Aspen boys basketball draws No. 27 seed, will face DSST: Byers in first round
For the first time since 2014, the Aspen High School boys basketball team will compete in the state tournament. The Skiers will be the No. 27 seed in Class 3A and will face No. 6 DSST: Byers on Friday in the first round, it was announced Sunday.
Byers will host the regional rounds Friday and Saturday, although as of Sunday night the exact location of the games wasn’t known as the school doesn’t have the facilities to host. The games will be in Denver, however, with game times still to be determined.
No. 11 Alamosa (16-5) and No. 22 Lamar (13-9) make up the other half of Aspen’s regional pod. The Aspen-Byers winner will play the Alamosa-Lamar winner in the Round of 16 on Saturday in Denver.
“It’s not just happy to be here,” fourth-year AHS coach Alex Schrempf said Sunday about getting back to state. “This is something we want to get used to. This is something that is not our last time; this is not a fluke. This is something we are going to keep doing.”
Byers, one of the Denver School of Science and Technology schools, competes out of the Confluence League. The Falcons went 20-2 overall and finished 8-0 in league play. They have a couple of mutual opponents with the Skiers (14-9), having beaten Coal Ridge in their season opener, 62-55 in overtime, and having beaten Roaring Fork in their second game, 58-16.
As the No. 7 seed in the district tournament, Aspen knocked off No. 2 seed Coal Ridge last week in the quarterfinals, 61-59 in overtime. AHS then beat Roaring Fork in the semifinals, 35-32, to punch its ticket to the state tournament.
Aspen lost to top-seeded Gunnison in the district final on Saturday, 79-49, after only trailing by six points at halftime.
“We were getting in our heads a little bit,” Schrempf said of that game. “They went on a run. Went on another and we couldn’t really put the buckets together.”
Still, the top two teams from the district earned automatic spots in the regional round of state, so the loss to Gunnison only impacted seeding for the Skiers, who were a longshot to host a regional. Gunnison earned the No. 7 seed and will host No. 26 Colorado Academy in the opening round. No. 10 Sterling or No. 23 Kent Denver awaits the winner of that game.
Coal Ridge made the tournament as the No. 16 seed and will play No. 17 DSST: Green Valley Ranch on Friday. The winner likely will face No. 1 Resurrection Christian in the second round.
Aspen’s task against Byers will be to slow down senior guard Kyrie Thomas, who averages about 24 points per game. Senior Elijah Thatch is a legitimate big man for the Falcons, averaging about 17 points and nine rebounds per game.
“A very good shooter — he gets to the rim,” Schrempf said of Thomas. “Just an all-around offensive threat.”
While the mutual games came early in the season for Byers, Schrempf looks at those, especially the Coal Ridge game, as a starting point in believing AHS can keep up with the Falcons.
“It’s definitely something we can look at as we can play to their level,” Schrempf said. “If we do that and they bring out the best in us we can hopefully play at a pace of basketball we like.”
The last time Aspen played in the state tournament was the 2013-14 season, the final under longtime coach Steve Ketchum. AHS was the No. 10 seed that year in the 32-team tournament, and beat No. 23 Florence in the first round, 58-55. The Skiers then lost to No. 7 Brush in the second round, 60-43.
“It takes time. But I can’t take credit for that. We stuck with it,” Schrempf said of finally getting back to state. “They started picking up what we were putting down and to see that reinforced, to see them get there just based off doing the things we keep asking, that’s reinvigorating.”
In the 3A girls bracket, Roaring Fork earned the No. 20 seed and will play No. 13 Platte Valley in the first round. That winner will play No. 4 Delta or No. 29 Buena Vista in the next round. Also earning a spot at state out of the girls 3A Western Slope League are No. 14 seed Cedaredge, No. 15 Grand Valley, No. 17 Moffat County and No. 26 Coal Ridge.
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Fans, players and coaches on both sides of Stubler Memorial Field seemed to know it would come down just the way it did, regardless of who had the ball at the end.