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Hoops: Aspen boys clinch Slope crown

Michael Appelgate
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Jim Ryan/Special to The Aspen TimesAspen guard Quinn Morehead drives in for an uncontested layup during Thursday's game at Basalt High School.
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BASALT – In front of a packed Basalt High gym on senior night, the Longhorns had little to be excited about. On the verge of a winless season, Basalt faced the top team in the 3A Western Slope.

Spurred on by a loud student section, the home team fought hard down the stretch, but to no avail. Rival Aspen, playing a mix of starters and reserves throughout, overpowered the Longhorns and captured its fourth league title in five years with a 45-29 win.

“I’m very proud of these guys,” Skiers head coach Steve Ketchum said. “There was a huge crowd – it reminded me of the days of old. Basalt came out and played with great emotion and great defense and made it very difficult for us.”

Ketchum chose not to play usual starters Austin Roark, Quinn Morehead, Jake Nugent and James Powell in the first quarter. Instead, he gave seniors Matt Hirsch and Leif Mosher their first starts in their high school careers.

“We were doing this for our own kids to reward them,” Ketchum said. “We’ve got a couple seniors who have never started a game. We said, ‘It’s your time to shine.'”

Led by point guard Daniel Amador, Aspen carried a 12-8 lead into the second quarter, then pulled away when its starters took to the floor and showcased stifling defense. Basalt scored just two points in the frame, and the Skiers extended their lead to 20-10.

Leading the way for Aspen were Amador and Roark, who both finished with eight points.

The game took an exciting turn in the final four minutes of the fourth, when Roark was fouled hard while going up for a dunk. Aspen players lobbied for a technical foul as the Basalt home crowd turned rowdy. Inspired by the home-court support, Kris Kruger hit back-to-back 3s, and Sean Ryan hit from behind the arc afterward, trimming the lead.

For a team about to lose its final regular season game to complete an 0-19 regular season, Longhorns head coach Shane Vetter was proud of the way his team never stopped fighting.

“I thought it would be a lot tougher dealing with them, but their character really showed through,” Vetter said. “It’s been nothing but disappointment for the most part, but people don’t see the leeway that we made and the improvements in the guys. It’s an incredible thing for those guys to have that much character and hold their heads up high.”

Vetter believes his team played its best game of the season Thursday. After losing in Aspen, 73-14, on Jan. 20, he was pleased that his team never stopped improving.

“For where we started in our first game and the way we ended tonight, I’m incredibly proud to be their coach and incredibly proud for them, and looking forward to taking out coach Ketchum next year,” Vetter said.

The season is not completely over for the Longhorns: The team will take part in a play-in game Monday for the district playoffs.

Aspen, now 14-4 overall, visits Rifle at 7 tonight.

“I want to see Basalt basketball return to its prominence back when I first started coaching at Aspen,” Ketchum said. “It’ll happen;; they just have to go through some growing pains right now.”

mappelgate@aspentimes.com


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