Basketball: Aspen boys top Tigers

Staff report
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado

DENVER – The scenario is a familiar one in the Colorado high school basketball playoffs.

The unique cross-state playoff rivalry will take a new turn Saturday when the No. 1-seeded Sun Devils host the No. 16-seeded Skiers in a 1 p.m. showdown in Englewood.

Aspen and Kent Denver won first-round games Friday at the Class 3A Regional Championships, hosted at Kent Denver High School.

The Skiers (19-4) overwhelmed No. 17 seed La Junta, 72-47, to advance to today’s regional championship game, the seventh consecutive year the Aspen boys have reached the title game.

Kent Denver (22-1) swarmed over Aurora West Prep, 71-28, to advance to today’s showdown with Aspen.

Meanwhile, in Brush, the season ended for the Basalt Longhorns. The Basalt boys (8-15), who qualified for regionals with a strong late-season run, lost to the host Beetdiggers, 55-18, on Friday just as a major winter storm started to head to the Colorado Plains.

No. 4 seed Brush (20-3) will play Moffat County (19-4) in Saturday’s regional championship after the Bulldogs beat Classical Academy, 66-61, in the other semifinal Friday in Brush.

Moffat County took two out of three from the Aspen boys this season.

The No. 5 seed Roaring Fork boys (20-3) won at home Friday, beating Middle Park, 72-49. The Rams will take on Faith Christian (13-10) for the regional title today. Faith Christian beat Centauri, 59-54, on Friday in Carbondale.

“I thought our defense was outstanding,” Aspen head coach Steve Ketchum said. “It was really good. Daniel Schwartz played great D (Friday night).”

Ketchum said the Skiers started quickly with a 21-11 lead at the end of the first quarter, helped by seven points from Clayton Crawford and six from Trent Lichtenwalter. By halftime, the Skiers pushed the lead to 34-21.

Lichtenwalter led Aspen with 21 points; Crawford added 19. Sophomore Luke Rider scored 11 in the Aspen victory.

“Trent and Clayton did a good job staying out of foul trouble,” Ketchum said.

La Junta’s leading scorer, Brandon Martinez, was held to 12 points, well below his 18-point per game average.

“We held him to one 3-pointer all night long,” Ketchum said.

The Skiers cleared the bench in the game with all 12 players seeing court time.

“We are so excited to be in the sweet 16 and still playing,” Ketchum said. “And this is a young group.”

The Skiers start two sophomore and two juniors.

“Kent Denver is huge and athletic. That’s how you win a state football championship. But their skill level is not overpowering,” Ketchum said, adding that it will take a Herculean effort to upset the Sun Devils on Saturday.

But, he said, if the Skiers can beat Kent Denver, Aspen would head to Fort Collins and the elite eight as the overall No. 1 seed.

“This is going to be a great game. I think if its close at the end, they’ll start to feel the heat,” Ketchum said.

In girls playoff basketball Friday, Class 3A No. 5 Moffat County beat No. 28 Jefferson Academy, 53-40, to ready today’s championship game. Moffat County’s girls will take on Kent Denver, a 54-42 winner over Middle Park.

The Roaring Fork girls, seeded No. 25, lost at No. 8 Eaton 51-48 on Friday.

No. 16 Olathe, of the Western Slope League, beat No. 17 Clear Creek 61-29.

And the No. 24 Grand Valley girls were eliminated by No 9 Machebeuf 59-50.