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Hoops: Late-game heroics lift Aspen boys

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN – Daniel Amador has this flare-for-the-dramatic thing down pat.

His 3-pointer in the waning seconds of Aspen’s season opener against Steamboat Springs propelled the Skiers to a 48-47 victory. Tuesday night against visiting Coal Ridge, the sophomore guard helped Aspen secure a senior-night win and remain perfect in 3A Western Slope play.

With his team trailing by two with 1 minute remaining in regulation, Amador launched a long 3 with a defender in his face. His shot hit nothing but net and put the Skiers on top.

Another clutch basket and some free throws down the stretch helped Aspen (12-3 overall, 9-0 conference) seal the 60-55 victory.

“I’m there for my teammates and when they need me to do something, they rely on me and I try to pull through,” Amador said.

Added Aspen head coach Steve Ketchum: “Any win coming down the stretch is a big win for us. We need them all. Had we done what we could’ve, this would’ve been a different story. We had to grind it out the old-fashioned way, the hard way. But it showed some character.”

The Titans (5-10, 4-5) appeared to take control of this back-and-forth tussle in the early stages of the fourth quarter; Robby Moore scored underneath and Darik Brown sank two free throws, giving Coal Ridge a 45-40 cushion with 5:45 to play.

After the two teams exchanged free throws, Quinn Morehead pulled Aspen to within one with a clutch 3-pointer from the top of the key. Later, Austin Roark finished in traffic and Amador hit two from the charity stripe, giving the Skiers a 50-49 lead with 1:58 remaining.

After Tyler Guettler converted a three-point play, Amador put the Skiers ahead for good: He missed the front end of a one-and-one, but soon found himself with the ball after a teammate pulled down an offensive rebound.

He did not hesitate.

“I know I can make that shot,” Amador said. “I missed a few before, but I kept my composure and shot it.”

“He’s a gamer,” Ketchum added. “I just kept hoping that any minute we’d make a layup, make a free throw and not turn it over. We only had two turnovers in the fourth quarter against really heavy, heavy pressure. That’s a credit to these guys.”

And a far cry from the opening half, when Aspen stumbled out of the gates. The hot-shooting Titans amassed an early eight-point lead courtesy of six quick points from senior guard Darik Brown.

Clayton Crawford’s eight first-half points – including a 3 at the buzzer in the second quarter – helped the Skiers keep pace.

“We turned the ball over 15 times, couldn’t make a layup and couldn’t make free throws in that first half,” Ketchum said. “We missed five wide-open layups and like seven free throws. Hit those, and we’re up by double digits.

“To their credit, they were drilling 3s on us. Coal Ridge played as good as I’ve seen them play in a long time, as good as they can play.”

Amador scored six of his 14 in a third quarter in which the two sides shared the lead twice. He came up big again down the stretch.

Then, Nugent stretched the home team’s advantage to five with a layup and Crawford put this game out of reach with two free throws with 18.9 seconds remaining.

“We knew we had the heart to come through. We all believed in each other,” said Amador, whose team has won three straight since a humbling 27-point loss to Palisade last week. “This should set us on a good path for next week. It’ll give us some momentum.”

Aspen visits Olathe at 7 p.m. Friday.

Guard Jonelle Berklund said Aspen likes to keep things interesting. Tuesday’s nail-biter with visiting Coal Ridge certainly qualifies.

The Skiers squandered nearly all of a nine-point lead in the waning minutes and, after a late turnover, watched as Titans guard Mariela Martinez fired a potential game-winner at the buzzer. The shot bounded off the backboard, however, and Aspen escaped with a 48-46 victory.

The Skiers, who split their regular-season series with Coal Ridge, now are 8-7 overall and 5-4 in conference play.

“We almost gave that one away,” said Berklund, who finished with 15 points.

“Give the girls credit. They found a way to win,” added Skiers head coach Jeremy Haack. “I’m just so incredibly proud of this team and their ability to stick together in tough times like this. It wasn’t an easy game.”

Aspen mustered four points – all from Berklund – during a sluggish first quarter in which the two sides combined for just 10. The pace picked up in the second, when the Skiers erupted for 22 points. They closed out the half with an 18-5 run to amass a 26-19 lead.

The Titans opened the third with an 8-0 spurt in 1:50 to seize the lead. The two teams exchanged baskets from there, until Hayley Kremer and Berklund hit mid-range jumpers and Bailey Everhart sank two free throws, giving Aspen a 37-31 lead heading to the forth.

It had to sweat it out down the stretch, however, after a string of turnovers and missed shots.

Allie Ehlers scored in the paint to pull Coal Ridge to within three with 50 seconds to play. About 35 seconds later, teammate Paige Ryan was fouled while attempting a 3-pointer; she made just one of three from the charity stripe.

The Titans forced another turnover and had an open look at the buzzer.

“They’re pressure was really strong and getting to us,” Berklund said. “We just kept our composure. … (When that shot went up,) I was thinking, ‘Don’t go in.'”

Added Haack: “I told the girls during that last timeout to enjoy the moment and the atmosphere. It’s so fun to be a part of a game like that. What a great game.”

jmaletz@aspentimes.com


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