Aspen girls basketball team punches ticket to state |

Aspen girls basketball team punches ticket to state

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Jim Ryan Special to The Aspen TimesAspen coach Jeremy Haack celebrates with his players after Saturday's playoff-clinching win over Cedaredge at Palisade High School.

PALISADE – With the season and a playoff berth hanging in the balance, Aspen guard Lindsey Anderson stepped to the foul line.

Earlier, with .3 seconds remaining in Saturday’s district fifth-place game at Palisade High School, a Cedaredge player was fouled and proceeded to hit two free throws to break a 27-all tie.

In a stroke of good fortune, Anderson was fouled as she tried to chase down teammate Bailey Everhart’s Hail Mary in-bounds pass.

“When Lindsey was fouled … I thought to myself, ‘As many hours as she has put in in the gym the last four years, there’s no way she’s not making these free throws,'” Skiers head coach Jeremy Haack said. “She’s the heart and soul of this team.”

And one of Aspen’s clutch performers. The senior calmly sank the first attempt and, after the Bruins called a timeout to try and ice her, squared the game and forced overtime.

After a scoreless first overtime, Anderson scored underneath to open the second extra period, then Jonelle Berklund scored with 11 seconds remaining to propel the Skiers to a dramatic 40-38 win – securing their spot in the state tournament field of 32.

“This is the most exciting game I’ve been a part of in 10 years of coaching,” Haack said. “Thursday was a big game, but today was even bigger.”

Not long ago, the Skiers were mired in a seven-game skid that dropped them near the bottom of the 3A Western Slope standings. They’ve since hit their stride, winning five of their last eight games – including a rout of rival Basalt in Thursday’s district elimination game.

“I remember after one of those tough losses thinking, you know, that we’ve got to learn from these,” Haack said. “I told the girls to stay positive … and that we’d be better prepared in late February because of it. Today was a perfect example.”

Aspen (8-14) jumped out to a 13-4 advantage after one quarter and led by eight heading into the half.

That advantage dwindled in the final 16 minutes of regulation, however, as the Skiers experienced an extended scoring drought.

“We were taking good shots but not getting any to fall,” Haack said.

Cedaredge jumped out to a two-point lead – its biggest of the game – in the final second, before giving Aspen hope with a foul.

Anderson, who finished with a game-high 21 points, came up big to force extra time.

She hit some key free throws in the first overtime to give Aspen a two-point lead with 90 seconds remaining. The Skiers made just nine shots, but were 23 of 28 from the foul line in the game.

After a Skiers turnover, the Bruins pushed the ball up court and nailed a tying jumper with seven seconds on the clock. Aspen could not get a shot off before the buzzer.

“The whole gym was going crazy,” Haack said.

The coach drew up a play to get the ball to Anderson on the opening possession of the second overtime. She controlled a pass on the left side and made a strong move for the score.

With 30 seconds remaining in a tie game, Cedaredge worked the ball around the perimeter and generated a good look. After the Bruins’ shot sailed off line, however, Georgia Lipkin pulled down the rebound. She spotted Berklund streaking the opposite way and hit her in stride.

Berklund picked an opportune time to hit her first field goal. And, seconds later, she pulled down a rebound as the buzzer sounded.

Let the party begin.

“What a great celebration,” Haack said. “This is just what you dream about, to be honest with you.

“I’m so happy for these seniors. They’ve been on varsity since they were freshman, and look how far they’ve come.”

In just two-plus weeks, The Skiers have transformed from an afterthought to a playoff team.

“If someone took a lot of money and put it on the locker room floor and said I could have all the money but I can’t have what we just experienced and the way we feel right now, give me this experience every day,” Haack said.

“All [the hard work] was worth it for every one of us.”

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