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Aspen has no solution for Cedaredge at league tourney

Tim Mutrie
Aspen Times Staff Writer

The Class 3A Western Slope League boys basketball tournament turned out pretty much as expected over the weekend at Palisade High School:

The top two seeds, Cedaredge and Aspen, advanced from either sides of the bracket to meet in Saturday’s finals where No. 1 Cedaredge – undefeated by league opponents and 21-1 overall – won 46-40 over No. 2 Aspen (16-6).

Both teams advance to the 32-team Class 3A state tournament, with Cedaredge as the No. 4 seed and Aspen at No. 11. The first round games are scheduled for Friday, and Aspen will face No. 22 Valley High (17-6) of Gilcrest on Friday night in Buena Vista.

Meanwhile, No. 4 league tourney seed Roaring Fork wrapped up third place Saturday with a win over No. 5 Eagle Valley in the consolation finals, and No. 6 Basalt beat No. 8 Gunnison 63-42 to earn the fifth and final berth to the 32-team state tourney.

Basalt (8-14), seeded No. 32 in the state bracket, will face the No. 1 Colorado Springs Christian on Friday at their place (as the top eight seeds host the first and second round games within their group).

“Nothing like getting the best off the bat,” Basalt coach Mike Green said with a chuckle Sunday night.

“We had struggled for a while, but we kind of went to the [league] tournament thinking every game was our last. We’ll take the same approach this week, even though it’s a tall order.”

Aspen had a rough trip to the league tournament finals.

After crushing No. 7 Olathe 73-27 in the first round Tuesday at the AHS gym, Aspen ran into rival Roaring Fork on Friday in the semifinals in Palisade. Aspen scored all of 9 points in the first half and had to scramble in the second half to get back into the game, said Aspen coach Steve Ketchum.

“We got our butts handed to us for three quarters – I’ve never experienced a poorer night of shooting in my 23 years of coaching. We missed every layup, every three-pointer and every free throw.”

Ironically, the game didn’t start that way. Aspen senior Josh Lackey drilled a three-pointer on Aspen’s opening possession, a bomb that was answered right back by Roaring Fork. Then, Aspen senior Zac Paris drained another three-pointer on the next possession to put Aspen ahead 6-3.

“Then it seemed like we never scored again,” Ketchum said.

Senior guard Nick Farrell, Aspen’s leading scorer, didn’t register in the scoring column at all in the first, and only finished with 5 points, a season-low. But Aspen clawed back to 30-20 at the end of the third quarter, then had an awakening in the fourth.

“Even though we were playing better, we weren’t cutting their lead,” Ketchum said. “But then we changed our press and just starting creating turnovers and the next thing you know we’re down 3 and the kids are out of their minds.”

With some help from Roaring Fork at the free throw line, Aspen went on to a 45-41 win to advance to the final.

Senior forward Phil Salazar scored 11 of his game-high 17 points in the fourth, including five-straight free throws down the stretch. Lackey finished with 16 points, including 13 in the second half.

In the final vs. Cedaredge, the two top-seeded teams were even through the third quarter at 31 all.

“This was a dogfight, a defensive game with both teams trying to get their offenses going,” Ketchum said.

“Then with five minutes left, we’re up 3 and thinking, `We have these guys, we’re where we want to be,’ then we had two turnovers and we never recovered from that.”

Aspen lost 46-40. Salazar led Aspen with 14 points, while Farrell chipped in 10.

“How, mentally, can we think about what we’re doing better and not panic?” Ketchum said. “Our kids gave a great physical effort, but when it came to playing mentally sound at both ends of the court, we didn’t do that.”


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