Skier girls pull off unlikely comeback |

Skier girls pull off unlikely comeback

Jon MaletzAspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN Don’t count out these Skiers.Not after their star guard struggles through her worst shooting performance of the season. Not after they’re outscored, 19-2, during an 11-minute stretch in the second and third quarters. Not after they trail by 10 points with five minutes to play. Senior Julia Hassall scored 13 of her team’s 15 fourth-quarter points Thursday night, and the Skiers girls launched an improbable comeback to force overtime. Sophomore Kylie Westerlind took over from there, scoring seven of Aspen’s nine points in the extra frame, and the Skiers improved to 3-0 with a 41-36 victory. “We weren’t going to let ourselves go 2-1, so we had no other choice,” Westerlind said. “I decided [in overtime] that if no one was going to step up, I was going to have to.”Westerlind absorbed a bump on a drive to the lane 30 seconds into overtime, hit the basket and converted the free throw to give the Skiers their first lead since midway through the second quarter. She scored down low one minute later, then hit two clutch free throws with 27.8 seconds to play, giving Aspen a five-point cushion and, ultimately, a win. No one, not even admittedly speechless Aspen coach Jeremy Haack, saw this conclusion coming. Hassall was relegated to the bench with her team leading, 10-9, with 7:35 to play in the first half. Battle Mountain capitalized, reeling off eight consecutive points in three minutes before the break to pull ahead, 18-15. The Huskies, who had been outscored 123-55 in two losses to 3A Western Slope teams this season, parlayed that momentum into a dominating third quarter, outscoring Aspen, 11-2. Battle Mountain center Kyleigh Quintana used her size and strength on the offensive glass and finished twice in the paint, Emily Lybarger completed a three-point play and Megan Houghton beat the Skiers press for an easy two during the stretch. In the wake of a 19-2 run that spanned 11 minutes, the Skiers trailed by 12 as they huddled before the final quarter. They scored just 17 points in the first 24 minutes.”I asked the girls if they had 12 points in them,” Haack said. “They responded … Defense won it for us in the fourth quarter.”Hassall chipped in, too. While Aspen’s press flustered the Battle Mountain backcourt, it was Hassall who, despite being off for much of the night, found her rhythm at the most opportune of times. She hit a jumper in the lane seconds into the quarter – the ball bounced off the rim three times before falling through. She was off and running.Hassall completed a three-point play with 3:58 to play to cut Battle Mountain’s lead to five and force the Huskies to call a timeout. Seconds later, the Skiers forced a turnover and Hassall converted on a 10-footer from the corner. She rolled off a pick on an inbounds play with two minutes remaining, and sank the jumper to pull Aspen to within two.Strong Aspen defense forced a Battle Mountain inbounder to step over the line in her haste to put the ball in play with 44 seconds left. Hassall was fouled three seconds later – she made both free throws. She finished with 21 points and was a perfect 10-for-10 at the line. “I’m proud of the girls and how they fought back – they’re resilient,” Haack said. “More than anything, it shows what kind of heart they have.”Aspen had just three wins all of last year, and didn’t pick up that last victory until Feb. 17 – 17 games into the season. “We didn’t want this to be the same type of season as last year,” Westerlind said. “I had faith in the beginning of the season, but it doesn’t get any better than this.”

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