Aspen survives Titan-ic comeback bid, ousts Coal Ridge |

Aspen survives Titan-ic comeback bid, ousts Coal Ridge

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Jim RyanAspen senior Mathew Holmes, center, drives for a basket against Titans Jonathon Roessler, left, and Alex Klein in Friday's consolation semifinal.

FORT COLLINS, Colo. ” Familiar foes Aspen and Coal Ridge shared a lighthearted moment at halfcourt Friday.

“Everyone was joking during the captain’s meet that we hope we don’t play each other again,” Skiers guard Andrew Papenfus said.

The two 3A Western Slopes boys hoops powers had hoped their fourth meeting this season would take place under different circumstances ” in Friday’s state semifinals instead of an early-afternoon consolation bracket semifinal in cavernous and largely unoccupied Moby Arena. But after deflating losses Thursday at the Great Eight, the two rivals collided once more with a potential fifth-place state finish on the line.

They put on a show. The Skiers (24-2) overcame a sluggish start, outscoring the Titans, 20-7, during the second quarter and pulled ahead by as many as 23 in the second half. That lead was enough to withstand a late charge from Coal Ridge (21-5) ” barely. Guards Eric Schmitz and Andy Smedra ignited a 19-5 run in the final three minutes that cut the Titans’ deficit to five. They wound up running out of time, however, and Aspen escaped with a 64-57 win.

The Skiers, the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed, had their state title dreams crushed by Faith Christian on Thursday. They face off with Yuma at 10 a.m. in Saturday’s consolation bracket championship. The fourth-seeded Indians knocked off No. 3 Erie earlier Friday.

“The kids are so focused to bring home some hardware,” Aspen head coach Steve Ketchum said. “When you finish fifth you get a trophy, and that’s important to the kids. They get their name engraved and get to be in that trophy case forever.”

That focus seemed to be missing at the start, as the Skiers scored just four points in the first five and a half minutes. Schmitz nailed two 3-pointers during that time to stake the Titans to an 11-4 advantage.

Aspen responded. Papenfus, wearing a cumbersome brace on a sprained right knee that limited him to just four points in 25 minutes of action Thursday, hit two free throws with 2:23 to play. In the final minute, he and Walker Moriarty capped a 9-0 spurt with back-to-back 3s as the Skiers pulled ahead, 13-11.

Aspen scored 16 consecutive points during a five-minute stretch at the end of the first and beginning of the second quarter. After Trevor Watson shook free underneath on the first possession of the second, Papenfus nailed a 3 from the corner and Walker Abrahamovich finished off the glass. Later, Papenfus connected again from long range and the lead ballooned to 23-13.

“Yesterday [the brace] was a pain, and it was hard to stay focused,” Papenfus said. “Today we taped it differently, and went from there.”

“Andrew caught on fire,” Ketchum added. “Yesterday he was too worried about his knee brace ” it was breaking and the straps weren’t working. Today we told him, ‘Look, the knee is fine. … Go have some fun.'”

Papenfus and Watson combined for 12 points during a second quarter in which a methodical Skiers scoring attack generated a slew of open looks. They missed just four of 13 shot attempts during the frame and five different players scored.

Matthew Holmes scored on a reverse lay-up, Devin Kahn nailed a mid-range jumper in the corner and Watson scored underneath in the final two minutes to give Aspen a 33-18 halftime advantage.

Smedra pulled the Titans to as close as 11 in the opening minutes of the third with back-to-back 3’s and an acrobatic finish in the lane, but Aspen scored 10 of the quarter’s final 12 points to head to the fourth leading, 47-28.

Abrahamovich streaked down the right side, controlled a full-court pass and dunked the ball home to stretch the lead to 23 with little more than five minutes to play in the third.

Smedra answered with one of his five 3s, and Coal Ridge called a timeout.

“I just remember coach in the huddle saying, ‘We can do this. You’ve got to keep your composure and play with heart. You guys can do it,'” the Titans’ Adam Miller said. “It just kind of clicked. I think we just stepped up our game and started playing a little more physical than we were and shots started to fall.”

Did they ever. Smedra scored in transition, then Schmitz completed a three-point play, then hit a 3-pointer from the wing with two minutes to play. He pulled the Titans to within 11 with another long-range bomb with 1:13 remaining, prompting an Aspen timeout. Ketchum motioned to his starters to shed their warm-ups and head for the scorer’s table.

“I wish there was a four-point line, because he could have hit a couple,” Coal Ridge head coach Paul Harvey said of Schmitz.

Smedra scored on a drive, then, after two Papenfus free throws, Jonathon Roessler and Schmitz buried back-to-back 3s to cut the deficit to five with 15 seconds to play.

“Coal Ridge, to their credit, brought in the heavy artillery and were raining in 3’s from all over,” Ketchum said. “It wasn’t so much that we were doing anything wrong. … They made it fun ” for the Coal Ridge fans at least.”

The Titans hit seven 3s during a fourth quarter in which they outscored Aspen, 29-17. Smedra scored 22 points in the second half and 24 total, and Schmitz added 20. The duo was 10-of-19 from long range.

It still was not good enough to extend their season.

“When we started buckling down and playing hard defense like we were in the second half, we started coming back. It was just too late,” Smedra said.

“Yeah, we got within five. That was pretty awesome,” Harvey added. “… At least we finished the season on a more positive note. If we would have lost by 20 … There’s a lot of positive attitudes in the locker room right now.”

Papenfus, who led Aspen with 18 points, calmly sank two free throws with eight seconds to play to put the game out of reach. Watson finished with 15, Holmes 11 and Abrahamovich eight for the Skiers, who shot 57 percent in the game.

“When we click and we’re focused, I think we’re the best team in 3A,” Papenfus said. “But it’s when we have those two-minute lapses and teams come back that it’s hard to dig yourself out.”

Aspen will look to lock up fifth place Saturday against a Yuma team it beat in last year’s state quarterfinals.

“This time of year, every win is a great win,” Ketchum said.

“There’s still a lot to play for,” Papenfus added.

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