NIWOT -- To hear Niwot softball coach Bobby Matthews explain it, Cougars star pitcher Nickie Blue tends to have her game face on "when she walks down the halls" on game days.
While Blue's unrelenting competitive fire has left a trail of destruction throughout the Class 4A Northern League, she seems to be saving some of her most intense work for the Cougars' rivalry showdowns against Silver Creek.
Blue turned in her second stellar performance of the season against the Raptors on Tuesday, firing a two-hit shutout as Niwot solidified its first-place stature in the conference with a 4-0 victory. Niwot (15-1, 10-1 Northern League) shook off its first loss of the season last week against Thompson Valley to take a two-game lead atop the league standings with three games remaining in the regular season.
"She definitely is the most intense girl on the team," Matthews said of his star pitcher. "She's the leader of the team and she's been picking it up. After that loss, that really affected her, and she's not going to let that happen again."
In two shutout victories against Silver Creek, Blue has surrendered just six hits and one walk while compiling 30 strikeouts in 14 innings.
The only base runner the University of South Carolina-bound Blue allowed through five innings on Tuesday was caused by a Niwot error in the first. Blue finished with 14 strikeouts, notching 10 of them on called third strikes, and battled her way out of the only trouble spot she encountered in the top of the sixth.
With two outs and Niwot holding a 2-0 lead, Silver Creek's Macy Child and Devin Aubry finally broke up the no-hitter with consecutive infield singles to set the table for the Raptors' most dangerous hitter, Shelby Keil. Yet after fouling off a pair of two-strike offerings, Keil went down swinging.
"We try not to change our game plan from batter to batter, but since Shelby is such a reliable hitter we had to," said Blue, who improved to 13-1. "I kind of know as a pitcher what I would do as a hitter, and being down I would try to hit it really hard. I kind of played to her emotions more than mine. I knew she would try to come through for her team, but I just pitched my game."
Niwot established a 2-0 lead on an RBI single by Katrina Hunt in the third and an error that scored freshman Meghan Waidler in the fifth.
Waidler was the offensive star for the Cougars, going 3 for 3 with a pair of doubles and two runs scored. Waidler helped provide Blue with a little more breathing room by slapping an RBI single during the Cougars' two-run frame in the bottom of the sixth.
"You strike out 10 times looking, you're going to lose," Silver Creek coach Ryan Beavers said. "I don't care if you're facing Nickie Blue or if you're facing Joe Schmo from Sterling, it doesn't matter. If you go down looking 10 times and let your fate rest in that kid's hands, you're not going to win. I think that was the biggest concern today is that we never even remotely tested the defense."
Follow Pat Rooney on Twitter: @prooney07
Niwot 4, Silver Creek 0
At Niwot H.S.
Silver Creek (12-4, 8-3) 000 000 0 -- 0 2 2
Niwot (15-1, 10-1) 001 012 x -- 4 8 1
W -- Blue (13-1). L -- Kostelecky (9-4).
Silver Creek hitting (ab-r-h-rbi) -- Child 3-0-1-0, Aubry 3-0-1-0, Keil 3-0-0-0, Kostelecky 3-0-0-0, Weber 3-0-0-0, Beavers 3-0-0-0, Strub 2-0-0-0, Gray 1-0-0-0, Wergin 1-0-0-0, Ludwig 2-0-0-0. Totals 24-0-2-0.
Niwot hitting (ab-r-h-rbi) -- Kleespies 4-0-0-0, Hunt 3-0-2-1, Artzer 1-0-0-0, Blue 3-0-0-0, DeLozier 3-1-1-0, Meadows 3-1-1-0, Johnson 3-0-0-0, Baca 2-0-1-0, Waidler 3-2-3-1. Totals 25-4-8-2. 2B -- Waidler 2.
Silver Creek pitching (ip-h-r-er-bb-so) -- Kostelecky 7-8-4-3-3-1.
Niwot pitching (ip-h-r-er-bb-so) -- Blue 7-2-0-0-0-14.