Aspen boys, Basalt girls hunting state championships
Hoops dreams start now.Today at the Air Force Academy near Colorado Springs, the Basalt High School girls basketball team and the Aspen High boys basketball team begin play in the eight-team Class 3A state tournament. For both teams, three straight wins will deliver state championships. The No. 4-seed BHS girls open the tourney at 11:45 a.m. against No. 5 Centauri. The No. 8 AHS boys open at 8:30 p.m. against No. 1 Denver Christian.For both teams, there’s history to the matchups. Last season, the Basalt girls and the Aspen boys got bounced from the state playoffs one stop shy of the state tournament by the same teams – Centauri and Denver Christian – they’re scheduled to play today. (For state tourney brackets, see page 34.)@ATD Sub heds:Long time for Longhorns@ATD body copy:Thirteen years have passed since the Basalt Lady Longhorns last advanced to the state tournament, but the BHS girls are hardly a rookie bunch.The two-time defending Class 3A Western Slope League Champions have lost just three games in the last two seasons. And first-year head coach Debbie Alcorta, who served as JV coach last year, says her team is one of destiny.”I feel like the state championship is within our reach,” she said earlier this week. “There’s something special about these girls.”With a fast-paced offense and a relentless, pressing defense, Basalt has rambled to a 23-1 record entering today’s quarterfinal contest. Basalt features a five-pronged attack, with five players who are averaging 10-plus points per game.Basalt junior guard Mariah Mulcahy, who had 29 points in Basalt’s “Sweet 16″ victory over Pagosa Springs last Friday, leads the pack with more than 14 points per game. Mulcahy also leads Class 3A in free-throw percentage at 84 percent. Sophomores Autumn Caughern and Lauren Redfern are averaging 12 and 11 points per game, respectively, while seniors Stephanie Kemp and Molly McGrath are good for 10 points a game. McGrath, the point guard, also leads all classes in assists with more than 140 on the season.”It’s incredible. Normally, in a game situation we have three who are always on, but who those three are always changes,” Alcorta said. “I always know Mariah and Autumn and Lauren are going to score, but if they have an off night, Stephanie or Christy [Thompson] or Molly is going to step up. They’re very good at helping each other.”And it’s frustrating for other teams,” Alcorta continued. “Once they think they’ve figured us out, we bring on our bench. You have to feel like you’ve run into a brick wall.”@ATD Sub heds:Tall order for Aspen @ATD body copy:The Aspen High School boys can look no further than today’s opponent, 24-0 Denver Christian, the team heavily favored to win the championship.However, Aspen coach Steve Ketchum thinks his club can beat anybody in the state if the team relies on its strengths, plays smart and clicks together.”If everybody’s clicking on the same night, we’ll beat anybody in the state, no question,” Ketchum said earlier this week. “But we’re still waiting for everybody, the starters and the role players, to step up together on the same night.”En route to a 21-3 record, Aspen has been carried by Ketchum’s so-called “Dynamic Duo” of senior forward Jeff Brence and junior guard Nick Farrell. Both players are averaging about 20 points per game.The key for Aspen, however, will be finding offense from other players to take the pressure off Brence and Farrell. Enter junior forward Phil Salazar and junior guard Brett Mufson and Josh Lackey, who round out Aspen’s starting five.”We’re just starting to understand what we want to do and what we do best,” Ketchum said. “Phil’s doing the right things, making power moves inside, Jeff and Nick are doing what they do best, scoring, and Brett’s looking to move the ball in to our scorers, and our role players are playing really, really solid.”Aspen is one of three teams from the 11-team Class 3A Western Slope League to advance to the state tournament, along with Eagle Valley and Cedaredge.”I don’t care what the Denver papers say, the Western Slope League was the toughest in the state this year,” Ketchum said. “But I think it’s to our advantage – it got us ready for the playoffs. We’re not playing anyone significantly better than the top teams in our league. We’ve seen it all.”All three of Aspen’s losses came to league opponents, including Cedaredge and Eagle Valley.As for Denver Christian, the 2001 state runner-up, Ketchum said the pressure is on them. Denver Christian’s coach, Dick Katte, is the winningest coach in Colorado high school basketball history, and this tournament is his “swan song,” Ketchum said.”He’s retiring after this one and they want to win it all,” he said. “But there’s tremendous pressure on his kids to win – because they’re No. 1 and they’re supposed to, for Katte and on and on and on. My feeling is that they’ll crack under the pressure and we’re going to help them.”We’ve got a game plan we think will be very effective and if our kids play well, our kids will be in the hunt to knock them off. I have tremendous confidence in our group, and I’ve let them know that.”We’re going to play with no fear,” Ketchum continued. “We have nothing to lose. We’ve already achieved more than anybody thought possible.”@ATD Sub heds:Tune in@ATD body copy:KMTS radio of Glenwood Springs plans to broadcast all Basalt and Aspen tournament games. Located at 99.1 on the FM dial throughout the valley, commentators Ron Milhorn and Jack Jabbour will be calling the action live, as it happens, throughout the weekend, win or lose. The state tournament features a consolation bracket, so even if Basalt and Aspen lose today in the opening round, both teams will play again Friday, and perhaps Saturday, in the third-place consolation bracket.The state semifinals are slated for Friday with the championship games scheduled for Saturday night.
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