Aspen ends Roaring Fork winning streak
CARBONDALE Aspen senior Cory Parker skyed to grab an errant Roaring Fork free throw, turned and spotted teammate Brian Westerlind streaking down the court.Without hesitation, Parker fired a baseball pass the length of the floor. The ball grazed Rams junior Walker Abrahamovich’s outstretched fingertips and landed in Westerlind’s hands; Westerlind converted the lay-in to put Aspen ahead, 61-57, with 15 seconds to play.For the first time in four intense quarters between two of Colorado’s top 10 boys basketball teams, Aspen was out of Roaring Fork’s reach. Abrahamovich’s desperation 3-point attempt came up short, and Aspen corralled the loose ball. As the final seconds ticked off the clock, reality finally sunk in. For the first time since February 2003, a span of 53 games and nearly five years, a Western Slope foe finally knocked off perennial power Roaring Fork.
“I knew this was our time, our year,” an elated Parker said moments after the final buzzer. “This is a new start. Another team is at the top.”Knocking off the conference’s king was anything but easy. In a tight game defined by physical defense and pressure-packed offense, neither team led by more than six points. Parker, who had a quiet nine points in Aspen’s rout of Basalt on Friday, asserted himself early Saturday. He scored his team’s first 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting, showcasing his skills in traffic and from 3-point range. Then, on an inbounds play five minutes into the game, he lobbed the ball to teammate Michael Taylor for the emphatic dunk, giving the Skiers a slim 12-11 lead.”He played his hardest in the biggest game,” Aspen coach Steve Ketchum said of Parker. “That’s what you want out of your star.”Roaring Fork closed the quarter on a 6-2 run, fueled by Torrey Udall’s acrobatic move underneath and guard Matthias Weissl’s drive to the basket.Taylor absorbed a bump, finished off the glass and made his free throw to put Aspen ahead, 17-16, one minute into the second quarter. Udall had the answer two minutes later when, after Taylor hit another free throw, he finished in a crowd of defenders to tie the game. The Rams hit three game-tying buckets in the quarter. It looked as though Aspen had seized momentum when, with less than four minutes remaining before the half, Tommy Rittenhouse and Matthew Holmes stole consecutive inbounds passes and hit lay-ups. But Weissl, in what was a sign of things to come, finished off the glass in the final moments to cut Roaring Fork’s deficit to two at the break.
Weissl, an exchange student from Austria, took charge in the third. He converted four-point plays on consecutive possessions, the last of which put Roaring Fork ahead, 32-28. With Udall relegated to the bench after picking up his third foul with 4 minutes, 27 seconds to play, Weissl became the top scoring option. He scored 15 of his team’s 17 third-quarter points and finished with 23.Rittenhouse responded. He shook free from the Roaring Fork defense to sink a three, then scored down low with nine second remaining in the third quarter, giving the Skiers a 44-41 edge. He helped extend that lead to six with a three to open the fourth.Aspen would not trail again.”We let their stars go off early, and we let them hit open shots,” Udall said. “We needed to play as a unit on defense. We were all spread out and chasing the ball around.”Oscar Alvarado’s free throw with 4:07 to play pulled Roaring Fork to within one. Less than two minutes later, Aspen was stung when Taylor fouled out. When the lead the game were seemingly slipping away, Parker, who had been quiet for the previous two quarters, came alive. He stepped in the passing lane near midcourt, picked off a pass and scored in transition to stretch the lead to three. One minute later, he answered a bucket from Udall with a fadeaway in the lane.Then he sealed the win with a dramatic pass.
“I saw [Westerlind], and I went for it,” said Parker, who finished with a team-high 19 points. “When it got through, I knew the win was ours.”Ironically, on a night when his mother wore a Tom Brady jersey to the game, Parker did his part to halt perfection. “Maybe when we’re done coaching, we’ll probably think it’s kind of cool,” Roaring Fork coach Roger Walters said of his team’s 53-game conference winning streak. “… I’m 41, and I don’t really think about stuff like that. … this doesn’t define our season.””In hindsight, I’m amazed by it, but you don’t play for an undefeated conference record,” Udall said. “You play to be in the state tournament in March. … This can do nothing but help. It’s not bad to lose.”Has the balance of power shifted in the Slope? Not so fast, Ketchum said.”We’re not the king of the hill yet, but we’re climbing,” he said. “This is a great day for Aspen.”firstname.lastname@example.org
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Keegan Swirbul was set to carry on with his nomadic career this summer with Ljubljana Gusto Santic, a professional cycling team based out of Slovenia