Aspen battered, but ready for playoff hoops run
Aspen head coach Steve Ketchum was hoping to forget his basketball team’s weekend trip to Palisade. That seems all but impossible at this point.One night after being outmatched against District 2 champion Roaring Fork, the Skiers lost three key players to potentially serious injuries during a three-minute span in Saturday’s loss to Gunnison. The events, which unfolded midway through the third quarter, were hardly coincidental, Ketchum said.”Friday was brutal enough and Saturday we just got the crap beat out of us,” he said. “It was almost as if they had zeroed in on our top three standouts. They knew what they were doing.”Just minutes into the third quarter, senior Tucker Helmus grasped his face after taking an elbow to the eye. Within minutes, the swelling had become so severe that Helmus could barely squint. The Skiers trailed by just two at the time. No foul was called.”Tucker looked like he was coming to the bench after losing a prize fight,” Ketchum said. “They tried to intimidate us. They were doing anything necessary to come out with a win, and they got away with it.” Less than a minute later, sophomore Cory Parker was struck in the face by a Cowboys’ errant elbow. It took coaches and trainers more than a quarter to stop the bleeding in Parker’s nose.Parker was struck in the first half, but, after having one nostril stuffed with gauze, insisted on re-entering the game. After his second and more serious injury, Parker took a seat next to Helmus on the bench, which had started to resemble a MASH unit. Both players sat for the remainder of the contest.”It was a blood bath. Literally,” Aspen assistant coach Dirk Gosda said. “Cory’s nose had so much blood that I had a whole bag of towels.”I think Gunnison cranked it up intentionally. But I’m biased.”One minute later, senior Luke Gosda took an inbound pass and dribbled the ball up the floor against the Gunnison press. He was trapped at half-court by three Cowboys, Luke said. He tried to spin out of trouble and collided with a defender; he rolled his ankle and collapsed onto the hardwood.Gosda, who has been taking painkillers and physical therapy for the past two weeks to combat an ailing hip flexor, was carried off the court. No whistle blew.”I heard some cracks,” Luke said Sunday. “[Saturday] was some of the worst pain I’ve ever been in. My gut feeling is it’s not broken, but maybe some ligaments got popped or torn.”[Gunnison] was playing violently and the refs didn’t do anything.”While elbows were flying for a full three quarters, the referees did little to quell the excessively physical play, Ketchum said. Skiers sophomore Brian Westerlind was defending a Cowboys player at the top of the key when he was struck by an elbow and knocked backwards. Every referee, who each watched the play unfold, did nothing.Ketchum repeatedly approached officials, inquiring about the apparent missed calls. And every time, Ketchum said he received the same answer: “I didn’t see it, coach.””If they just called one of those fouls a flagrant or intentional, all that would’ve stopped,” Ketchum said. “They were allowing it to happen.” In no way was Ketchum searching for an excuse to explain his team’s 59-43 loss, he said. His Skiers are used to physical play. They run the ‘hamburger’ drill – where players intentionally shove and battle each other for loose balls – during every practice session to prepare them for potential game situations. But Saturday’s game simply got out of hand, he said. As a result, the Aspen coach is still unsure if he’ll have a full roster when the No. 8 seed Skiers (10-12) travel to Englewood to play No. 1 Kent Denver (18-3) on Friday, at 7 p.m. The Sun Devils, who lost to fellow No. 1 seed Denver Christian in Saturday’s District 4 championship, have won 14 of 15. While his pain has dissipated, Luke said his ankle is still swollen. He was, however, walking on it Sunday. The 6-foot guard planned to see an orthopedic surgeon today to determine his playing status. “I’m doing nothing but just hoping,” Luke said. “That’s really all I can say.” While Helmus and Parker’s status was unknown Sunday, Ketchum said he has little doubt all three players will be on the floor when the ball goes up.”It’s gonna take us a weak to lick our wounds and heal if possible, but we’ll be ready,” Ketchum said. “Nobody is gonna play us harder or beat us up more than what we’ve already experienced.”Jon Maletz’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
David Stapleton is the development officer for the Aspen Valley Ski & Snowboard Club. A product of the club, AVSC sat down with Stapleton for a Q&A session in this week’s Clubhouse Chronicles.