After slow start, Aspen boys basketball dismantles Denver West in first round |

After slow start, Aspen boys basketball dismantles Denver West in first round

No. 3 seed Skiers will host No. 14 Englewood on Saturday night at 5 p.m. in the regional title game

Aspen High School senior Shae Korpela gets an easy basket in the first half against Denver West on Friday, March 4, 2022, inside the AHS gymnasium. AHS basketball rolled to a 65-26 win in the first round of the Class 3A state tournament.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

The big test is coming for the Aspen High School boys basketball team. It could come Saturday against Englewood, but it certainly didn’t come Friday against visiting Denver West in the first round of the Class 3A state tournament.

After getting the early jitters out, the No. 3-seeded Skiers kept their undefeated season alive and rolled to a 65-26 win over the No. 30-seeded Cowboys inside the lively AHS gymnasium.

“That definitely was going to be a little bit expected, having this type of crowd, these people here. It was going to take a few possessions to get these nerves out,” AHS coach Cory Parker said. “Sometimes they want to feel out who the other team is. We are trying to get away from that mentality. Just come out and just dictate. It took a little bit of extra time for them, but that’s OK. They responded well, I thought.”

Now 23-0 overall, Aspen moves on to the regional title game — or the state tournament’s round of 16 — where it will host No. 14 Englewood (16-5) on Saturday night (time was still to be determined as of Friday) in what will be the final home game of the season for AHS, win or lose. The Pirates played the early game on Friday night in Aspen, easily beating No. 19 Kent Denver in their first-round contest, 81-58.

UPDATE: Saturday’s game between Aspen and Englewood has been moved up to a 5 p.m. start time at the high school.

The winner of Saturday’s Aspen-Englewood game will head to Denver next week for the state quarterfinals, which are Thursday at the University of Denver’s Hamilton Gym. The semifinals are Friday, while the third-place game and state championship game are Saturday, March 12.

“They are hungry for it. They want it. They wanted to be tested, they want to be competed against. We’ll see. It will come soon enough,” Parker said of his players. “Englewood is a solid team. They are well coached and they have a solid 1-3-1 that they are active in. They are really athletic and they are springy, so we are going to have to be disciplined.”

After falling behind 2-0 against Denver West on Friday, the Skiers found little resistance outside of their own miscues. Aspen only led 12-7 after the first quarter but by halftime had built a 27-13 advantage behind its defense.

The AHS offense finally found a higher gear in the second half and led 47-21 after three quarters. The third quarter opened with senior Porter Lee being on the receiving end of an alley-oop dunk, which he slammed down backward much to the delight of the fans.

As for those fans — a contingent that included former head coach Alex Schrempf visiting from Seattle — it was a packed house and the sort of crowd Parker said he hadn’t seen since his own playing days. He was a 2008 AHS graduate and was a key part of one of the best stretches in program history under former coach Steve Ketchum.

“That’s a similar atmosphere as to what I grew up playing with every single night,” Parker said. “Fun. Just fun to play in front of a crowd like that. The student section standing up like that, it’s exciting. That’s what basketball is supposed to be about.”

Elsewhere Friday, No. 1 St. Mary’s beat No. 32 Delta, 81-59, and No. 4 Colorado Academy beat No. 29 Moffat County, 67-56, leaving AHS as the only remaining team from the 3A Western Slope League.

The only significant seed upset in the first round came in Aspen’s own part of the bracket when No. 22 Manitou Springs knocked off No. 11 Middle Park, 54-51. The Mustangs will play No. 6 Resurrection Christian on Saturday, with the winner facing either Aspen or Englewood in the quarterfinals.

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