Hoops: Aspen boys outlast Meeker in opener | AspenTimes.com

Hoops: Aspen boys outlast Meeker in opener

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Rustin Gudim/The Aspen TimesSkiers junior Jake Nugent skies to grab a rebound during Friday's game against

ASPEN – Bridger Dawson pulled his jersey over his head as he walked to the sideline.

Aspen’s star shined in Friday’s basketball season opener against 2A Meeker, scoring 23 points in limited duty. But with 4 minutes, 42 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, and his team clinging to a four-point lead, Dawson was whistled for his fifth foul.

“That was really scary,” Skiers head coach Steve Ketchum admitted. “Your best scorer is out the game, your leader. What a great test for everybody else.”

Dawson’s teammates were up to the challenge on this night. They showed poise down the stretch, took care of the ball and hit some key baskets and free throws to propel new-look Aspen to a 54-47 victory.

“It was almost as if the other players said, ‘Wow, let’s get it going. We have to do it now,'” Ketchum said. “They played much better as a group without [Dawson] on the floor.”

That group, consisting largely of unproven players who were suiting up for junior varsity this time last season, appeared timid for the first three-plus quarters against the Cowboys. They seemed reluctant to shoot and content to stand and watch Dawson operate on both the perimeter and in the post.

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The 6-foot-8 senior scored all eight of his team’s points during a lackluster second quarter and 19 of Aspen’s first 32 through three quarters. The Skiers trailed by one heading into the final frame.

After exchanging the lead four times early in the fourth, Dawson shook free underneath for an easy lay-up to give Aspen a 38-37 advantage. On the Skiers’ next offensive possession, junior Quinn Morehead drilled a 3-pointer from the wing to stretch the lead to four.

Dawson fouled out moments later. Looks of concern abounded on the home bench and in the stands.

Aspen looked comfortable on the court, however. Point guard James Powell sank two free throws, then Mike Schwartz converted 1-of-2 from the charity stripe to give the Skiers a 44-37 cushion.

Meeker guard Trey Morris nailed a 3 to trim the Cowboys’ deficit to four, but Aspen answered right back. Morehead sprinted up court and hit Jake Nugent in stride with a perfect bounce pass, setting up an uncontested lay-up.

Soon after, Nugent scored underneath once more to put the Skiers ahead, 48-41, with little more than 90 seconds to play. The junior finished with 11 points.

Aspen went 6-of-8 from the line in the final 1:20 to seal the win.

“I’m proud of the kids. They made some adjustments and listened to the coaches at halftime,” Ketchum said. “There were some first-game jitters, tension and not a great amount of confidence. But as the game went on, you could see some players start to figure some things out.”

The Skiers host Eagle Valley at 5:30 p.m. Saturday.

ASPEN – Aspen was erratic for much of Friday’s season opener against 4A Battle Mountain. But with the game on the line in the fourth quarter, the Skiers took control.

Junior Bailey Everhart scored off the glass in the opening minute of the final frame, sparking a 9-0 Aspen run that blew open what was a four-point game. The Skiers outscored the Huskies 12-3 in the final quarter and cruised to a 35-21 win.

“It’s the first game of the season and everybody was a little nervous,” Aspen head coach Jeremy Haack said. “I thought we came out in that second half and really calmed down. We played much better defense and just played a lot smarter.”

The Skiers jumped out to a 10-3 lead after the first quarter on the strength of opportunistic and suffocating defense as well as strong play in the paint. Battle Mountain could muster just one field goal in the first – it came with 1 minute, 40 seconds remaining.

This seesaw battle shifted the Huskies’ way in the second quarter. While Battle Mountain players found their shooting strokes, Aspen went cold. It settled for just three free throws in the quarter and a 13-11 halftime lead.

After trading baskets for much of the third quarter, the Skiers hit their stride in the fourth. Everhart and Jonelle Berklund – Aspen’s lone returning starters – keyed the late run, scoring nine straight at one point. The duo finished with 23 combined points.

“This is a great win for the girls. They played really hard tonight,” Haack said. “The girls know we can get better. One down, 18 more to go.”

The Skiers host Eagle Valley at 4 p.m. Saturday.

jmaletz@aspentimes.com