LAKEWOOD — The Niwot baseball team has trailed in several games this season, but the Cougars have always found a way to come back.
Not this time.
Pueblo South defeated the Cougars, 4-3, in the Class 4A state baseball championship series on Friday at All-Star Park, handing them their
first loss in the double-elimination tournament and snapping their state record-tying 45-game winning streak.
Niwot (24-1) will now go into the
record books tied with the 1998-99¹ Eaton Reds for the state’s longest win streak.
“It was a great game,” Niwot coach Bob Bote said. “The kids played hard. I have no complaints. We didn’t come to win a streak; we came to win a title.”
The end of the streak aside, the loss didn’t mean a whole lot: Niwot will still play in the state title game at 2 p.m. today at All-City Field. The Cougars will face either Pueblo South (23-2) or Ralston Valley (19-4), who match up today at 10 a.m. at All-City Field.
But for one day, the Cougars were human. The loss was Niwot’s first since March 19, 2004, against Provo, Utah, and its first against a Colorado team since Golden beat the Cougars in the 2003 state tournament. Niwot had won 46 consecutive games against in-state opponents.
“They beat us and played better than us,” Niwot center fielder Sean Ratliff said. “Hopefully we can play better (today).”
Pueblo South pitcher Mario Mattivi plowed through the Cougar lineup — well, eight of the nine, anyway — and the Colts took advantage of a few favorable bounces to keep their season alive.
“They had a streak going, and I really wanted to end it,” said Mattivi, who kept his own impressive streak alive by improving to 10-0 this season and 18-0 over the last two years. “It was the best time to be on. It was the best game of my high school career.”
Other than deciding to pitch to Ratliff — a decision Mattivi said he doesn’t regret — he was remarkable. He struck out 14 Cougars and held Niwot to a season-low three hits.
“He had his slider going and the curveball going,” Bote said. “I think he had a great day. He was superb.”
Mattivi allowed a solo home run to Ratliff on his seventh pitch of the game, a monster shot to straightaway center field, but the Colts backed him up the rest of the way.
Tony Pechek, the Colts’ Wichita State-bound catcher, hit an RBI double off Niwot starter Kyle Spencer in the bottom of the first inning to tie the game.
In the second inning, back-to-back Niwot errors with two outs brought in a South run, giving the Colts a 2-1 lead.
Pueblo South got another lucky break in the fourth inning. Ahead 3-1, the Colts had Jeff Giordano on second base when Brad Farbo hit a single to left field. Niwot left fielder Nick Stockwell fielded the ball and made a perfect throw to home. The throw beat Giordano by a mile, but it took a freaky bounce before reaching catcher Michael Perry, and Giordano scored easily.
“It was a great throw by Stockwell,” said Spencer, who pitched very well against the No. 2 team in the state. “That’s a heart-breaker when you see that happen.”
The 4-1 lead was enough, although Mattivi did make another mistake in the sixth inning. After Brian Lux singled with two outs, Mattivi decided to pitch to the state’s best hitter again — and paid for it again — as Ratliff hit an opposite-field homer to left field, cutting the Colt lead to 4-3.
Clint Stapp walked and stole second base after that, but Mattivi got a strikeout to end the inning. Then, in the seventh, Niwot’s Mike Harpe reached second base on an error, but he was stranded there as the Colts recorded the final two outs.
“I just figured we’d come back like we usually do,” Harpe said. “They’re a really good team, and we just couldn’t pull it out.”
The loss may turn out to benefit the Cougars, though. Had Niwot defeated the Colts, it would have faced a rested Ralston Valley team throwing its No. 2 pitcher this morning for a championship.
As it stands, Niwot will watch Pueblo South and Ralston Valley battle this morning, and get the weary winner — and their No. 3 pitcher — in the final. Niwot will have Ratliff, arguably the best pitcher in the state, on the mound.
“I like my chances any time Sean is on the mound,” Bote said.