One more to go.
After 26 games and 26 wins, the undefeated Aspen High School boys basketball team will play for the Class 3A state championship Saturday night in Denver after a 49-44 win over Sterling in the semifinals on Friday at DU’s Hamilton Gymnasium.
“I feel good, definitely. That is a great win. At the same time, we expected to be here and the job is not done yet,” AHS head coach Cory Parker said after the game. “We are happy, happy that we got that work done and happy that we gritted out a game like that, but we knew we were going to get to this point and we got to go prove again that we are the best team in the state.”
The No. 3-seeded Skiers (26-0) avenged a 54-52 overtime loss to the Tigers (23-3) in the state quarterfinals from a year ago and will play in the title game for the first time since they lost to Faith Christian in 2010 after also reaching 26-0 on the season.
AHS has never won a state championship in basketball, a fact the Skiers hope to change on Saturday. As far as that 2010 team goes, Parker — himself a 2008 AHS graduate and former star player — said it never comes up.
“We are not talking about records. We have not talked at all about the 2010 team,” he said. “I did say we are going to make history tomorrow and bring one home to Aspen for the first time.”
Aspen will play No. 5 Centauri (24-1) in the 6 p.m. final on Saturday after the Falcons of La Jara beat No. 1 St. Mary’s in the late semifinal on Friday, 71-67, overcoming a 12-point halftime deficit.
Centauri, which is located just south of Alamosa in southern Colorado, has only a lone loss to Pagosa Springs (47-42 on Jan. 22) as a blemish. Their win over St. Mary’s shouldn’t be all that surprising considering they also beat them during the regular season, 70-64 on Jan. 15. Those were St. Mary’s only two losses.
No. 2 Sterling will play St. Mary’s in the third-place game at 2 p.m. Saturday.
Aspen against Sterling was every bit as good as expected. The Skiers trailed 16-15 after a quarter but led 24-20 at halftime, a key Porter Lee 3-pointer in the final seconds giving Aspen some breathing room. The Tigers were held to only four points in the second quarter.
The offenses got it going again in the third quarter, with AHS leading 39-38 entering the final frame. Once again, the Aspen defense stepped up, holding the Tigers to only six points in the fourth and overcoming some foul trouble — including a late technical that led to two Sterling points — to get the win.
“It’s part of our identity. It’s who we are,” Parker said of his team’s continually stellar defense. “It’s what we do. So that’s no different. We definitely played the best basketball player that we’ve played all year tonight, but we went into it with some adjustments on how we were going to play defense.”
Sterling senior Jackson Keil, who averages more than 20 points a game and scored 42 only a night earlier in a 63-56 quarterfinal win over No. 7 Manual, was held to only six points against Aspen for the entire game, and four of those were via the free-throw line. His only field goal came in the first quarter.
It was a combination of Braden Korpela, Lucas Lee and Ben Godomsky who were tasked with defending Keil.
“We kind of had them switch. We had Ben pick him up full court, and then when we had an opportunity in the half court we switched BK on him,” Parker said. “But BK got in some foul trouble, so we put Lucas on him, and Lucas did a great job. Lucas got in some foul trouble, so we had to finish with Ben on him, and Ben does what he does. He’s a dog. He’s the honey badger, is what we call him. He just freaking got after it. He’s so competitive, he’s so fierce, and he closed it out for us.”
Porter Lee was the guiding force for Aspen on offense, scoring 22 points to lead all players. Braden Korpela scored 10 points to also reach double digits for the Skiers. Those two, along with Braden’s twin brother Shae, have been part of Aspen’s three-headed monster offensively and it seems at least one of them comes up big in the scorebook each night.
“We’ve had games like that where Shae didn’t get a lot of good looks. We’ve had games where BK didn’t have a lot of looks,” Parker said. “So that’s just how our team goes. Having three weapons like that, they are going to support each other and pick each other up. Braden and Shae were being so unselfish and screaming at Porter to attack, attack, attack. And Porter did what he can do.”