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Aspen boys come up short in state title game

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Jim Ryan/Special to The Aspen TimesAspen guard Matthew Holmes drives past Faith Christian's Joel Hegarty during Saturday's 3A state championship game in Fort Collins.
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FORT COLLINS, Colo. – Eyes fixed on the hardwood and hands clutching his shorts, Andrew Papenfus lingered near the foul line as a group of Aspen players headed for the scorer’s table.

Moments later, the guard jogged off the Moby Arena court and into the waiting arms of teammate Walker Moriarty. Papenfus pulled his jersey over his head.

He let the tears flow.

There would be no fairy-tale ending for the No. 2 Skiers in Saturday night’s 3A state basketball title game. There would be no leap of Faith.

Aspen hung with top-seeded and favored Faith Christian well into the second half, pulling to within four points after trailing by 12 at halftime. In the end, however, untimely turnovers, errant shots and the Eagles’ solid play were too much to overcome. Faith prevailed, 57-47, clinching its third-consecutive golden ball.

“The kids are very emotional right now. They wanted this so bad,” Skiers head coach Steve Ketchum said afterward. “I felt it was a great effort. We just had a little slip. To win a game against them, you can’t make mistakes, you can’t forget to box out … and can’t turn the ball over. We didn’t do enough.”

“We couldn’t get over the hump,” Papenfus added. “We’d get close, then have a crucial turnover. We kept having minor setbacks.”

The Eagles scored 11 points off 10 Aspen turnovers in the first half. They led, 17-12, after one quarter, then increased that margin with a late surge right before halftime.

Leading the way was guard Joel Hegarty, who shined one day after being benched for long stretches because of ineffective play in an overtime thriller against Kent Denver. The senior scored three consecutive baskets – two in transition – then fed teammate Nathan Rindels for a 3-pointer in the final seconds to stretch the lead to 12.

Hegarty, who finished with 18 points, was one of four Eagles to score seven or more.

The Skiers (26-1) struggled to keep pace, missing 17 of 26 shot attempts in the first 16 minutes. Papenfus, who averaged 18 points in Aspen’s quarterfinal and semifinal wins, was 1-of-6 and scored just four points in the opening half.

“They definitely come out and have a hand in your face and make you take tough shots,” he said. “You have to always be focused, and sometimes they distracted me.”

Chants of “Three-Peat” filtered through Faith Christian’s animated student during the intermission – until one fan spoke up.

“Stop. It’s too soon,” he cautioned.

He was right. The Skiers, making their first state-title game appearance, were not about to go quietly.

“It was our last chance ever,” guard Matthew Holmes said. “We came out [of the locker room] fired up and playing on emotion.”

Holmes, Zach Babich and Nicky Fuller all scored in the first three minutes of the third quarter, prompting a Faith Christian timeout. Soon after, Papenfus drilled a 3, Bridger Dawson hit a jumper and Moriarty converted twice at the free-throw line to trim the Eagles’ lead to 39-35.

The Eagles (26-1) capitalized on an Aspen miscue in the final seconds, however. After Dawson was whistled for an offensive foul, Deron Rindels penetrated, stopped and hit a mid-range jumper with five seconds remaining.

The champs never looked back. After a missed Skiers layup in the opening minute of the fourth, Faith caught Aspen napping on an in-bounds play and Rindels turned the mistake into a three-point play.

After a Papenfus miss, Nathan Rindels pushed the ball up court and fired a perfect pass to Derek McCartney on the baseline; the sophomore completed a three-point play of his own to give the Eagles a 12-point cushion with 6:13 remaining.

“It’s never easy. Every year seems like a battle,” Eagles head coach Andrew Hasz said. “[These kids] have the heart, and they don’t expect to lose.

“Against any type of zone, you have to get in the gaps. They have such great speed and length that if you stand still, you’re in trouble. … We finally got some of the touches inside that we needed to get.”

The Skiers gave their fans a glimmer of hope when, with less than two minutes to play, Papenfus hit a jumper, then picked off a pass and buried a long 3 to pull Aspen to within eight at 53-45.

The Eagles hit 4-of-6 from the line in the final minute, however, to quell the threat and squash the Skiers’ title hopes for a third-straight year. (Faith pounded Aspen is 2008’s state semifinals, then overcame a slow start to win last season’s quarterfinals.)

“I thought we were really close to getting on that summit,” Ketchum said.

jmaletz@aspentimes.com


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