Aspen is ‘king of the valley – temporarily’
Aspen Times Staff Writer
The Aspen High School boys basketball team is “king of the valley – temporarily,” in the words of coach Steve Ketchum, following wins over league and geographic rivals Roaring Fork on Friday and Basalt on Saturday.
With two wins, Aspen improved to 14-2 overall on the season. However, both Class 3A Western Slope League opponents gave the Skiers a run for their money – Roaring Fork took AHS into triple overtime – while the Longhorns trailed by one point at halftime of Saturday’s game.
Rivalry weekend kicked off Friday when AHS welcomed Roaring Fork (7-6 overall and 5-1 in league play entering the weekend) to the Aspen Skierdome.
From the start, the game was close. Aspen’s four-point lead in the first quarter dwindled to two points by the half, thanks to a well-prepared Roaring Fork team.
“[Roaring Fork coach Mike Fahrenkrug] had his team ready to play. My hat’s off to them,” Ketchum said. “I felt like we gave them enough opportunities that they should have beaten us, and we feel very, very fortunate that we came out with a win.”
With 1:30 remaining in regulation and AHS on top by four points, Aspen junior Brett Mufson made his way to the free-throw line, but he missed both shots. Roaring Fork then seized the opportunity to tie things up, 49-49, and send the game into overtime.
The Skiers built a four-point lead early on in the first overtime, but with under two minutes to play, a series of turnovers allowed Roaring Fork to tie things up once again. And it was the same story for the second round of overtime, Ketchum said.
“Roaring Fork really, really played well, and we were just getting exhausted,” he said.
But junior Nick Farrell sank another of what Ketchum now calls his “miracle shots” inside the lane to send the game into the third overtime. AHS suffered from a few more poorly timed turnovers, but after Roaring Fork missed three of four last-minute free throws, the Skiers wrestled a 68-64 win.
Friday night marked the second close call of the season against Roaring Fork, Ketchum said. Aspen escaped an early season tournament game against the Rams in Steamboat Springs, winning by just one point.
“It was a similar finish, only this one took a lot longer,” Ketchum laughed. “The fans, the coaches and the players were just absolutely exhausted. I’ve heard people say they never saw a three-overtime game before.”
On Saturday, Basalt arrived at the Aspen Skierdome fresh off a loss to undefeated Cedaredge on Friday night. Though Cedaredge walked away with a 62-40 win, BHS coach Mike Green said his team managed to keep within two baskets of the 3A Western Slope League’s top team until the fourth quarter.
“The final score doesn’t tell the final story of the game,” Green said. “We were within four points of them the entire game, but they were able to extend the lead. We were able to keep [Jake] Brooks, their leading scorer, to only three field goals, so we did a great job defensively.”
BHS seemed ready to make up for the loss with another upset victory Saturday night as the Longhorns led 15-13 at the end of the first quarter. The Skiers regained the lead in the second quarter with a 22-21 advantage at halftime.
Frequent trips to the free-throw line in the second half clinched the game for the Skiers, Ketchum said. Keeping Basalt’s top scorers in check – senior Ki Mulcahy managed only 11 points during the game though he’s averaging more than 20 per game – also helped AHS build a 34-27 lead in the third quarter.
“I have to give some credit to Brett Mufson, who had to guard Ki all night, and Zac Paris, who had to guard Danny Popish all night,” Ketchum said.
The Longhorns also knew how to shut down key AHS players, Ketchum said.
“They did a fabulous job on Nick Farrell, with only four points. They did a really good job of shutting him down,” he said.
“Defensively, we were doing a great job when you think about Aspen and Cedaredge being two of the top teams in our league,” Green said. “Our kids should be gaining some confidence after this weekend.”
AHS managed an eight-point victory in the end, 47-39. Basalt dropped to 6-11 overall.
Aspen’s Jeff Brence led with 18 points, followed by Paris with 11. Basalt’s Ryan Thompson had 10 points, followed by Dan Moebius with 8 and Danny Popish with 7.
On Friday, Aspen travels to Paonia for its regular-season finale. Basalt, meanwhile, hosts Eagle Valley on Friday and West Grand on Saturday.
The Class 3A Western Slope League District Tournament opens Feb. 26.
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