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Regional draw for Aspen boys includes No. 1

Dale Strode
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado
Jim RyanTrent Lichtenwalter and the Aspen boys basketball team will open the Class 3A Regionals on Friday night againt La Junta at Kent Denver High School in Englewood.
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ASPEN – The Aspen Skiers joined elite company when they were assigned to the Class 3A Regionals this year.

Rewarded as one of 32 teams in the 3A boys basketball playoffs, the Skiers were less than rewarded when they were slotted into the regional tournament hosted by No. 1 overall seed Kent Denver.

The Aspen boys (18-4) were seeded No. 16 this season, necessitating the trip to Englewood. The Skiers will take on No. 17 seed La Junta (16-6) in Friday’s 7 p.m. game at Kent Denver.

The host Sun Devils (21-1) will play No. 32 Aurora West Prep (8-8) in Friday’s 5 p.m. game.

The winners will play at 1 p.m. Saturday at Kent Denver to earn a trip to the elite eight of Class 3A at Colorado State University in Fort Collins.

“La Junta is very athletic. All five (starters) can shoot the 3- ball,” Aspen head coach Steve Ketchum said.

“They like to drive and kick the ball out for a 3-pointer,” said Ketchum, who credited assistant coach Greg Gerbaz with an extensive scouting report on Aspen’s conference and regional opponents.

“We probably scout more than almost anyone in Colorado,” Ketchum said.

Gerbaz traveled all over the state to collect tapes of Aspen’s opponents this year, including possible postseason matchups.

Ketchum said La Junta runs an offense similar to the drive-and-dish offense of Coal Ridge and the attacking drives of Moffat County, the team that beat the Skiers last weekend in the semifinals of the Western Slope League District Tournament in Palisade.

All five La Junta starters like to hang out by the 3-point line, waiting for their opportunities, Ketchum said.

Senior Brandon Martinez, a 6-3 leaper, leads the balanced Tigers in scoring, at 18 points a game.

“He jumps really, really well,” Ketchum said.

“And he’s the kind of guy who can miss three or four in a row. You think you’ve got him. Then, he’ll make five in a row,” Ketchum said. “He’s a very confident shooter.”

Plus, he’s hit nearly 50 3-pointers to lead La Junta this season.

Four other Tigers average close to double figures, led by Dallas Oquist (11 points per game), Trey Schreivogel (10.5), Casey Weber (9.7) and Joel Johnson (9.0).

La Junta’s six defeats all came against playoff teams, with the exception of one loss to St. Mary’s of Colorado Springs.

James Irwin (Colorado Springs), Alamosa, Dolores Huerta (Pueblo), Manitou Springs and Sanford all qualified for 3A or 2A regional playoffs this season and will be in action Friday.

“They have some size, they’re all 6-1 or 6-2 or so,” Ketchum said. “We’ll have to bring our bigs out to play on the perimeter.”

He said the overall quickness of the Tigers could be troublesome for the Skiers.

La Junta, he said, will play man-to-man defense with some full-court pressure and some trapping schemes.

“They, in some games, the played a 2-3 zone for the whole game,” Ketchum said, expecting a big of everything from the Tigers.

He said the playoff experience of the Skiers and their coaching staff is critical for a weekend like the one ahead.

“This is when you need that experience,” Ketchum said, adding that the youthful Aspen roster will have to play well under pressure. “We’ve got to make good decisions with the basketball.”

A victory over La Junta would send the Skiers into the regional championship game for the seventh consecutive year.

“If were are fortunate enough to beat La Junta, Saturday will be David vs. Goliath,” Ketchum said of a possible showdown with the consensus No. 1 of 3A basketball, Kent Denver.

The Sun Devils are coached by veteran Danny Schayes, the former NBA/Syracuse player who’s in his 19th season as Kent Denver’s head coach. His father, Dolph, is in the NBA Hall of Fame.

“I’ve known Danny for a long time. He’s got a great team. They are 12 deep. They are all 6-4 or 6-5. And they just won a state football championship,” Ketchum said.

The Skiers’ plan of attack, if they end up facing Kent Denver, will be the same when they take on La Junta on Friday night.

“We will play the defense,” Ketchum said. “We just have to get our offense going.”

dstrode@aspentimes.com


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