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The madness begins

Nate Peterson
Basalt's Duncan McDaniel drives to the basket in the first half of a home game against Aspen last month in Basalt. The Longhorns boys play Valley at 4 p.m. today in Denver in the first round of the 3A state tournament. (Mark Fox/The Aspen Times)
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Miracles happen on basketball courts every year in March, so when Aspen boys basketball coach Steve Ketchum talks about the possibility of his 10-12 team upsetting the No. 1 team in the state tonight, it doesn’t seem so farfetched.”It’s like David and Goliath,” Ketchum said of the Skiers’ first-round matchup with top-seeded Kent Denver (18-3) at 7 p.m. in Englewood. “We know how the biblical story goes. We’re hoping for a repeat. It’s going to take everyone playing their best game at the same time to pull this off.”The chances of advancing past the first round look much better for both of Basalt’s varsity teams. The fourth-seeded Longhorns boys (13-9) open the 3A state tournament against Valley (13-10) in Denver at 4 p.m. The third-seeded Basalt girls, winners of the 3A Western Slope crown, play No. 6 Bayfield (15-6) in Colorado Springs at 2 p.m.The Basalt boys finished second at last weekend’s district tournament in Palisade, losing to league champion Roaring Fork, 38-25, in the championship game.Hotchkiss upset the Basalt girls, 48-40, last Friday at districts, but the Longhorns rebounded with a 52-42 win against Cedaredge the next day. The loss to Hotchkiss came just six days after a Basalt win against the same team.

“I think it kind of made them a little bit angry,” Basalt girls coach Carolyn Compton said. “It was something that we needed, maybe, to get a little chip on the shoulder and play a little harder. I think they did that Saturday, and they’ve done the same in practice this week.”As for the Skiers, Ketchum’s squad took a beating in its two losses last weekend in Palisade – literally. After a loss to Roaring Fork on Friday, Aspen lost three starters to injury Saturday in its 59-43 loss to Gunnison, including already-banged-up starting point guard Luke Gosda.Senior forward Tucker Helmus took an elbow in the eye early in the third quarter. Less than a minute later sophomore forward Cory Parker took an elbow to the nose – his second of the game – and retired to the bench.Gosda’s injury, which came just a minute after Parker’s, was arguably the worst – and the most detrimental to Aspen’s hopes of an upset today. The senior sprained his ankle severely and couldn’t run in practice until Thursday.Parker and Helmus practiced all week and should be ready to go today, Ketchum said.

“Tucker looks like he’s pretty well healed. He’s got this little psychedelic color in his eye, but otherwise he’s fine. We’ve been calling him ‘Purple Haze,'” Ketchum said. “Luke wasn’t able to jog until [Thursday], and was only able to get up the court about half-speed. We’ll see how it goes.”Compton said her team is the healthiest it has been all season. “This is the first week in a while that I haven’t heard someone coughing up a lung at practice,” she said.The only thing that worries Compton is the five-hour drive to Colorado Springs. The team bus is set to leave Basalt at 6:30 this morning. “It’s always tough to know you have to travel five hours to play a basketball game,” she said. “I hope to be able to stop at Castle Rock, get a meal, then get to the hotel, where we can change our clothes. I’m hoping we have enough time to kind of relax.”

Ketchum isn’t as worried about the drive to Denver as he is about Kent’s two guards, senior Robby Pride and junior Kyle Lewis. Pride just committed to play Division I hoops at Dartmouth. Lewis still has a year to decide where he’ll play college ball, but Ketchum noted that the junior is even better than his senior counterpart.”We played them two years ago in a regional,” Ketchum said. “[Lewis] was the starting point guard as a freshman, and he was better than anyone we had faced all season. They’re an up-and-down-the-court team, and they like to bring pressure. I think the kids know they have to play the game of their lives if we’re going to have a chance.”Basalt boys head coach Mike Green was unavailable for comment on his team’s first-round opponent.As for Bayfield, Compton said she doesn’t know anything about the Wolverines but sees no reason for concern.”We’ve just been fine-tuning our own stuff,” she said. “I believe if we go out there and play our style of basketball, we’ll be all right.”Nate Peterson’s e-mail address is npeterson@aspentimes.com


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