Aspen boys lock up district crown
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
ASPEN ” Rival court, home court, neutral court ” it doesn’t matter.
Saturday, against its fiercest conference rival, for the third time this season, Aspen’s boys basketball team proved yet again that it’s the best of the Western Slope.
In a rematch that wasn’t as close as the two regular season meetings, the Skiers downed second-seeded Roaring Fork, 56-45, in Paonia, to lock up a coveted district championship and secure a home regional.
“We threw the knockout punch,” Skiers coach Steve Ketchum said in the aftermath of Aspen’s biggest win of the year. “It was like a heavyweight prize fight, 15th round, and we just came out swinging.”
Fretting over playing the rival Rams for a third time after earning two tense regular-season wins, Ketchum said a peace washed over him a few hours before tip-off on Saturday afternoon. The path to victory became clear.
“I was a little worried about even trying to press them because they have so many ball handlers and so many tall kids who can pass over you,” Ketchum said. “Then I realized, you watch NCAA basketball, the NBA, all these great players, they all choke. They all make mistakes. I figured, everybody’s going to be nervous. The best way to get rid of the jitters it to play hard. We came out pressing.”
And never stopped. Aspen carved out an 18-6 lead off multiple Roaring Fork turnovers in the first quarter and kept up the pressure the rest of the game. Aspen was only outscored in the fourth quarter, 16-13, after building a 43-29 lead through three quarters.
Skiers senior forward and captain Cory Parker finished with a game-high 19 points, although it was the rest of the Skiers’ starting five that Ketchum couldn’t stop talking about.
“Cory did a great job and shot the ball well, but more importantly, we talked all day about how it’s about the team,” Ketchum said. “We talked about being brothers. At halftime, I said, ‘If this is like the regional last year where Cory has to do everything for us, we’re in trouble.'”
Aspen’s supporting cast responded to the challenge. Brian Westerlind finished with 11 points and Tommy Rittenhouse had nine. Michael Taylor added eight and Josh Gartner had his best game of the season, finishing with five points on a 3-point buzzer beater and one put-back.
“If guys keep stepping up and making big shots to take the pressure off Cory, we’re in good shape,” Ketchum said.
Rams’ senior forward Torrey Udall had another big game against Aspen, finishing with 13 points. Alex Hernandez added 11 and Walker Abrahamovich finished with 10.
The win was the first time in Ketchum’s 10 seasons that an Aspen team has won both the regular season league championship and the district championship. The coach was reluctant, however, to name this squad the best he’s ever had at Aspen. The Skiers still have so much more to prove, he said.
“Everything depends on how they do in the playoffs,” he said. “So far, they’re as good as any team I’ve ever had at Aspen High School, or at the high school level overall. But to be better than everybody else, they have to win the regional to get to the final eight, then they’ve got to win in the final eight.”
Skiers players were told that Aspen High School hockey isn’t playing varsity for the 2022-23 season. Reasons included a lack of seniors and consternation over experience.