley lost the consolation championship title on Saturday to Weld Central 62-45.

The weekend didn’t end well for the Skiers, but coach Steve Ketchum still celebrated the season. After all, AHS finished 21-5, the best record in team history. No Aspen team has ever racked up 20 wins in a single season, and Ketchum cites the Skiers’ invitation to the “Big Dance” as accomplishment enough.

“I’m extremely proud of these guys,” Ketchum said Sunday after the team returned to Aspen. “It’s a freaking miracle we got where we did. No way I thought we were going to win 20 games this year. It’s a credit to their hard work and teamwork. I’m extremely impressed with their achievement. I don’t think anybody expected us to get to state this year.”

Paris agreed, reporting that the team left Colorado Springs on Sunday feeling proud of their pre-tournament record.

“Before the year started we knew we wanted to go to states, but we didn’t know if we could make it,” Paris said. “We have the best record in school history. It’s been a good year overall – we’re happy about the season – just kind of disappointed about our showing at state.”

Though the team lost an early game that cut short its run for a championship, the loss was to the top seed in the tourney and last season’s No. 2 team in the state.

“We gave Denver Christian a heck of a run,” Ketchum said. “I was so proud of our start when we jumped out to that 7-0 lead. … Afterward, the Denver Christian coach came up to me and said, ‘That’s the toughest game we’ve had this year. I can’t even imagine how you guys could have lost to Cedaredge [earlier in the season].'”

As for the Eagle Valley game, the Devils are known for giving the Skiers a run for their money, Ketchum said.

“We have traditionally really struggled against Eagle Valley,” Ketchum said. “They’re just a more aggressive team that plays harder and plays more kids than we do. We were right there after the first quarter, but then we just went cold as ice.”

The Skiers stayed on after their Friday evening loss to watch the semifinal and final rounds of the tournament, hopefully, Ketchum said, in anticipation of next year.

“I think the pressure’s really on next year,” Ketchum said. “People from other schools who watched us play are expecting us back. They saw a junior-dominated varsity basketball squad. The problem is going to be Jeff Brence, the player of the year; he’s going to be hard to replace. What we’ve got to do is have everybody else in our program want to be back so bad that they can taste it and it motivates them every day. Hopefully we will be back at state once again, but it’s going to be up to them.”