Aspen High boys basketball upsets Coal Ridge in district quarterfinals
Sophomore Lucas Lee was far from the game’s leading scorer, but it was his two late baskets that sent the Aspen High School boys basketball team past Coal Ridge on Tuesday in the biggest win for the program in at least six years.
“The toughest game of basketball I’ve ever seen a group of Aspen boys play in my time,” fourth-year AHS coach Alex Schrempf said. “All credit goes to these boys. They work so hard. They are being so selfless and trying for each other to make this happen. It’s really cool to see. Very proud of them.”
Seeded No. 7 in the Class 3A Western Slope League district tournament, Aspen pulled off a 61-59 overtime win over No. 2 Coal Ridge in New Castle that catapults them into Friday’s semifinal round. The win also dramatically increased the Skiers’ chances of making regional play in the state tournament, a place they haven’t been since the 2013-14 season under former coach Steve Ketchum.
Aspen trailed by as much as six points in the fourth quarter but rallied to tie the game at 50-all with 51 seconds to play on a free throw by sophomore Braden Korpela. The Titans answered shortly after when senior Austin Gerber, the team’s leading scorer and 3-point specialist, drained a trey to make it 53-50 with about 30 seconds to go.
Lee found the answer, making his own 3-pointer in the waning seconds to send the game to overtime.
“We chipped away: bucket, bucket, bucket and stop, stop, stop. Our big thing was for our guys to learn how to deal with adversity, overcome adversity and stay together,” Schrempf said.
That last 3-pointer was not intended for Lee, but he made the most of the opportunity.
“We tried to setup for a three, so we settled into our motion. Ball swings over to Lucas on the wing and I’m crouched down right behind him,” Schrempf said. “He’s not even looking to shoot, he’s looking to pass it back to our point guard, but the guy guarding him is sagging off so far because he’s not looking to shoot, and I’m like, ‘Shoot it. Shoot it.’ And he looks up at the rim, squares up, and just puts it up and it toilet bowls in. That thing took three seconds to go from the rim and through the net.”
The finish to overtime was just as wild, albeit much sloppier. Down a point with 43 second to play, AHS had the ball after a sequence of back-to-back steals followed by a Coal Ridge travel that kept the Skiers breathing. This time Aspen ran a play made for Lee, although he missed his shot only to grab his own rebound and make the put-back to give AHS the 60-59 lead with 20 seconds remaining.
“He goes up on the first one and it rims off, but he had such a great second bounce that he got up and grabbed the board, went up again and same thing, it stopped on the top of the rim and rolled in two seconds later,” Schrempf said. “That was such a big rebound by him. He looked at me and said, ‘I’m padding my stats. I wanted another rebound.’”
Korpela had a chance to extend the lead after a bad Coal Ridge possession, but missed two free throws and Titan junior Hank DiMarco grabbed the rebound and was fouled. With a chance to tie or take the lead at the other end with 10 seconds to go, DiMarco also missed both his free throw attempts.
Coal Ridge junior Andrew Herrera got the offensive rebound, but missed the put-back and Aspen senior Jon Haisfield was soon headed to the free-throw line himself with 4.5 seconds to go. He made 1 of 2 from the stripe to make it 61-59 and a Coal Ridge turnover with less than a second to go essentially iced it.
Not wanting the drama to end, AHS managed to inbound the ball straight back out of bounds without anyone touching it, so the Titans got the ball under their own basket with four-tenths of a second to play but couldn’t make anything of it.
“They try and lob and thankfully it didn’t connect and the buzzer goes off,” Schrempf said. “The very end of it was a nail-biter.”
Coal Ridge led 14-13 after a quarter but a big second quarter gave AHS a 32-29 halftime lead. The Titans led 43-40 after three quarters and looked to be pulling away in the fourth before Aspen’s late rally that forced overtime.
The teams had played once this season on Feb. 14, Coal Ridge winning 66-58 in New Castle.
Unofficially, Gerber led all players with 25 points. He was 5-of-5 from the 3-point line. Korpela led AHS with 21 points, while freshman Taylor Akin had 15 points. Haisfield chipped in 11 points, most coming during the second and third quarters, while Lee finished with nine points, seven of which came in the fourth quarter or overtime.
Aspen (13-8 overall) wasn’t the only team to pull off an upset Tuesday, as No. 6 Roaring Fork knocked off No. 3 Grand Valley, 38-36, and will face the Skiers in Friday afternoon’s district semifinal game in Grand Junction. Game time is tentatively set for 4:30 p.m.
The Rams (6-14) beat Aspen 33-24 on Feb. 1, the first of four straight losses for the then-injury riddled Skiers. AHS hasn’t lost since losing to Coal Ridge in their first meeting, the fourth game in that slide.
“This is all these boys’ first time in a genuine postseason like this. Our whole thing is we got to enjoy this process,” Schrempf said. “I’m so excited they have a chance to experience it.”
In the other quarterfinal games Tuesday, No. 1 Gunnison rolled over No. 9 Olathe, 76-51, and will face No. 5 Delta in the other semifinal. The Panthers won 72-55 over No. 4 Moffat County.
The two teams that make Saturday’s district championship game both earn an automatic spot in the 32-team state tournament, while the rest will have to rely on RPI to get in. Coal Ridge (14-6) still has a strong chance to make regional play despite the loss to Aspen.
“Congratulations to Aspen. They played tremendously tonight, which is a testament to their players’ hard work and coach Schrempf’s dedication,” Coal Ridge coach Paul Harvey said. “We’re proud of our guys for battling the whole night and competing at the highest level. We’ll learn from this, grow as men and basketball players, and get ready for the 32-team state bracket next week.”
BASALT GIRLS FALL TO CEDAREDGE
The Basalt High School girls basketball team’s season likely came to an end Tuesday with a 50-31 loss to Cedaredge in the district quarterfinals.
Seeded No. 7, BHS held serve up to a 7-7 tie before the Bruins, seeded No. 2, pulled away to lead 14-7 after a quarter and 24-14 at halftime. It was 36-25 at the end of the third quarter.
Basalt fell to 9-10 overall, the most wins for the program since the 2007-08 team went 23-4 overall. It’s unlikely the Longhorns make the state tournament based on RPI.
Cedaredge (17-3) will play No. 3 Grand Valley in Friday’s semifinals. No. 1 Delta and No. 4 Roaring Fork will meet in the other semifinal. The Rams won, 48-41, over No. 5 Coal Ridge on Tuesday.
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