Aspen comes up big at district tourney
Aspen, CO Colorado
PALISADE, Colo. – As Austin Roark smiled and celebrated, the 3A Western Slope League district tournament title plaque cradled in his arm, his coach took notice.
“Make sure you bring that thing back to school on Monday!” Aspen boys basketball frontman Steven Ketchum joked.
Roark, whose Skiers had just defeated Roaring Fork, 47-37, in Saturday’s district championship at Palisade High School, cherished that plaque for good reason. The senior big man, who moved to Aspen from New Mexico this school year, has now played a part in four district titles. The first three came in his previous state of residence.
“It feels amazing,” said Roark, who was a standout at Manzano High School before donning a Skiers jersey.
He then turned his attention to his teammates.
“These guys are so nice. It could have been really easy to turn their heads at me, this new guy, but they’re really great. It’s a great group of guys. They deserve this.”
Roark scored 14 points, Jake Nugent 12 and Quinn Morehead eight as Aspen captured its fourth district title in five years. In the process, the Skiers avenged last year’s district championship loss to Roaring Fork.
Aspen built a big lead early, extending a 14-7 lead after one quarter to 23-7 with 4 minutes, 32 seconds left in the second.
The Skiers (18-4) had to rally a series of furious rallies to hold off the Rams, who pulled to within 23-20 early in the third quarter by keeping Aspen off the scoreboard for nearly eight minutes. Thirteen straight points complemented the defensive feat.
“I knew it’d be a battle,” Ketchum said. “I knew they’d make a run at us, and they sure did. Hats off to them. I thought our guys just hung in there at the end.”
The Skiers reversed their dry spell with an 8-0 run to go up 31-20 with 3:24 left in the third quarter. Roaring Fork pulled to within four points early in the fourth quarter, but that is as close as the Rams got.
“Aspen played really well,” Roaring Fork coach Larry Williams said. “They played well last night [against Coal Ridge] and real well again tonight. We worked extremely hard, but just couldn’t overcome [the slow start]. We’d cut it down, and then we’d leave somebody open for a 3 or throw the ball away.”
Sam Carpenter led the Rams (15-7) with 14 points. Trae Moxley added 11.
“Give it to Roaring Fork,” Roark said. “I thought they played a heck of a game. I thought they had a great game plan. They’re a really good team. Watch out for them in the tournament.”
Aspen kept one of the Rams’ top offensive threats – Dakotah Grett – out of the scorebook.
“One of our unsung heroes, super sophomore Clayton Crawford, literally shut out No. 24, who I thought was their best athlete,” Ketchum said. “That’s Clayton Crawford for you. He does all the little stuff nobody notices.”
Both the Skiers and Rams will learn their playoff fate when Class 3A’s 32-team brackets are released by the Colorado High School Activities Association this afternoon. With a district title in the bag, Aspen will host a sub-regional.
“We get a home regional,” Ketchum said. “You can’t ask for more than that.”
X Games is back for its 22nd consecutive year at Buttermilk Ski Area starting Friday, with many of the world’s best skiers and snowboarders set to compete in halfpipe, slopestyle, big air and knucklehuck over three days.