Basketball: Aspen on the comeback trail |

Basketball: Aspen on the comeback trail

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Jordan Curet The Aspen Times
ALL | The Aspen Times

ASPEN ” Coaches gave him Cory Parker’s old jersey ” mostly because it was the only one that could fit his 6-foot-8 frame.

Much like the former No. 44, Roaring Fork transfer Walker Abrahamovich came up big Friday. The senior scored 17 points ” 14 in the second half ” as Aspen erased a 13-point deficit against visiting Classical Academy. Abrahamovich sealed off his defender and scored underneath with two minutes to play to give the Skiers their first lead of the game. He hit three key free throws down the stretch, and the Aspen defense held the Titans to one field goal in the final eight minutes of a thrilling 54-49 season-opening win.

“It felt like we were just about to get blown out in the third quarter,” Skiers head coach Steve Ketchum said. “All of a sudden, things can change.”

Sophomore guard Bryce Queener knifed through the Aspen defense and scored on consecutive possessions, then teammate Buzzy Obenauf nailed a three from the wing to put the Titans ahead, 44-31, with less than three minutes remaining in the third quarter.

Then, Abrahamovich went to work. He hit two free throws with 2 minutes, 9 seconds to play, then kissed the ball off the glass on the ensuing possession. After Trevor Watson hit one of two from the line, junior guard Matt Holmes picked off a pass near midcourt and drove for the lay-in, cutting the Aspen deficit to six. Obenauf beat the buzzer with a jumper in the corner to stretch Classical Academy’s lead to eight ” the same advantage they took into halftime.

It wouldn’t last. The Skiers stepped up their defense with full-court pressure. Nick Codd and Watson scored underneath in the opening minute of the fourth, then Fritz Gonzalez pulled Aspen to within three at 46-43 after hitting one free throw.

After a Titans timeout, junior Walker Moriarty nailed a jumper in the lane.

“All the kids started creating turnovers and quick baskets,” Ketchum said. “That changed everything. … I’m a little bit surprised the defense worked that well.”

The pressure forced one Classical Academy guard to throw the ball out of bounds with 2:10 remaining in the game. On the ensuing Skiers possession, Abrahamovich shook free underneath for the go-ahead score.

“Those first few minutes, I was nervous to the max,” Abrahamovich said. “We settled down. … They got me the ball because they know I can score. It was the defense that got me those shots.”

The drama was just beginning. After Gonzalez hit two free throws and Abrahamovich added one, Obenauf shook free in the corner and nailed a 3 ” the Titans’ first field goal of the fourth ” with 12.2 seconds remaining to trim the Aspen lead to 52-49.

Moriarty had the chance to ice the game after being fouled with 9.6 seconds to play ” but missed both free throws. The Skiers defense bailed him out.

After a timeout with 5.6 seconds to play, Classical Academy struggled to get the ball in play and wound up throwing it out of bounds. After a foul, Abrahamovich confidently sank two free throws with 3.4 seconds remaining to secure the win.

Abrahamovich and Holmes, the lone returning starter from last year’s team that finished fourth in 3A, combined for 29 points while Watson chipped in with nine. Codd Obenauf and Queener each had 14 for the Titans.

“I thought we had lost the game. We had no emotion,” Abrahamovich said. “We showed heart. We ran everything to perfection [in the second half] and the defense really helped us out.”

“That’s why you’ve got to play all four quarters,” added Ketchum.

The Aspen girls basketball team could get used to this.

The Skiers were on the losing end of numerous blowouts during a disappointing 2008 season. Friday, they took out the frustration of last year’s 4-16 campaign on Lake County.

Five Aspen players scored during a first quarter in which they jumped out to a 13-2 lead. They upped that advantage to 17 at the break, and the offensively-challenged Panthers could do little to keep pace in a 50-20 Skiers rout.

“It always great to get that first win in the first game,” Aspen head coach Jeremy Haack said. “They did a great job on the boards not allowing second-chance points. They played great team basketball.”

Last year, Aspen often looked to star guard Julia Hassall for leadership and scoring. Friday, they showcased a balanced attack that overwhelmed Lake County. Katie Evans nailed two free throws, then Kylie Westerlind, Lindsey Anderson and Georgia Lipkin all hit jumpers as the Skiers jumped out to the 8-0 lead in the game’s first five minutes. The defense was equally impressive, holding the Panthers to one basket in the first eight minutes ” a jumper from Tasha Martinez with 1:30 remaining.

Four Aspen players scored six or more points and six of the team’s nine in uniform scored during the first half.

“They shared the ball well, made the extra pass and didn’t force anything,” Haack said. “Our defense definitely created for us on the offensive end.”

Anderson scored on a drive to open to the third quarter, which keyed a 10-0 Skiers run. Anderson had six points during the run and eight in the quarter. Lipkin nailed a three from the win to give Aspen a 44-15 lead after three quarters.

The Skiers starters spent much of the fourth watching from the bench. Anderson and Lipkin each finished with 14 points, while Westerlind chipped in with eight.

“We’ve been working hard and getting after it in practice and we knew it would pay off,” Westerlind said. “We believe in ourselves. We just need everyone else to believe, too.”

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