Hoops: Aspen girls hang on against West Grand | SkyHiNews.com

Hoops: Aspen girls hang on against West Grand

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times

ASPEN – An eighth-straight loss was staring Aspen in the face with 1 minute remaining Thursday night.

The Skiers girls had squandered a nine-point, third-quarter lead against West Grand. While stout defense kept them in the game, they were struggling mightily on offense without standout Bailey Everhart, who is working her way back from a concussion.

They gave the sparse home crowd little reason to cheer. At times, the din of the overhead lights was the only noise percolating through the gym.

At least until the final minute.

With the game on the line, Aspen finally came to life. Savannah Johnson picked off a Mustangs pass and scored, sparking a

7-0 run in the final 42 seconds to seal a

28-22 victory – the Skiers’ first since Jan. 14.

“You know, we had a rough three weeks and a couple heartbreaking losses,” Aspen head coach Jeremy Haack said. “Give the girls credit for finding a way to win in the fourth quarter. They hit some big shots down the stretch. That was key for us.”

Both teams, who have combined for just five wins in 27 games, struggled to make shots all night – especially during a sloppy first half.

Junior Annie Graber banked home a desperation 3-pointer at the buzzer in the opening quarter, helping stake the Skiers to a 9-4 lead. Teammate Jonelle Berklund followed with a jumper in the corner on the opening possession of the second. Aspen appeared to be in complete control.

Neither team would score again in the frame.

Aspen (4-12) extended its advantage to nine on two free throws from Berklund in the opening minute of the third. Then, the Skiers went cold.

Meanwhile, the Mustangs hit their stride. They got some shots to fall, started connecting from the foul line and dominated in the paint, closing the quarter with a 16-2 run to pull ahead, 20-15.

“I told the girls the first couple minutes of the third were going to set the tone for the rest of the game,” Haack said. “We didn’t have the intensity we needed. Thank goodness we got it back.”

As this seesaw battle reverted back to a defensive struggle in the final quarter, Aspen slowly trimmed its deficit. Junior Hayley Kremer followed a free throw from Anna Stevens with an offensive rebound and score, squaring the game at 20 with about 4 minutes remaining.

Following a West Grand timeout, Taylor Pesch banked home a shot from the foul line to put the Mustangs back on top.

The lead did not last. Johnson pulled the Skiers to within one with a free throw at the 2-minute mark, then put them ahead for good; she stepped into a passing lane to steal an errant West Grand pass, then drove hard to the basket, pulled up for and nailed a mid-range jumper.

With 20 seconds remaining, Stevens connected twice from the charity stripe, stretching the Skiers’ lead to 25-22. Hannah Howell attempted a 3 on the ensuing Mustangs possession, but it sailed wide and Kremer pulled down the rebound and was fouled immediately. She hit one free throw to make it a two-possession game with just 7 seconds remaining.

The Skiers hit 5-of-6 from the line in the final 20 seconds. They were 8-of-21 before that stretch.

Stevens led all scorers with 11 points while Berklund pitched in with eight.

“Tonight was huge for us,” Haack said. “The girls have worked hard and … there’s still a lot of season left. This win tonight will only help us tomorrow.”

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