Aspen sets record with 20th win
Aspen Times Staff Writer
The Aspen High School boys basketball team has finally reached what coach Steve Ketchum calls “the magic number.”
Behind 31 points from senior Jeff Brence, the Skiers beat visiting Bennett 72-53 Tuesday night in the first round of regionals for their school-record 20th win, something no team in Aspen’s 60-year history has done.
“Aspen boys basketball has never won 20 games in the history of the school, and tonight we’re 20-3,” Ketchum said.
In other Aspen hoops action, the No. 24 seed Skier girls traveled to Platte Valley for their first regional tourney match up. AHS lost a heartbreaker, 37-36, to end the season with a 14-10 overall record.
The boys team hosted Bennett, the tourney’s No. 25 seed, for what turned out to be a surprisingly rough game on the home team. Bennett was a bit of a surprise for the packed Skierdome. The team “choked” during district tournament play last week, winning only one of its three games, Ketchum said.
Bennett seemed ready to make up for its disappointment in districts Tuesday night. At the end of the first quarter, Aspen was only ahead 18-17.
“I’ll give them credit – they shot great,” Ketchum said of Bennett’s performance. “Twelve of their 17 points in the first quarter were threes.”
Scoring slowed for both sides in the second quarter, though Bennett managed to once again match AHS shot for shot. The teams ended the half tied at 26, thanks in part to 13 first-half points by Brence.
Brence, the only senior on the Skier squad, wasn’t ready to give up his high school basketball career in a regional game, Ketchum said.
“I had a long talk with Jeff today, and his mind-set was, ‘This will not be my last game,’ – and he played like it,” the coach said.
It showed in the second half. Brence’s jump shot kicked off the third quarter and pushed his team to a scoring glut that ended the third quarter 45-39. Junior guard Nick Farrell pushed the Skiers up in the last few minutes of the third with three buckets and a free throw.
Turnovers were few and far between in the fourth, as the Skiers outscored Bennett 27-14 for the win. Ketchum wasn’t sure what to credit for the fourth-quarter, wake-up call.
“I think we were a little too hyped-up, and that affected our decisions on ball-handling [in the beginning],” Ketchum said. “We didn’t play smoothly, and there were too many turnovers.”
And finally winning a lead toward the end of the third seemed to throw a scare into Bennett, Ketchum said.
“To be honest with you, I think the other team just lost confidence,” he said.
Besides Brence’s 31, Farrell scored 20, and junior Phil Salazar finished up with “one of his best games of the season,” Ketchum said, with 11 points. Junior Josh Lackey, who seems to have recovered nicely from a broken nose he suffered in practice a few weeks ago, scored six.
The Skiers move on to the second round of regionals, where the team will face Leadville’s Lake County High School. Lake County dispatched AHS’ downvalley rival, Roaring Fork, 72-52 Tuesday night.
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