Basalt, Aspen hoops open districts tonight

Jon Maletz
Aspen High's Jyace Stutsman gets a pass off as Basalt's Ben Pollock defends in a matchup earlier this month. (Aspen Times file)

One shot defined the Basalt High School boys basketball season.With seconds winding down in a tight rivalry game in Basalt, Aspen High’s Luke Gosda shook free of the defense, received a pass at the top of the key and sunk a three. Two missed free throws later, Basalt had lost its fourth straight and slid into a tie with Aspen with 5-4 Western Slope records. The momentum Basalt compiled during a five-game conference winning streak had fizzled.They could have folded. The Longhorns instead maintained their composure. They won their final three regular-season games to secure their position as the Slope’s second-best team behind Roaring Fork. Basalt will host No. 7 Cedaredge at 7 tonight. The inconsistent Skiers, the conference’s fourth seed, who have ended their regular season by alternating wins and losses for six straight games, will host No. 5 Olathe tonight.”We’ve had a couple tough games this year where we had opportunities to win and didn’t,” Basalt coach Michael Green said. “We’ve gone on different spurts this year, and we feel pretty good about where we are right now.”The Longhorns were far from crisp in Friday night’s game in Cedaredge but pulled off the 50-43 win on the strength of a second-half push. Basalt dumped the ball down low to Darren Duroux, and the 6-foot-5 senior responded with 23 points. Duroux has averaged close to 24 points during the team’s current three-game winning streak. The Longhorns outscored the Bruins 115-79 in their two-game season sweep.

Basalt is hoping Saturday’s 16-point win against Hotchkiss is a preview of coming attractions. The Longhorns stifled the Bulldogs with their defensive pressure and dominated in transition. Duroux scored 23, and guard Ben Pollock pitched in 13, including a team-high three 3-pointers. Junior Duncan McDaniel added 10 points.”Our intensity was great,” Green said. “We came out, applied some pressure, and it turned the tide of the game.”The Skiers were 1-1 last weekend, highlighted by an upset of No. 3 Gunnison on Friday night. Aspen responded to four quarters of trapping and pressing defense with a 46-39 victory. “They trapped nonstop from the opening tip, and we couldn’t even breathe out there,” head coach Steve Ketchum said. “Brian Westerlind hit two free throws at the end to give us some space. If we miss those and have a turnover at the end, it could’ve gone either way.”To hold a team to 40 or less points, that’s incredible defense.”Aspen, which lost to Gunnison, 43-41, in the teams’ first meeting Jan. 21, trailed at halftime and after three quarters, but outscored the Cowboys 20-11 during the final eight minutes. Cory Parker and Tucker Helmus each scored 15.

The Skiers ran into an inspired Olathe squad one day later. The Pirates, the beneficiaries of a raucous senior night home crowd, as well as having Friday off, jumped out to the 13-4 lead after one quarter. Aspen, down six at halftime, managed to pull to within two in the fourth but couldn’t close the gap.”Everything they threw up went in,” Aspen assistant coach Dirk Gosda said. “One kid was off balance and threw it up sideways. It didn’t matter. We had shots rattle in and out.”Aspen, which beat the Pirates by 12 at home Jan. 27, was working against more than a home crowd. The team was tired after a physical game Friday, Ketchum said. The team got off to a slow start Saturday after waking up to find a window on the team bus bashed in. And they were also short-handed.Sophomore Josh Gartner, a full-time junior varsity player who has seen sparing action on varsity, started Friday and did not disappoint, Ketchum said. Gartner shadowed and shut down Gunnison’s standout point guard, and helped handle the ball. Despite the unrelenting pressure, Aspen turned the ball over just 13 times. Gartner asked Ketchum to take him out of Friday’s game after he collided with another player and apparently hyperextended his knee, Ketchum said. Gartner did not play Saturday. The Pirates, who played man-to-man the entire game, forced 20 turnovers.”This was the first start of his life, and he was phenomenal, even down the stretch,” Ketchum said. “He could hardly walk [after the game]. He didn’t play [Saturday] and that definitely affected us. We need him right now. He’s a major part of the puzzle.”

Gartner’s status for tonight is unknown, Ketchum said. Similarly, figuring out which Skiers team will show up promises to be a question mark until tipoff.Aspen has not won more than two games in a row all season, a troubling prospect as it enters postseason play, Gosda said. The team has experienced the highs – its late-game heroics in Basalt – and the lows – a four-game losing streak in December in which Aspen was outscored by 92 points.The season starts anew tonight, however.”You want to do what it takes to bring the team together, and every once in a while you lose one and realize you just didn’t show up,” Gosda said. “Sometimes the [intensity] is not there, but I think they’ll step up [tonight]. I think they’ll let it all lose. There’s nothing to fear.”Jon Maletz’s e-mail address is