Those previous 19 wins and undefeated regular season record? That doesn’t mean much now that the playoffs are here.
The Aspen High School boys’ basketball team pushed back its season Tuesday night with the district tournament opener, visiting Grand Valley 69-38 inside the AHS gymnasium.
“The pressure eased a bit after 19-0. At this point, the playoffs, we sort of start over. It’s 0-0,” AHS coach Cory Parker said. “We have to win every game. So, I don’t think so much about the record as about the pressure of just them putting the pressure on to win a state championship. This is now the objective and the central point.
Aspen, the tournament’s No. 1 seed, had no problem with No. 8 seed Grand Valley, who had played the previous night in a 51-39 win over No. 9 North Fork in the district playoff. The Skieurs’ 31-point victory Tuesday was similar to the 65-39 win over the Cardinals Jan. 29 in Aspen, the only other time the teams have played this season.
The rematch was played in front of a raucous crowd, the students dressed in black, the dance crew cheering from the sideline and only a few masks to be found after Pitkin County’s mask mandate officially ended earlier in the morning.
“A lot of guys had nerves that they were struggling with. Super excited about seniors night, super excited to have the most fans we’ve had all year. So I think the guys kind of got into that,” Parker said. “We started at a pretty good pace, a pretty good pace, and at the same time trying to control the ball and trying not to turn the ball over and make little mistakes. We had quite a few more turnovers than the usual average. A lot of that just because we were trying to do too much, to show the fans the best they could.
Aspen led 14-6 after one quarter, and Grand Valley kept it closer minutes into the second quarter, but by halftime AHS had built a 36-18 lead and never looked in. back after that. It was 49-21 after three quarters.
Aspen, now 20-0 overall, will then advance to the district semifinals, where they will face No. 5 seed Coal Ridge at 2 p.m. Friday in a match hosted by Grand Junction Central High School. The Titans held on to beat No. 4 Gunnison on Tuesday night in the quarterfinals, 51-48. Aspen and Coal Ridge played as recently as Thursday in the regular season finale, a 74-56 AHS victory.
“We want to see them again. Some of those teams didn’t see our four quarters of play,” Parker said. “They’ve seen two, two and a half, maybe three, but I don’t know if any of them have really seen a full basketball game from us. We’re always thrilled with those opportunities to play. again with a team.
Friday’s other semifinal, scheduled for 5 p.m. in Grand Junction, will be between No. 3 Moffat County and No. 2 Delta. Moffat held on to beat No. 6 Basalt on Tuesday 59-50, while Delta edged past No. 7 Roaring Fork 72-44.
Not only are the teams vying for the right to be district champions — that game is on Saturday, also in Grand Junction — but the two teams that make it to the finals will automatically earn a spot in the Class 3A state tournament. The remaining 18 teams that do not automatically qualify in the 32-team bracket will have to do the field based on RPI.
With an RPI of around 60 on Tuesday night, Basalt’s season likely ended 7-13 overall with the loss to Moffat County.
Aspen, however, is looking well beyond the district tournament and should be able to host a few games in the regional rounds of the state tournament.
“That’s how we have to look at every game, that it’s the playoffs,” Parker said. “We can’t just look at who we’re playing against. We have to think about preparing – we should be playing the best basketball we’ve played all year. I think we showed some glimpses of it tonight.
Also on Tuesday, the No. 6-seeded Basalt Girls lost 44-31 to No. 3 Moffat County. With an RPI of around 44 on Tuesday night, that likely ends the Longhorns season at 7-13 overall.