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Aspen boys pound Yuma, book trip to Fort Collins

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Jim Ryan/Special to The Aspen TimesSkiers players celebrate after Saturday's victory over Yuma at Aspen High School.
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ASPEN – Aspen put the rest of the state on notice Saturday.

The second-seeded Skiers, who many thought deserved a fourth or fifth seed in this year’s state tournament, made quite a statement in Saturday’s sub-region final against visiting Yuma. Aspen jumped out to a 21-3 advantage after one quarter and rolled to a convincing 60-29 victory, securing its spot in next week’s Great Eight in Fort Collins.

The Skiers will square off with No. 10 Manitou Springs, a 59-57 winner over No. 7 Hotchkiss in other action Saturday, on Thursday at Colorado State University.

“I think tonight we showed we’re good enough to win state,” Skiers head coach Steve Ketchum said. “[Yuma] is a great team. They were winning their league, maybe the toughest league in the state. … The guys absolutely brought it like there was tomorrow. And there was no tomorrow.”

The Skiers (24-0) poured on the pressure on both sides of the floor in the early going. After Mitch Wills drilled a 3 to give the Indians their only lead of the game at 3-2, Aspen scored 19 straight to close the opening quarter. Zach Babich overpowered undersized Yuma in the paint, and Andrew Papenfus showcased his driving ability and touch from behind the arc. The senior led all scorers with 15.

No. 15 Yuma (17-7) could not keep pace, largely because of Aspen’s smothering defensive pressure.

“We just came out with the fire, the intensity and the urgency that we knew we could play with,” guard Matthew Holmes said. “We didn’t show that 1-3-1 defense last night, and that’s been our bread and butter all year. … you could tell that with our pressure up front and on the sides, their guards were flustered.”

The Indians could do little more than fire shots from the perimeter. Wills and Joel Rhoades hit back-to-back 3’s to cut Aspen’s lead to 11 early in the second, prompting a timeout with 5 minutes, 14 seconds remaining before the break.

The Skiers surrendered just one free throw the rest of the way, however, and, despite scoring just four points in the quarter, led 25-12 at halftime.

“We were in a little bit of a funk there, and we let the kids come in and talk about it,” Ketchum said.

“They were playing man to man, so why were we shooting so many 3s? We needed to get the ball inside. We did that well [in the second half].”

Aspen quelled all hopes of a Yuma comeback with an 8-0 run in the first 3 1/2 minutes of the third quarter. Babich led the way, scoring six straight. The senior finished with 14.

Bridger Dawson converted two three-point plays in the final two minutes to give the Skiers a 43-18 lead heading to the fourth.

“If we play all four quarters like we did the first and third, we can be unbeatable,” Ketchum said. “I think we shocked them.”

Papenfus buried a 3, Babich scored in transition and Carl Spiroff converted a three-point play in the first two minutes of the fourth quarter, stretching the advantage to 33 and silencing the large Yuma contingent.

Nearly all of the visiting fans had filtered out of the gym by the time Holmes, scissors in hand and a large grin covering his face, climbed the ladder to cut off the first piece of net.

“I don’t know, I’m speechless. That was the best feeling as of yet,” Holmes said. “We came out blazing. … Hopefully our full potential didn’t come out yet.”

“Sometimes we looked unstoppable. We just need to put a full game together now,” Papenfus said. “This definitely was a punch to say ‘Hey Denver, we’re here and we’re for real.’

“I can’t wait [for the trip to Fort Collins]. We need to come out and take what’s ours.”

jmaletz@aspentimes.com


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