Aspen boys hoops secure top regional seed |

Aspen boys hoops secure top regional seed

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Charles BroshousAspen guard Andrew Papenfus drives past a Coal Ridge defender during Saturday's 3A Western Slope district tournament championship game at Palisade High School. The Skiers won, 72-42.

ASPEN ” The best record in school history is assured. So, too, are 3A Western Slope regular season and district tournament titles.

Now, the Aspen boys basketball team is ready to take the next step.

This was supposed to be a rebuilding year. But after piling up 21 wins in 22 games and soaring to as high as No. 2 in some state hoops polls, the Skiers are hoping their improbable, yet impressive, run continues all the way to Fort Collins and the Great 8. The next test comes Friday, when Aspen, which garnered one of four No. 1 seeds in this year’s state tournament bracket, released Sunday afternoon, hosts No. 8 Bayfield.

Should they advance to Saturday’s regional final, the Skiers will face the winner of No. 4 Platte Valley and No. 5 Buena Vista.

“My initial impression is that it’s a good draw, but a tough draw,” Aspen coach Steve Ketchum said Sunday. “That’s the way it’s supposed to be. We’re down to 32 teams left in the state. After Friday, there will be only 16. Do you think there’d be any easy games when there’s that many teams left? It’s the best of the best really.”

Aspen proved it was the best in the Slope all season, but reaffirmed its dominance with a resounding 30-point win over Coal Ridge in Saturday’s district tournament championship at Palisade High School. Andrew Papenfus led the way with 19 points, drilling three 3-pointers. Three others ” Trevor Watson (16), Matthew Holmes (15) and Walker Abrahamovich (14) ” scored in double figures for the Skiers, who led by as many as 40 in the fourth quarter.

They went on to win, 72-42, avenging an earlier loss to the Titans and clinching a second-consecutive district crown.

“It was just unbelievable,” Ketchum said Saturday. “The defense was phenomenal. The kids were incredibly focused and in attack mode all night. … We had so much balance from inside out.”

Ketchum hopes that balance makes the Skiers a tough out this weekend ” “We have a lot of guys who can do a lot of damage, and that’s exciting,” he said.

And the coach said his team is not shouldering the burden of high expectations like last year’s squad, which advanced to the state semifinals.

“Last year when we won [districts], it was like ‘[phew], Thank God.’ The expectations were so high that if we didn’t win, it would’ve been a total failure of a season. [3A Mr. Basketball] Cory [Parker] was even quoted as saying that,” Ketchum said. “When this team won Saturday, there was extreme celebration, joy and pride. It was a whole different feeling of accomplishment because it was so unexpected when we started out. … I think the kids are more relaxed.”

Ketchum is just the opposite. He was planning to be up until midnight Sunday searching out and reviewing game film and formulating plans for this weekend. Should favored Aspen top Bayfield (7-13), the coach knows the opposition ” and the stakes ” will increase dramatically.

Platte Valley went 16-7 and finished 8-3 in the highly competitive Patriot League. Four of those losses came to Eaton (twice), a No. 1 seed, Yuma and Faith Christian ” the reigning state champion, which was undefeated and ranked No. 1 in the state until dropping a district tournament semifinal game to Kent Denver this past weekend. The Eagles (21-1) are seeded third and potentially could meet Aspen, a team they routed in last year’ state semifinals, on the first day of the Great 8.

Buena Vista (13-10), out of the Tri-Peaks conference, features a crop of talented guards and a 6-foot-8, 330-lb. center, Ketchum said.

The Skiers cruised past Bennett and Salida to win their regional in 2008.

“I would say [the draw] is comparable to last year, maybe even a little tougher,” Ketchum said. “There’s no room for mistakes anymore. Anything can happen this time of year, so you have to be ready and focused.”

After her team secured a berth in the 3A state playoffs last week, Basalt girls basketball coach Carolyn Compton said she and her team were excited to be playing for at least one more week.

How cheerful the Longhorns are after this week’s regionals, which begin Friday, remains to be seen. No. 5 Basalt’s road to a third-consecutive Great 8 is lined with multiple obstacles. First comes a matchup with a familiar foe, No. 4 Colorado Springs Christian, on Friday night. Should they advance, the Longhorns will like square off with Holy Family ” the state’s top team at 21-1 ” on Saturday.

“We’re going to have a great game, and I can guarantee the girls are going to play hard,” Compton said Sunday. “We’ve proven in two out of the last three games that we can shock some people. I don’t think we’ve even put a full game together yet.”

While it has struggled with consistency during a 10-12 season, Basalt has made great strides of late. After topping Hotchkiss in Tuesday’s district tournament opener, it knocked off regular-season Slope champion Olathe in Friday’s semifinals at Palisade High School.

While a third-consecutive district crown proved elusive ” the Longhorns were overmatched in Saturday’s 57-34 championship-game loss to Gunnison ” the Longhorns still secured a spot in this weekend’s round of 32.

Basalt might share the worst record among remaining teams, but Compton said she isn’t ready to count her team out.

“I don’t think records matter at this point,” she added. “It’s lose and go home for everybody. … The girls are excited, and maybe they don’t know any better.”

In each of Compton’s four seasons as head coach, the Longhorns have played Colorado Springs Christian in the postseason. In 2006, the Lions prevailed at the buzzer in the regional semifinals. In 2007, the Longhorns came out on top in the Great 8 and ultimately advanced to the state championship game.

Last season, the two met once more in the Great 8. Basalt, then a No. 1 seed, struggled through one of its worst shooting performances of the season and lost, 67-49.

“I don’t know much about them, but they don’t know much about us either,” Compton said. “When we play like I know we can, we play some pretty basketball. … We’re just going to try and have some fun. At this point, that’s more important than anything.”

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