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Aspen boys rout Coal Ridge

Nate PetersonThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado

PALISADE, Colo. Who else?After two regular-season classics, the rematch Roaring Fork wanted and Aspen wholly expected is a reality.The top-seeded Skiers boys rolled past fourth-seeded Coal Ridge, 63-43, on Friday night in one district semifinal, while the second-seeded Rams held off No. 3 Gunnison, 46-38, in the other to set up a rematch – for all the chips – at 5:30 Saturday in Palisade.When asked about tipping off one more time against a team Aspen beat twice by a combined six points during the regular season, Skiers coach Steve Ketchum couldn’t have summed up the scenario any better.”It’s a fan’s dream and a coach’s nightmare,” he said. “We’re going against one of the best defensive coaches in the state whose kids get super psyched against us and play really well against us. I think the only thing you can do is play really hard, play smart and hope that the ball bounces your way at the right time and you can come out of it by squeaking out a victory.”That’s essentially what the Skiers did in the first two wins en route to a 14-0 league finish during the regular season. Aspen gave Roaring Fork its first loss in the 3A Western Slope since 2003 when it held on for a 61-57 win in Carbondale on Jan. 12, then was just two points better than the Rams at home Feb. 19, winning, 38-36, on Michael Taylor’s last-second dunk.Ketchum said the Skiers will have to play much better tonight than they did Friday against Coal Ridge if they expect to beat the Rams for a third time. Aspen led 37-19 at the half against the Titans but struggled in a sloppy third quarter, getting outscored, 16-13, before pulling away in the fourth.”We came out in that third quarter and just stunk it up,” Ketchum said. “We were just throwing the ball away, making bad passes, and they weren’t even pressing us. … I felt helpless at times.”Senior forward Cory Parker led all scorers with 17 points, hitting 5-of-12 field goals and one of this three 3-point attempts while going 4-of-5 from the free-throw line. Brian Westerlind added 11 points and Matt Holmes had eight. Parker also led the Skiers with 11 rebounds and Westerlind pulled down eight. Holmes had six assists and three steals and Taylor had four steals of his own.Ketchum didn’t have an answer to the Skiers’ ball-handling problems in the third quarter, past using all his timeouts to try to calm his team down.”There’s so much at stake,” he said. “If we would have lost, we would have been screwed in terms of state seeding, and I think that got to us for a little bit.”The stakes are only higher tonight. Win again, and Aspen will host a four-team regional. Lose, and the Skiers’ two regular-season wins will go for naught – as they’ll likely be on the road for the next round.In his 10 seasons, Ketchum has never had a team win the regular season league title and the district title. He’s hoping the Skiers can make history tonight.”Trust me, there’s so many nerves out there,” Ketchum said. “You don’t even know what to tell them. They were a little tight. I hope they’ll play a little more relaxed in the next game. I don’t have to tell them – they already know what’s at stake.”npeterson@aspentimes.com.


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