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Aspen boys roll, Basalt stumbles in district semifinals

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Jim Ryan/Special to The Aspen TimesAspen guard Andrew Papenfus is fouled hard as he drives to the basket during Friday's district tournament semifinals at Palisade High School.
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PALISADE, Colo. – A second sluggish start in as many games had Aspen head coach Steve Ketchum concerned.

His players did not wait until the fourth quarter to respond this time, however. The No. 1 Skiers clamped down on fourth-seeded Grand Valley with stout defense, easily overcoming an early 5-0 deficit in Friday’s district semifinals at Palisade High School. Aspen jumped out to a 16-point lead at halftime and cruised to a 50-32 win.

Saturday, the Skiers will vie for a third consecutive district crown when they square off with Hotchkiss at 5:45 p.m.

“We got off to a slow start, but nobody panicked. Everybody kept their cool,” Ketchum said. “Then, we kicked it into high gear.”

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Aspen (21-0) needed a late surge Wednesday to fend off No. 9 Coal Ridge. Friday, the Skiers turned things around after 21⁄2 minutes.

They surrendered just nine first-half points to the Cardinals. On the offensive end, Aspen utilized a balanced attack to jump out to a sizable lead. Fresh off his 29-point effort Wednesday, Andrew Papenfus led the way with 19 points. Fellow senior Zack Babich added 12.

Still, Ketchum said the offense is a work in progress.

“We shot 35 percent from the free throw line. It was embarrassing,” he added. “And we continue to miss a bunch of stuff around the rim. You know, maybe they’re saving it for the big game.”

The Skiers did not need high-powered offense to pick off Grand Valley for the third time this season. Aspen’s starters played less than three quarters, and were resting on the bunch for the entire fourth.

Ketchum does not expect that to be the case Saturday, despite his team’s recent success against the Bulldogs. The Skiers took all the drama out of Feb. 13’s clash of the 3A Western Slope’s top two teams, dominating throughout in a 72-36 rout.

With a win Saturday, the Skiers will host a four-team regional next weekend.

“They’ll be ready. Trust me,” Ketchum said of Hotchkiss. “They are much better than they looked last time. We struggled to squeak out a [61-49] win at their gym. They’re capable.”

The Basalt boys pulled off one upset in district play. They came up short in their bid for a second, however.

The Longhorns pulled to within four points with 1 minute, 50 seconds remaining in Friday’s tight district semifinal against Hotchkiss. The Bulldogs finished strong, however, advancing to the championship with a 53-47 win.

“We couldn’t make the run,” Basalt head coach Jon Pettit said. “Every time we got close, they were able to get to the foul line or get a bucket.

“We didn’t play well, but we played hard.”

The Longhorns (9-12) secured a berth in the semifinals with Wednesday’s 47-41 road win over No. 3 Gunnison. They parlayed that momentum into an early lead Friday night against a familiar foe.

Basalt handed the then-unbeaten Bulldogs their first loss Jan. 22. In the regular-season finale, Hotchkiss returned the favor with a five-point win.

Friday, the Bulldogs (18-3) ended the Longhorns’ drive for a district crown. They jumped ahead in the second quarter and maintained a lead of about six throughout the third and fourth quarters, Pettit said.

Basalt cut the deficit to four with less than two minutes to play, then came up with a stop on defense. It squandered the opportunity, however, turning the ball over without taking a shot on the ensuing possession.

The Longhorns, who are already assured a playoff berth, will play Grand Valley in Saturday’s third-place game at 2:15 p.m.

“Hopefully we play with more poise and more efficiency,” Pettit said.

jmaletz@aspentimes.com


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