Aspen tops Manitou Springs, advances to state semifinals
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
FORT COLLINS, Colo. – Aspen head coach Steve Ketchum thinks Fort Collins is starting to feel like home.
The No. 2 Skiers, who are making their third consecutive trip to the 3A Great Eight, sure did not look comfortable Thursday at Moby Arena. While its 1-3-1 trapping defense gave No. 10 Manitou Springs fits all afternoon, Aspen struggled on offense and from the foul line – where it missed 16 of 25 attempts.
Senior Andrew Papenfus bailed out his teammates, though, erupting for 23 points to propel the Skiers to a 50-44 victory and a berth in Friday’s state semifinals at 5:30 p.m. Aspen (25-0) will take on No. 6 Buena Vista (21-5), which dispatched No. 14 Peak to Peak in earlier action Thursday.
“It was not our best effort, and we got a little lucky,” Ketchum conceded. “Our usual balance disappeared, and that’s why we struggled. … It’s a good thing Andrew came to play.”
The guard, who starred in district and sub-region play, picked up right where he left off last week. He scored six points in the opening quarter, including a steal and dunk in transition that brought Skiers fans to their feet.
In the second quarter, Papenfus nailed a 3, then picked off a pass and absorbed a bump as he converted an acrobatic scoop shot. He hit the ensuing free throw to give Aspen a 22-17 lead three minutes before the break.
He scored 12 in the first 16 minutes for the Skiers, who led 25-21 at the half.
“I’m just trying to play my game and do what I need to do to help us win,” Papenfus said. “I’ve been here two times before, so I came out confident and dominated.
“I’m confident my teammates can step up. … I think some of them came out a little nervous and had some jitters. I remember my first time here – I was scared to death.”
The nerves appeared to get the best of the majority of the Aspen roster – especially at the foul line.
“That was an absolute embarrassment,” Ketchum said of his team’s free-throw woes.
“We’re used to winning by 20 points,” added guard Matthew Holmes, whose team played one regular-season game decided by fewer than 10 points. “Big gym. Big crowd. You’re always going to be nervous given the high stakes. … Teams down here are faster, shoot better and play better as a team.”
Sam Schultz and Stevie Davis nailed back-to-back 3s at the end of the first quarter to give the Mustangs a 12-10 lead. Davis finished with a team-high 11 points.
Kyle Maring gave Manitou Springs a boost in the paint, disrupting multiple Aspen shots and hitting all five of his field goals. He finished with 10 points and four rebounds.
Late in the third quarter, Maring turned and pulled up for a jumper near the foul line that rattled home, cutting the Mustangs’ deficit to three at 33-30. After Aspen senior Nick Codd shook free underneath for a bucket, Davis hit one free throw, then Cole McQueeney pulled down an offensive board and scored.
In a one-possession game with time running out, the Skiers looked to Papenfus. Good decision. He rolled off a screen, received a pass from Holmes and buried a fade-away 3 at the buzzer to stretch the lead to six.
“That was a big-time play from a big-time player,” Ketchum said. “He’s probably one of the best two players in the state. … He came through in the clutch.”
Papenfus scored on the baseline, then hit a free throw in the first 90 seconds of the fourth to give Aspen a 41-32 cushion.
The Skiers made things interesting down the stretch, missing eight of 11 from the line.
Davis pulled Manitou Springs to within five with a 3 in the final minute, but Nicky Fuller stepped up to the line and hit two, putting things out of reach and sending Aspen to the semifinals for the second time in three years.
“I guess we’re saving them for when they really count,” Ketchum joked.
Aspen will need a better effort Friday if it is to top Buena Vista, which features a standout guard of its own. 3A player of the year candidate Josh Morgan scored 15 points in the opening quarter Thursday against Peak to Peak, and finished with 27 in the Demons’ 59-48 win.
“All we need to do is stay in front of him, and make him take hard jump shots,” Papenfus said. “If he makes them, he earns it.”
“I don’t know if he can be stopped,” Ketchum added, “but I don’t know if Andrew can be stopped either.”
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