Aspen High boys hoops opens district-tourney play |

Aspen High boys hoops opens district-tourney play

The No. 2 seed Aspen High boys basketball team opens Class 3A Western Slope League District Tournament play tonight against No. 7 Rangely at Palisade High School at 6 p.m.

The Aspen boys enter the game as the No. 4 ranked team in Colorado’s Class 3A, one spot behind Cedaredge, the No. 1 seed in the district tourney on the other side of the bracket from Aspen.

At 17-2, Aspen boasts the finest record in school history, but coach Steve Ketchum said Aspen is focusing on the task at hand.

“We’re playing really well and our confidence level is back at a high level again,” Ketchum said. “We know we’re not a fluke. On any given night, there’s not a team in Colorado that we cannot beat, but conversely, if we don’t play smart, there’s not a team that can’t beat us.

“We know that we’ve got to take it one game at a time,” Ketchum continued. “Anything can happen – look what happened to Basalt, losing by 30 points at home to Meeker! We’ve got to be ready for anything.”

During the regular season, Aspen beat Rangely by 15 points at home. However, Ketchum said with Rangely’s strong inside presence and three perimeter sharp-shooters, Aspen needs to play a disciplined game.

“If those guys heat up, they can beat anybody,” he said. “But hopefully I’ve done my job through the 19-game regular season so the kids know what’s expected of them. I’m going to be taking a cheerleading role, and if the kids step up and coach themselves, I’ll be doing my job.”

After Aspen’s two regular-season losses – back-to-back defeats against Hotchkiss and Cedaredge Jan. 25-26 – Ketchum vowed to whip his team into better shape physically. Additionally, Ketchum made a commitment to rely more on the team’s bench players.

“Conditioning has really picked up over the last few weeks,” he said. “Our kids are in better shape, but we’re also playing smarter. We got by earlier in the season because we surprised people and we’re athletic. But now, we’re not pressing as much anymore to save our kids for the fourth quarter, and we’re substituting more so we’re lasting all four quarters.

“I’ve learned from the Hotchkiss game, where I didn’t sub at all in the first half, that we’ll pay a price in the second half,” he continued.

The dynamic duo of senior Jeff Brence and junior Nick Farrell will be a key for Aspen at the district tournament, where the top six teams earn berths to the 32-team regional tournament on the road to the state tourney.

Brence is averaging 20 points per game, making him one of the top-10 scorers in Class 3A, while Farrell is netting 18 points a game. Farrell, the team’s versatile point guard, is also leading all classes in assists, with 9.5 per game, and Class 3A in steals.

“All the guys seem to be healthy,” Ketchum said. “It’s the healthiest we’ve been since anybody can remember.”

As only eight teams remain in contention in the boys district tourney, its likely that Aspen will manage to finish in the top six to advance to regionals. However, a top 1 or 2 finish will secure Aspen further home games in the regional tournament as the field is cut from 32 to 16, and then 8. The final eight teams will be reseeded for the Class 3A state tournament at Air Force Academy.

“If we get to the district tournament championship game, we’ll be happy but not satisfied,” Ketchum said. “We know at that point that we’ll be No. 2 from the league and get at least one home game at regionals.”

@ATD Sub heds:Girls action

@ATD body copy: Meanwhile, the No. 6 AHS girls team beat No. 11 Hotchkiss Tuesday night to advance to the quarterfinals of the Class 3A Western Slope League District Tournament against No. 3 Roaring Fork.

The girls Class 3A Western Slope League District Tournament is being held at Rifle High School; Aspen and Roaring Fork tip off at 4:30 p.m. today.

The Basalt High girls, the No. 1 seed in the tourney at 18-1 overall on the season, earned a bye in the first round of the tourney, like the AHS boys, and open the tournament tonight at 7:30 p.m. at Rifle High against No. 8 Olathe. In two regular-season games this season, the Basalt girls beat Olathe in blowout victories.

Like the boys, the top six finishers in the girl’s district tourney advance to the 32-team regional tournament.

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