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Defense shines in extra inning win over Fort Lupton


October 4, 2018

Jocelyn Rowley

Defense shines in extra inning win over Fort Lupton

Niwot’s rejiggered infield wasn’t perfect in the 6-4 extra-inning win over Ft. Lupton on Sept. 29, but “some big, giant plays” on defense not only saved the game for the Cougars, but also gave the team some momentum heading into the crucial last week of the season.

“Everybody, defensively, was locked in,” Head Coach Bobby Matthews said. “We had a few mistakes here and there, but at the beginning of the year, we said ‘minimize the damage,’ and that’s what we did today…. I think this game goes a long way to showing the girls the kind of defense they can play.”

The Niwot infield turned three double plays in the game’s final four innings, thanks to newly installed shortstop Ayva McComas, whose quick thinking in the bottom of the seventh single-handedly saved the Cougars from a walk-off loss.

“She had that big one where she caught the line drive and crawled to second base,” Matthews said of the freshman’s unassisted double play, which kept Fort Lupton catcher Hilda Rivera from scoring the winning run. “For a kid that doesn’t play shortstop, she had the heads up awareness to get that double play. And for her to not have her normal offensive day, where she struggled at the plate, but was able to contribute and keep us in that game defensively, that’s huge.”

McComas started the season at catcher but recently traded places with junior Reagan Wills, who was the Cougars’ full-time catcher last season. Since making her infield debut on Sept. 18, the freshman has been perfect in 21 chances, and was especially effective against the Blue Devils, with three double plays and no errors on 11 total chances.

“I think it’s been a good transition,” she said of the move. “I used to not like shortstop, but now I’m starting to kind of like it now that I have a really nice team.”

McComas isn’t the only newly installed infielder, nor the only one to make a big play. Junior Nikki Sims has taken up third base duties for the absent Jasmine Aldama, and made a smart play in foul territory on an attempted bunt in the bottom of the fifth. Earlier that inning, second baseman Calista Law made a backhanded stop on a sharp grounder, robbing Fort Lupton’s Amber Crowe of a single.

Sims’ move to the infield prompted a shift in the outfield, with senior Savannah Rafkin moving to left, junior Esme O’Rourke to center, and senior newcomer Hali Bassett taking over in right. Bassett, who moved up from junior varsity, didn’t let a lack of experience keep her from making two key plays in the outfield.

“For Hali to be able to do that, it says a lot about who she is and how our program is growing,” Matthews said, adding that Rafkin and O’Rourke have also been impressive in their new positions. “It’s the ‘we first’ mentality, not the ‘me first’.”

Pitcher Aliyah McComas went the distance, giving up 11 hits but just two earned runs. She ran into trouble early on, giving up a homerun in the second and then three hits and a walk in the third, which turned into three runs thanks to an error. She followed that with seven straight scoreless innings, and only allowed one baserunner over the last three. She ended the day with four strikeouts and two walks.

Jocelyn Rowley

Nikki Sims after catching a pop fly in foul territory against the Fort Lupton Blue Devils on Sept. 29.

The Cougars were also productive at the plate, led by Rafkin, who put the ball in play each of the six times she came to bat. She had three hits, but reached on errors twice more, including in the top of the tenth which allowed Niwot’s winning runs to score. Aliya McComas had three hits and three RBIs on the day, while four other Cougars (Law, Ayva McComas, O’Rourke, Sims) had two hits apiece.

“I told the girls afterward that these are the types of games that you have to have in order to make it to regionals and the state tournament,” Matthews said. “These are the gut check games that you have to have.”

With the win, the Cougars improved to 13-7 on the season with three games to go. As of Oct. 1, the Cougars are 21st in the Class 4A RPI rankings and poised to qualify for a regional tournament for the first time since 2015. Both Matthews and his players are eager for the challenge and hope to see their hard work pay off with a trip to the state tournament.

“We have a lot of heart, and we never give up” Rafkin said. “We’re definitely a team to be looking out for in the postseason for that exact reason.”


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