PEACH VALLEY, Colorado - A slow start by the Aspen Skiers allowed the Coal Ridge boys basketball team to grab an early lead and make a game of it with the defending 3A Western Slope League champs.
The Titans opened a 17-10 lead after the first eight minutes of play, as the host team came out hot on the shooting end and applied tough defensive pressure.
But solid second- and fourth-quarter performances by the Skiers made the difference in the end.
Aspen battled back to take a three-point lead at half-time, then hung on for the 50-43 win.
"Especially for a team with the reputation of Aspen, I thought we played pretty well," said Coal Ridge coach Paul Harvey. "We're improving every game, and that's our goal. I saw some good things out of these guys tonight."
The Titans had upset in their eyes going into the final minute.
Down by eight with just over a minute to play in the game, Coal Ridge stepped up its pressure defense, forcing a turnover on an Aspen in-bounds play, followed by a traveling call against the Skiers.
Titans junior Alec Herrera knocked home a three-pointer with 41 seconds left to pull the Titans within three, 46-43, prompting Aspen coach Steve Ketchum to call a timeout.
"I had to settle our kids down at that point," Ketchum said. "We joke about it, but sometimes we play like Wile E. Coyote on crack. We play hard on offense, but then we get lazy on defense.
"We just need to settle down, relax and play tough defense and our offense will follow," Ketchum said.
Balanced scoring helped the Skiers' cause. Senior Trent Lichtenwalter was the only Aspen player in double figures with 12 points. Sophomore Evan Patzoldt finished with nine, while sophomore Luke Rider, senior Josh Baker and junior JJ Ready each had eight points.
"They came out with some pretty tough defense, so the win feels pretty good. They're a good shooting team," Lichtenwalter said of the Titans.
Senior Dakotah Snode paced the Titans with 14 points, while Herrera finished with 11.
Aspen improved to 6-1 overall and 4-0 in the league, while Coal Ridge drops to 1-6 and 1-3. The Titans are at Basalt today for another league game, while Aspen travels to Moffat County.
A slow start also plagued the Coal Ridge girls, who eventually warmed up on a cold January night to down the visiting Aspen Lady Skiers, 48-28.
Aspen jumped out to a 6-3 lead in a low-scoring first quarter, but a 15-7 run for Coal Ridge in the second quarter gave the home team the five-point edge at halftime.
Despite some foul trouble for Coal Ridge's Cassidy Blackard and Mariela Martinez, a huge 20-8 run in the fourth quarter for the Lady Titans sent the Skiers back to the slopes.
"Paige [Ryan] did a good job leading the team all game, and we had a chance to get some of our younger kids out there and they contributed," Coal Ridge coach Damon Martinez said. "We definitely picked it up defensively in the second half."
Ryan led all scorers with 23 points, while Martinez had nine for the Titans.
"We're a defensive team, and we like to switch up different defenses which can be a lot of fun," Ryan said. "It's good to have a game like this after the [holiday] break. We have some tough league games coming up."
Coal Ridge improved to 3-4 overall and 2-2 in league play with the win.
Aspen's Tateh Hooper finished with six points, and Anna Stevens had four.
"I loved our intensity early in the game, and it was a close game going into the fourth," Aspen coach Jeremy Haack said. "We just had too many mistakes at the end of the game, and their defensive pressure got to us."
The Lady Skiers dropped to 2-7 overall and 1-3 in league.