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By Jocelyn Rowley
Sports@lhvc.com 

Niwot falls to Pueblo West in regional tournament

 

October 19, 2018

Jocelyn Rowley

Junior Nikki Sims takes a swing against Pueblo West during the Class 4A Regional 4 tournament in Golden on Oct. 13. Sims had four hits on the day.

Picture perfect weather at Golden’s Ulysses Park served as a beautiful backdrop for a not-so-beautiful performance by the Niwot softball team at the Class 4A Region 4 tournament on Oct. 13.

Thanks to uneven defense and an uncharacteristically tepid offense, the 20th-ranked Cougars dropped two of three games on the day, bringing their first post-season run since 2015 to an earlier than hoped for end.

“We got off to a slow start,” Niwot Head Coach Bobby Matthews said. “I don’t know if it was nerves or whatever, but we didn’t have much fire this morning. I think we were playing not to lose.”

Niwot came into the regional as the No. 20 seed, and drew No. 13 Pueblo West in the first round. It was clear early on against the Cyclones that the Cougars might be in for a rough day. Struggling with her control, starting pitcher Aliyah McComas often left pitches up in the zone, and surrendered five runs on six hits in the first two innings, four of them earned.

The Cyclones extended their lead to 8-0 after the fifth, then added two more in the sixth for a 10-0 rule-shortened win. McComas was tagged for the loss, as well as seven earned runs on ten hits.

“I think not being able to get outside a lot this week had a lot to do with it,” Matthews said of her performance, referring to the inclement weather that forced him to cancel their scheduled practices. “She didn’t throw as much as she normally does in a week, and sometimes that can affect a pitcher.”

Meanwhile, Niwot hitters seemed utterly stumped by Pueblo West pitcher Mackenzie Webster and her fastball. The Cougars managed just two hits, and had a runner in scoring position only once, well after the game was out of reach. They also had five errors against the Cyclones, their highest total since Sept. 14.

It was a different story against No. 29 seed Widefield, Niwot’s second opponent of the day and opening-round losers to tournament host Golden.

The Cougars had no trouble generating offense against the Gladiators, scoring early and often, starting in the second inning when Esme O’Rourke singled in lead-off hitter Reagan Wills, giving Niwot the early 1-0 lead.

Widefield answered with two runs in the third inning, but that lead that would prove short lived, as Niwot exploded for ten runs over the next two innings on their way to an 11-3 victory. Eight Niwot batters hit safely in the win, four with multiple hits, including Wills (3), junior Nikki Sims (2), and Aliyah and her sister Ayva McComas, who were both 2-for-4 with three RBIs.

Beating Widefield kept Niwot’s state qualifying hopes alive, and set up a rematch against Pueblo West, which was also 1-1 for the day after falling to Golden 6-3 in game two.

Unfortunately, game three started much as game one did, with the Cyclones amassing a big early lead. The Cougars still had no answer for Webster, either on the mound or at the plate. After hurling four no-hit innings against Niwot, the junior smacked a two-run homer off McComas to extend the Cyclones’ lead to 7-0.

This time, the Cougars didn’t give up without a fight. O’Rourke came in for McComas after Webster’s homerun and retired the next eight batters she faced. In six relief innings on the day, O’Rourke gave up three runs, but none were earned, a performance Matthews described as “phenomenal.” .

At the plate, a lead-off single by Wills kicked of a three-run fifth inning for Niwot, and then the Cougars loaded the bases in the sixth. They couldn’t quite pull off the comeback, however, and Pueblo West held on for an 8-3 win.

Jocelyn Rowley

Pitcher Esme O’Rourke in relief against Widefield at the Class 4A Regional 4 tournament in Golden on Oct. 13.

Niwot’s early exit from the playoffs comes after a surprising regular season that saw the upstart team more than double its win total from 2017. The Cougars improved to 15-8 in 2018, up from 6-13 the year before. For Wills, that remains ample cause to celebrate.

“We’re a heck of a lot better than we were last year, and that’s all I wanted from this group,” the third-year varsity catcher said. “I’m so proud of them for that.”

Matthews was disappointed by his team’s failure to advance beyond regionals, but heartened by the way they “battled” in the second and third games, calling it “huge for the future.”

“This year, we got back to the place where Niwot softball usually is,” he said. “We’ve built something, and we don’t lose a bunch. We’ve got a great group of players coming back, and I’m looking forward to it.”

 

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