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Shooting woes sink Aspen boys

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Jim RyanAspen guard Andrew Papenfus attempts a dunk against Yuma in Saturday's 3A state tournament consolation bracket championship in Fort Collins.
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FORT COLLINS, Colo. ” Aspen head coach Steve Ketchum stared at the floor as he slowly sauntered unaccompanied down a long, dimly lit hallway inside Moby Arena on Saturday.

Just seconds before addressing a group of assistants huddled outside the locker room, he looked up, clutched his briefcase tightly and spoke.

“Ah, that was disappointing,” he said, eyes red and tearing at the corners.

Another year, another disheartening exit for the Skiers at the 3A state tournament’s Great Eight.

Last year, Aspen (24-3) left Fort Collins with two straight losses, including an overtime thriller against Eaton. After coming up short in Thursday’s quarterfinal matchup with Faith Christian, the Skiers rebounded with a win over rival Coal Ridge and appeared poised to clinch a consolation-bracket title Saturday against undersized Yuma (21-6).

That is until they suffered through their most woeful shooting performance of the season. Aspen missed 17 of its 18 3-point attempts, scored just 19 points in the first half and could do little to slow shifty Indians guard Jaden Winger. Winger scored 23 points and hit 13-of-19 from the foul line ” including 6-of-8 in the game’s final 3 minutes, 16 seconds ” to lead Yuma to a 48-39 victory.

“Nobody is more disappointed than these kids are,” Ketchum said. “I kept hoping things would change, that they would brick a free throw and we would take it the other way and bury a 3. … It happens. That’s part of life.”

When these teams met last, in 2008’s state quarterfinals, Tommy Rittenhouse buried a 3 with 1:50 remaining, sparking a 7-0 run that propelled the Skiers to a 50-46 victory. They were not as fortunate down the stretch this time around.

Guard Matthew Holmes shook free on an in-bounds play with 3:40 remaining in the fourth quarter and nailed a shot in the corner from long range to knot the game at 37. But, after two free throws from Indians guard Nolan Bohn, Holmes and fellow junior Andrew Papenfus watched hopelessly as attempted 3s clanged off the rim on the ensuing possession. Yuma finally secured the rebound and got the ball in the steady hands of Winger, who was fouled and converted two free throws to stretch the lead to four with 1:55 remaining.

Winger, who attempted 10 more free throws than the entire Aspen roster, scored 18 points in the second half.

“We didn’t have an answer for No. 3,” Ketchum said. “He was dynamite. … He found ways to get to the rim, and we couldn’t keep him out [of the lane].”

After a first half in which the Indians seemed content to run their offense from the perimeter despite little success ” they missed 19 of 24 shot attempts, including eight of 10 from beyond the arc, and scored just 15 points in the first 16 minutes ” they decided to attack in the opening minutes of the second quarter. Winger and Joel Rhoades took defenders off the dribble and scored in the opening two minutes as the Indians pulled to within two at 21-19.

Winger gave Yuma its first lead, at 25-23, with 3:12 remaining in the quarter when he absorbed a bump on a baseline drive, scored off the glass and converted his free throw.

Devin Kahn hit a mid-range jumper and Trevor Watson finished in traffic in the final minute for the Skiers, but Rhoades buried a wide-open 3 in the final minute to give his team the 28-27 edge heading to the fourth.

The Indians scored 11 of the game’s final 13 points ” all coming from the foul line, where they shot nearly 61 percent for the game.

During that run, Winger answered a Walker Abrahamovich jumper in the lane by driving and drawing a foul. He hit the first, then missed the second. Rhoades alertly crashed the boards, secured the offensive rebound and drew a foul. He made both attempts to give Yuma a 45-39 advantage.

After Holmes drove down court and fired up another errant 3, Mitch Wills hit two shots at the line to all but seal the game with 50 seconds to play.

“Everybody struggled, and we missed a couple easy ones,” Watson said. “It’s frustrating for sure.”

“There was a lid on the basket,” Papenfus added. “Usually when we have those kinds of struggles, someone steps up. … It just looked grim [in the second half]. They were running the stall, and we couldn’t hit anything.

“What a crappy way to end the season.”

Papenfus scored four points during a first quarter in which Aspen’s defense stood tall. The Skiers held the Indians without a field goal in the first eight minutes and led, 8-2, heading to the second.

There, 6-foot-8 Abrahamovich made use of a decided height advantage to score eight straight points. The first of his three buckets in the quarter stretched the Aspen lead to 13-2. He finished with a team-high 12 points.

Alex Brown recorded Yuma’s first field goal when he scored in the paint with 5:52 remaining. After a Winger free throw, Brown nailed a 3 to trim the deficit to five and prompt a Skiers timeout.

Rhoades connected from long range and Sam Baucke pulled down an offensive board and scored in the final 1:43 cut the Aspen’s lead to 19-15 at the break. Both teams had 31 rebounds.

The game slipped out of the Skiers’ grasp in the second half. With 50 seconds to play and Yuma’s free-throw procession in full swing, seniors Abrahamovich and Watson were lifted from the game.

“I love my whole team,” Watson said. “I thank them for playing so hard for me.”

“It was a disappointing finish, but what a great year,” Ketchum added. “Nobody ever thought we’d get back here. … It’s been a great ride.”

It’s one he hopes to improve on next season. Nine players return, including starters Papenfus, Holmes and Walker Moriarty.

“Our choices are to lose and not get here, get here and lose or get here and win,” Ketchum said. “I think we’ll take the third option.”

jmaletz@aspentimes.com


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