Big-time Jake: Loertscher carries Rams to Class 3A district title game

Jake Strack Loertscher, left, stood tall for Roaring Fork on Friday against Omar Melendrez and Grand Valley. Loertscher scored 17 points to lead the Rams to a 41-36 victory at Palisade High School.

Jake Strack Loertscher knew he would have to handle a bigger load when 6-foot-4 teammate Trae Moxley went down with an ankle injury.

No problem.

Loertscher handled it well, carrying the Roaring Fork High School boys basketball team to a 41-36 victory over Grand Valley on Friday in the Class 3A Western Slope League district semifinals at Palisade High School.

The Roaring Fork senior led all scorers with 17 points, including 12 after Moxley rolled his ankle with 5:04 left in the second quarter. Trevor Smith led Grand Valley with 11 points. Dylan Walters had nine.

“We’re losing a guy who’s going to rebound and make his 2-footers and we’re losing another presence inside,” Loertscher said. “With the both of us, they have to game plan for two people. With him out, it puts a little bit more pressure on me. Sometimes you’ve got to step up and take it. I didn’t have a problem with that tonight.”

Loertscher had to pick up the slack before — against Hotchkiss last year. That night, he scored a career-high 32 points.

“I feel like I do better when there’s only one big post in there,” Loertscher said. “Mox will be good for tomorrow, and if we rebound like we do, we’re going to be unstoppable.”

Grand Valley (16-5) thought it would be able to take advantage of Moxley’s absence.

“I never want to see a kid go down, but when (Moxley) went down, we thought it would open up the middle a little bit,” Grand Valley coach Jake Higuera said. “They did a great job of keeping that thing closed up. They gave us fits.”

Roaring Fork (14-7) limited the Cardinals to 22 points the rest of the game, including 14 in the second half as the Rams rallied from an eight-point deficit early in the third quarter.

The Rams’ new-look 1-3-1 zone defense did the trick. “We switched last week to a 1-3-1,” Loertscher said. “The key to our defense is Sam Carpenter and Clay Gross. They really flustered the ball carriers. Sam is our defensive leader. If he keeps playing the way he’s playing, I’m sorry for the next team.”

Loertscher sparked the offense, grabbing an offensive rebound, scoring and completing a three-point play on back-to-back possessions in the final minute of the third quarter to tie the game, 29-29.

Trent Reeds hit a jumper to open the fourth quarter to give the Rams their first lead since 3:53 left in the first quarter.

Carpenter hit a 3-pointer with less than two minutes left to give Roaring Fork the lead for good 36-34. The Rams made 5 of 10 free throws the rest of the way, but it was their defense that didn’t allow Grand Valley to pull out the win.

“We didn’t take care of the ball at the end of the game,” Grand Valley coach Jake Higuera said. “We didn’t hit layups and they did a great job of hitting free throws and doing all the little things right. That’s a huge difference in the game.

“That’s how it goes sometimes. We’ve been hitting those shots, but they rolled out. We didn’t do a very good job defensively. They did a lot of things right. They are a good team.”

Aspen 54, Coal Ridge 35: The Skiers are one victory away from capturing their fourth consecutive Class 3A Western Slope Conference district title, but they had to rally to reach the final today.

The Skiers (14-7) went on a 27-0 run in the third quarter to rally from a 1-point halftime deficit for the semifinal victory Friday at Palisade.


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