Aspen, Basalt girls basketball heading in opposite directions
The Aspen and Basalt High School girls basketball teams are separated by more than 17 miles of highway these days.The Longhorns (17-2), the 3A Western Slope Conference regular-season champions, have won 16 of 17 and closed out the season with six consecutive wins. Friday, Basalt beat Cedaredge, 55-52, and rallied the next afternoon to down Hotchkiss, 48-40.
The Skiers (6-13), meanwhile, have been battling mediocrity and poor shooting since December. Basalt will rest on Tuesday after earning a first round bye in the district tournament; Aspen will be fighting to keep its season alive at Cedaredge.”You just shake your head when you see us play,” Skiers head coach Andy Conarroe said. “When you’re seeded sixth, you have to take your lumps and win on the road. We didn’t take care of business when we could have.”Aspen has not won three straight games all season and has suffered through two losing streaks of five or more games. In Friday’s 42-28 loss to Gunnison, the Skiers missed 36 of their 45 shot attempts. Aspen was 4-of-12 from 3-point range, but 5-of-33 from inside the arc.The final game of the season against Olathe was a struggle, Conarroe admitted, but his team came away with a 36-28 win on the strength of some late-fourth quarter heroics. Aspen outscored the Pirates 18-2 during the game’s final three minutes to seal the win.”I don’t know who’s gonna show up,” Conarroe said. “I don’t have an answer [for our shooting deficiency]. All I can do is create a system that gives them a chance. “I jokingly told Steve [Ketchum] that we should stall for three quarters and go crazy in the fourth.”The team’s inconsistency is frustrating, Conarroe said. His team played 5A power Montrose tough in a seven-point defeat at the Steamboat Shootout in December. But it is 0-8 against the Western Slope’s top four teams – Basalt, Roaring Fork, Hotchkiss and Cedaredge. Two of the team’s three conference wins came against Olathe, who finished a league-worst 0-12.
Conarroe said his freshman and sophomores were “pumped up” after their season-ending win against the Pirates – the team’s first victory since Jan. 27. His upperclassmen, however, were relieved. It is a reaction that worries the Skiers coach as he and his team enter the single-elimination district tournament Tuesday night. Aspen was outscored 79-53 in its two previous losses to Cedaredge.”The seniors weren’t excited to win, and that’s the sort of emotion that is not something you can carry forward,” Conarroe said. “We were ahead of Cedaredge by quite a bit the first time and they slipped in and beat us [at home]. Down there, we played terrible. It depends on if the girls can mentally be prepared, or it could be that they have already checked out. If they put some energy in it, we can pull off the upset.”While her team hasn’t lost a game in close to a month, Basalt coach Carolyn Compton said her Longhorns have yet to peak. They played tired in Saturday’s eight-point win against Hotchkiss, and didn’t run the court like usual. The lack of energy was understandable, however; the Longhorns did not return from Friday’s win at Cedaredge until 1 a.m.But there are no excuses, only wins. The Longhorns were without sophomore guard Emily Peetz against Cedaredge, but junior Katy Mulcahy filled in admirably with 18 points in the 50-43 win.
“Katy is always a strength. She’s always one to hustle and you always find her on the floor,” Compton said. “You can’t replace that.”Friday night, the Longhorns will take the next step in the second round of the district tournament in Palisade. The team’s spot in the 3A state tournament is assured, but there is still plenty to play for. District tournament winners are guaranteed a home game in the first round of states.Compton said she is not concerned about preparing for other teams. If her squad brings its intensity and speed, and frustrates opposing defenses with both its transition pressure and offensive prowess in the paint, Compton believes Basalt can compete with any team in the state.While their downvalley rivals struggle to stay alive, the Longhorns are primed for a playoff run. “We’ll see if we can pick up the energy this week,” said Compton, whose team lost just one conference game (to Roaring Fork) this season. “It’s a new season now, and they know where they want to be.” Jon Maletz’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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