Hoops: Amador 3 lifts Aspen over Sailors | AspenTimes.com

Hoops: Amador 3 lifts Aspen over Sailors

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN – There was no way Daniel Amador was going to pass up this shot.

The Aspen High sophomore desperately was looking to redeem himself after committing an ill-advised foul in the waning moments of Friday’s tense non-conference hoops clash with visiting Steamboat Springs. He was given an opportunity with about 5 seconds remaining in regulation, when, with the Skiers trailing by two, he found himself with a clean look at a 3-pointer from the wing.

“I knew I made a big mistake, but I kept my head high,” Amador said. “I wanted to get it back somehow.”

He drained the 3, sending the bench into a frenzy and giving his squad a one-point lead with 3.9 seconds to play. After Sailors forward Kit Croop’s last-second heave bounded off the rim and the buzzer sounded, the Skiers finally could celebrate a 48-47 victory – their first in three games this season.

“Give Daniel a lot of credit. In the beginning of the season, even this summer, he would’ve hung his head after making a mistake like that,” Aspen head coach Steve Ketchum said. “Instead, he turns around and scores the game winner. … I couldn’t be prouder right now.”

Had they made their free throws down the stretch, the Skiers likely would’ve secured this win much sooner; both Clayton Crawford and Trent Lichtenwalter missed the front ends of one-and-ones in the final minute in a tie game.

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Steamboat pulled down a rebound and called a timeout with 25 seconds remaining to diagram one final play.

Amador bailed the Sailors out, fouling Justin Ditter near mid-court three seconds after the ball was inbounded.

“That was a young sophomore, never-played-varsity-in-my-life mistake. It was just a space-out moment,” Ketchum said. “I told them to deny everything and play great one-on-one defense. He tried to reach around and pick him for some reason.”

Ditter calmly sank two free throws, giving the Sailors a 47-45 advantage.

Aspen pushed the ball up court and called a timeout.

Guard Quinn Morehead, playing his first game of the season, controlled the inbound and looked to set things up at the top of the key. But when Steamboat extended its defense and swarmed the ball, the senior picked up his dribble and anxiously scanned the floor for an open teammate.

He spotted Amador.

“I really wasn’t that open, but he lobbed it over a defender to me,” said Amador, who finished with eight points. “[Lichtenwalter] was posting up on the block and was wide open … but I wanted that shot really bad.”

Added Ketchum: “They were in man-to-man but switched to zone, and our kids wanted to run the dunk play for Austin [Roark]. The defensive pressure was a little too great, though, and when they came too far out they left Daniel in the corner. Quinn found him, and Daniel busted the biggest shot of his life.”

The dramatic sequence was a fitting end to what was a thrilling, back-and-forth tussle. Aspen led by seven after the first, but could muster just one field goal and four points during the second quarter. They led, 20-19, at the break.

“We were still up one, so we were doing something right,” Ketchum said. “Our defensive effort is getting better. Trust me, it’s going to get a lot better.”

The two sides shared the lead twice during a third quarter in which the home team led by as many as six. The Sailors’ Carter Kounovsky kept things close with two clutch 3-pointers, however, and Aspen led by just one heading into the final frame.

Morehead finished with 14 and Roark added 13 points for the Skiers, who host Glenwood Springs at 4 p.m. Saturday in their final game before the holiday break.

“We beat a quality club tonight,” Ketchum said. “I think we’re getting better and getting ready for league. That’s the whole idea.”

Aspen bottled up Steamboat Springs in the half-court with stout zone defense. Once it allowed the Sailors to get out and run, however, the home team could not keep pace.

Opportunistic Steamboat jumped out to an 8-2 lead after four minutes, led by nine at the break and steadily pulled away in the second half, handing the Skiers their first loss in four games this season.

“They pushed the ball well, and at times we gave them the ball,” Aspen head coach Jeremy Haack said. “We have to do a better job of taking care of the ball and preventing those opportunities for them.”

Sydney Bauknecht nailed two wide-open 3s and teammate Alex Feeley picked off a pass and scored in transition in the final minute of the first quarter, helping the Sailors turn a one-point lead into a

17-8 advantage after the first quarter. The duo combined for 28 points in the game.

The Skiers could not trim their deficit during a second quarter in which they struggled mightily on offense.

“We did struggle to find shots and did miss a few easy ones around the basket,” Haack said. “Make those, and it could’ve been a little different game.”

Bailey Everhart gave Aspen life in the first minute of the third, twice converting in the lane to pull the Skiers to within five at 25-20. The Sailors responded with an

8-2 run, however, fueled by five clutch points from Feeley. They were never tested from there.

Everhart finished with a game-high 17 points for Aspen, which hosts Glenwood Springs at 2:30 p.m. Saturday.

“I think this is a good learning experience for us. We’ll be playing tough teams down the road,” Haack said. “We’ll learn and grow from this. We’ll keep competing.”

jmaletz@aspentimes.com