Hoops: Roark, Aspen boys top Roaring Fork
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
CARBONDALE – Austin Roark gingerly limped off the court Friday night, attempting to keep as little weight as possible on his tender right ankle.
Later, the Aspen High senior standout had to brace himself against the wall as he joined a locker room huddle.
“He’s Captain America,” Skiers head coach Steve Ketchum proclaimed. “He’s my hero.”
He was Aspen’s savior against rival Roaring Fork. On a night when the Skiers were shorthanded – guard Quinn Morehead was a late scratch because of illness – Roark stood tall, tallying 16 points, including eight in the final quarter. Aspen overcame another sluggish start with suffocating defensive pressure, timely scoring and sound ball handling and hung on for a 44-35 victory, virtually assuring itself a 3A Western Slope title.
With a victory over either floundering rival Basalt on Thursday or Rifle on Friday, the Skiers (13-4 overall, 10-1 conference) will lock up the league crown.
“Any time we get closer to one of our goals, it’s always a big plus,” said Roark, sporting a walking boot to protect the ankle he sprained about a week and a half ago.
“I’ve played through pain before. … It wasn’t much of an issue out there. I just kind of blocked it out of my mind and waited until after to feel the pain.”
The Rams were the ones suffering down the stretch Friday. During the early stages of the fourth quarter, Roark nailed a 3 from the top of the key, hit a mid-range jumper from the foul line and converted on an impressive drive to the basket, turning a one-possession game into a comfortable nine-point lead with 5 minutes, 48 seconds remaining.
“The looks were there for me,” Roark said. “Coach and I talked about getting real aggressive in the games, smart aggressive. It’s definitely all about trying to go out there and set an example for the other guys.”
Added Ketchum: “He obviously was not at full speed, but he hit some big shots for us. That’s the kind of guy he is, the kind of guy he can be for us.”
Roark had some help late. In addition to routinely breaking the Roaring Fork press, Daniel Amador calmly sank two free throws with one minute to play, giving Aspen an eight-point cushion.
The Skiers were six of eight from the charity stripe in the final 60 seconds.
“I was just praying there would be no turnovers. We did a good job,” Ketchum said. “We prepared well for their pressure and the nerves didn’t take over. It looked like we had some confidence out there and did the right thing.”
That was not the case in the early going. Center Trae Moxley controlled the paint in the opening quarter, erupting for 10 points as the Rams jumped out to a 15-6 lead.
Aspen buried three first-quarter 3s – two from James Powell – to keep pace. It trailed, 17-11, after eight minutes.
“We have some kind of bug,” Roark said of the Skiers’ slow start. “Coach Gerbaz was saying he was going to start us in the fourth quarter of the JV game. … Sometimes it’s nerves. Sometimes it’s mental preparation. We can make a lot of different excuses, but we’re just not ready at the beginning of games. We have to fix that quickly.”
Aspen shored up things in a hurry Friday – particularly on defense. It allowed just two points in the second quarter, and six in the third.
“Aspen stepped it up, and we didn’t answer the call,” Roaring Fork head coach Larry Williams admitted. “They outworked us tonight. They out-executed and outsmarted us. Every phase of the game, they took it to us the last three quarters.”
Added Roark: “Defense is definitely something we’ve hung our hat on lately. We kind of take pride in saying our defense sets up our offense. We knew our defense was subpar in the first, but in the second we all looked at each other and said, ‘Hey, it changes right now.’ We went out and made it happen.”
Powell finished with nine points for the Skiers. Moxley could muster just two free throws in the final three quarters and wound up with 12 for the Rams, who had their six-game win streak snapped.
“I’m proud of these guys. If we played like this against Olathe, we’d be undefeated (in the league) right now,” Ketchum said. “But it’s like our captain (Roark) said: We ain’t seen nothing yet. Our goals are much higher than this.”
Missed free throws and errant lay-ups cost Aspen in its first regular-season matchup with the Rams in early January. This time around, the undersized Skiers could not keep pace in the paint.
Surging Roaring Fork dominated on defense and on the offensive glass Friday night. The Rams closed the second quarter with a 16-0 run and, fueled by Megan Gianinetti’s 23 points and 11 rebounds, never looked back, cruising to a 50-29 win – their fifth straight.
“We knew coming in that we were playing a really good team, but I’ve always been telling the girls that we’re a good team, too,” Aspen head coach Jeremy Haack said. “We knew we had to block out and keep them off the boards. I thought the girls competed and played hard … but we can’t give teams second-chance opportunities. We gave them a few there.”
Maddie Nieslanik and Kaleigh Wisroth combined for 10 points during Roaring Fork’s second-quarter spurt. Savannah Johnson’s runner in the lane in the opening minute was the Skiers’ lone basket in the frame.
Bailey Everhart scored off the glass and Anna Stevens nailed a 3 in the early stages of the third quarter, pulling Aspen to within 13. It would get no closer.
“The kids are getting it figured out,” Rams head coach Kirk Cheney said. “Hopefully, we’re peaking at the right time.”
Wisroth finished with 14 for Roaring Fork, which now is 9-7 overall and 8-2 in league play.
The loss drops the Skiers to 8-9 and 5-6.
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