Left Hand Valley Courier - All Local, All The Time

By Jocelyn Rowley
Sports@lhvc.com 

Boys Basketball: Niwot falls to Elizabeth in first round of playoffs

 

Photo by Ed Navarro Niwot guard Jackson Kolakowski drives against Elizabeth in the Cougars’ first round playoff game.

The Niwot boys basketball season came to a heartbreaking end last Wednesday, with a 73-69 loss to the Elizabeth Cardinals in the first round of the 4A state playoffs. Though the offense struggled most of the night, a 30-19 scoring run by the Cougars in the fourth quarter put a playoff win tantalizingly within reach in the game’s final seconds. But unfortunately for the Cougars and their fans, the comeback fell just short, and the would-be Cinderella story didn’t get its happy ending.

Cardinals fans packed the house for their team’s first playoff appearance since 2015. Under new head coach Eric Steinert, Elizabeth went 11-12 on the season, with a 7-9 mark in the Colorado Springs Metro League. They entered the playoffs as the 29th seed, five spots ahead of Niwot (34th).

The Cardinals set the tone in the opening minutes with aggressive play on defense. Victimized by blocked shots and steals, Niwot shooters struggled early and were kept off-balance most of the night. On the other side of the ball, Elizabeth’s Garrett Hawkins was hard to stop. The 6’4” junior shot 60 percent from the floor, and ended the night with 24 points. For head coach Preston Hardy, his team’s anemic performance was due primarily to one factor: inexperience.

“Even our returning varsity players have never played in a playoff game,” said Hardy. “It’s a very different level of intensity, and I think that took us by surprise to start the game. After that, we were just constantly digging ourselves out of a hole.”

Niwot managed just 13 points per quarter through the first three periods, and was down by 15 points to start the fourth. The offense finally found its spark, after a spirited pep talk from Hardy during a timeout.

“At the end of the third quarter, Adam Barber chose to walk off the court instead of running,” he said. “When your best player is calling it quits, if everyone else gives up, that’s a 30-point loss. But during that next timeout, we challenged him, and we challenged the team, and they responded.”

Down nine points with just under four minutes to go, sophomore Thomas Bounds hit two three pointers to bring the Cougars within four. He would hit another in the game’s final seconds, giving him 20 points on the night. Barber also had 20 points, including eight in the fourth quarter. Niwot seniors Jake Sims and J.J. Kolakowski also hit key treys in the fourth, but it wasn’t quite enough, and the Cougars made another early exit from the playoffs.

For Hardy, the thwarted comeback was all the more frustrating because the game could easily have gone the other direction. “The boys fought hard, and I thought we were going to do it, I really did,” he admitted. “But it just didn’t happen.”

Ever the optimist, Hardy pointed out a silver lining in the loss.

“The seniors were able to go down fighting,” he said. “And the youngsters got a taste of what the playoffs are like.”

The Cougars finished the season with a 10-14 record overall, including the playoff loss. Hardy gave his team’s regular season performance a mixed review.

“We came into the season with some lofty goals, and record-wise we underachieved,” he said. “We lost to teams we shouldn’t have, especially early on.”

But, he continued, “As a program we took a step forward, and the seniors are leaving it in a better place than when they first got here. Big-picture-wise, we overachieved.”

(2/20) — Elizabeth 73, Niwot 69

Cougars (10-14, 6-8) 13 13 13 30 — 69

Cardinals (11-12, 7-9) 19 15 20 19 — 73

Adam Barber 7 3-4 20, Thomas Bounds 7 1-2 20, J.J. Kolakowski 1 6-7 9, Jake Sims 3 0-0 9, Max Towlen 2 2-4 5, Alec Helgeland 1 1-5 3, Cameron Carlson 1 0-0 2, Ethan Radatz 0 1-2 1 Totals 22 13-21 69

 

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