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For Aspen hoops, there’s no place like home

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Rustin Gudim/The Aspen TimesSkiers forward Jake Nugent shoots over Cedaredge's Miguel Barajas on Friday night at Aspen High School.
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ASPEN – League games in mid-January rarely qualify as must-wins. But with his inexperienced squad sputtering of late, Aspen head coach Steve Ketchum said a victory Friday night against Cedaredge was crucial.

His Skiers delivered. Aspen raced out to a 12-1 lead in the opening quarter and built a 14-point lead heading into halftime. It squandered all but seven points of that advantage in the third quarter, but star Bridger Dawson provided a spark and the Skiers never looked back. The senior scored 11 of his 21 points in the third and Aspen closed the game on a 33-9 run, securing a lopsided 61-30 win.

The Skiers, who entered Friday as one of five 3A Western Slope teams without a conference win, improved to 4-5 overall.

“After two tough losses to begin league play, this was a big win for us,” Ketchum said. “Any win is a big win right now. … We just needed to start something.”

Dawson and company got things rolling early, as Aspen jumped out to a 6-0 lead little more than a minute after tip-off. Later, Dawson, Mike Schwartz and Trent Lichtenwalter each scored inside to extend the lead to 11.

The Bruins, who mustered just one free throw in the opening frame, finally converted their first field goal on an offensive rebound and put-back from Michael Mackey with 7 minutes, 8 seconds remaining in the second quarter. Cedaredge could do little to cut into its deficit, however, because of its inability to slow Dawson and Schwartz; the senior duo dominated in the paint, combining for 17 points in the first 16 minutes.

“We have the potential to be very good,” Ketchum said. “Then there are times when I want to pull my hair out. … Sometimes I look out there and I say, ‘Who are they?'”

One of those moments likely came at the start of the second half. Dawson opened the scoring with a lay-up, then the home team went cold.

Cedaredge seized the momentum, stringing together nine straight points highlighted by Mackey’s 3-pointer from the wing and a running jumper from T.K. Ullery.

Following an Aspen timeout with 5:21 remaining, Bruins full-court pressure produced a turnover and Miguel Barajas scored in transition, trimming the Skiers’ lead to seven at 28-21.

“We need to play a little smarter,” said Ketchum, rolling his eyes. “It didn’t look like they were motivated in the third. Our man defense looked terrible and there was no intensity.”

That changed – and fast.

In an effort to quell the rally, the Skiers began feeding Dawson in the post. The big man responded, scoring 11 of his team’s 16 third-quarter points.

Quinn Morehead stretched the lead to 17 right before the buzzer with a 3, then nailed another from long distance to open the fourth, giving Aspen a comfortable 43-23 lead.

The Skiers opened the final quarter with a 14-1 run to put this game out of reach.

Dawson led the way, and Schwartz pitched in with 13 points.

“This is a confidence builder,” Ketchum said. “Hopefully this can carry over to Saturday.”

Aspen will look to continue climbing in the league rankings at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, when it visits Rifle.

A defensive adjustment made all the difference for the Aspen girls on Friday.

In an effort to slow Cedaredge sharp-shooter Amber Farr, who burned his team for two key 3-pointers in a tight first half, Skiers head coach Jeremy Haack decided to switch from man and zone defense to a box-and-1 in the second half. The plan worked. While Farr finished with 13 points, she never was much of a factor in the second half.

Either were her teammates. Aspen surrendered just seven points in the third quarter, 12 in the final 16 minutes and cruised to a 53-40 win – their second straight.

“[Farr] is one of the best players in the league … and we wanted to try and neutralize her. We played some great defense in the second half,” Haack said. “This was our most complete win of the season.”

Aspen, which pulled out a road win at Roaring Fork last Saturday, was locked in a tight early battle with the visiting Bruins on Friday. The two sides shared the lead three times during a first half in which neither side led by more than six.

The Skiers closed out the half with a 6-0 spurt – two free throws from Bailey Everhart, a lay-up in transition from Olivia Porcaro and a jumper off an inbound play from Jonelle Berklund – to take a 34-28 advantage into the break.

The all but put this game out of reach in the first 5 minutes of the third. Anna Stevens opened the half with a 3, then Berklund got a runner to fall, sparking a 12-4 run that put Aspen ahead, 46-32.

That lead ballooned to as many as 16 during the fourth. Everhart finished with 19 points, while Berklund and Haley Kremer pitched in with 14 and 9, respectively, for the Skiers, who are now 3-5 overall and 2-1 in Slope play.

Extending their current winning streak will not be easy; Aspen visits unbeaten Rifle, 3A’s fourth-ranked team, at 4 p.m. Saturday.

“I haven’t even mentioned that to the girls. We’re going to celebrate this win, then worry about Rifle in the morning,” Haack said.

“We’ll go compete, get after it and see what happens.”

jmaletz@aspentimes.com


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