Aspen girls fall to Gunnison |

Aspen girls fall to Gunnison

ASPEN Skiers guard Julia Hassall was certain her shot had fallen. Seconds earlier, the senior passed to cutting teammate Katie Evans, who attracted the attention of two defenders as she drove to the basket. Evans alertly passed back to Hassall for a wide open look at what would’ve been a game-tying 3-pointer from the right corner with 48 seconds remaining. Hassall’s shot grazed the rim and bounced into the hands of a Gunnison defender.Aspen (3-7 overall, 0-5 3A Western Slope) had come up short yet again.For the second time in as many nights, the Skiers took a lead into the fourth quarter but could not hold on. Late pressure from the Cowboys turned the tide, and Aspen’s offense was stagnant again in a 34-27 loss Saturday – it’s seventh straight after opening the season with three wins.”I thought Julia’s 3 was in. It was as close as it gets,” Skiers coach Jeremy Haack said. “Why does it have to be like this? It’s not fair. … We played well enough to win.”Well enough was a relative term Saturday. Both teams struggled in a game marred by lackluster offensive execution and careless ball handling. Aspen had just one field goal in first quarter – a three from Hassall with 5 minutes, 45 seconds to play – yet took a 3-2 lead into the second. The Cowboys had just two field goals in the first half, but managed to stay close. Gunnison dominated on the offensive glass, generating two to three scoring chances nearly every time they had the ball. And while their shots went awry, they were strong from the free throw line, converting 5-of-7 in the second quarter.Hassall helped the Skiers maintain a slim lead with back-to-back 3s in the second, and Kylie Westerlind had four straight points to close the half to give Aspen a 13-9 lead at the break.The duo, who scored 25 of the team’s 27 points, kept the Skiers out in front early in the third quarter. Hassall jumped into a passing lane to steal the ball and score in transition, then Westerlind scored underneath to stretch the lead to five. Two minutes later, Gunnison’s Alyssa Schuster cut the lead to two when she shook free underneath for the easy lay-in. Hassall connected 17 seconds before the end of the quarter, when she pulled down a long rebound on her missed 3-point attempt, drove down the baseline and finished with an acrobatic move between a host of Cowboys defenders. Aspen led, 21-17, after 24 minutes, and looked poised to halt its recent losing skid.The Cowboys had other ideas.”It just seems like we’re trying so hard, and it’s never been good enough,” said Hassall, whose team has not won since Dec. 6. “We’re always right there, but we can never seem to hold onto it.”Gunnison increased its defensive pressure at the start of the fourth, double teaming Skiers ball handlers the second they dribbled across midcourt. The strategy yielded multiple turnovers that fueled a 9-0 Cowboys’ run to open the quarter. Haack, who called his final timeout just 7 seconds into the fourth, could do little to slow Gunnison down.”It shows in a game that close how critical each possession is in the first and second quarters,” He said. “Having a lead in the fourth [Friday] and today shows how close we really are.”Westerlind and Hassall hit back-to-back 3s to help Aspen pull to within one at 28-27 with 1:53 left. The Skiers came close when Hassall nearly squared the game in the final minute, but did not score again.Despite hitting just eight field goals, Gunnison hit 17 free throws – it was 11-of-16 from the stripe in the final quarter – and pulled out the victory. “It’s not about wins and losses, it’s about how hard this team plays. We come out with so much pride every game,” Hassall said. “Every game we lose makes us come out stronger the next time.”Aspen 59, Gunnison 43In a battle between the 3A Western Slope’s top teams, The Skiers boys left no doubt who’s top dog.Aspen opened on a 13-3 run in which five different players scored, Cory Parker and Michael Taylor combined for 23 first-half points, and the Skiers cruised to a comfortable win over previous conference unbeaten Gunnison.Parker and Taylor scored all 16 of Aspen’s points in the second to increase an 8-point advantage after one quarter into double digits. The duo’s dominance in the paint was punctuated in the waning seconds of the half when Taylor soared to corral a rebound and emphatically slammed the ball home as the buzzer sounded. The Skiers’ lead ballooned to as many as 17 points during a second half in which the Cowboys rarely threatened them. Gunnison forward Alan Lathrop’s jumper to open the fourth momentarily trimmed the Aspen deficit to nine at 41-32. But the Skiers responded with a 5-0 run, fueled Brian Westerlind’s steal and bucket in transition and a Parker jumper, forcing the Cowboys to call a timeout. Parker fouled out with 5:18 to play, but the Skiers continued to roll to their sixth straight win. Aspen is outscoring opponents, 424-216, during the streak. Taylor finished with 17 points, Parker had 13 and guard Matthew Holmes added 11 for the Skiers, who next play at Coal Ridge at 7 p.m. on Friday.

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