LAFAYETTE — Maybe a foot or two here or a few inches there could've been the difference.
It's hard to say and nobody will ever really know for certain. Baseball can be a maddening sport that way. They don't call it a game of inches for nothing.
Those slim margins weren't in the favor of the NoCo Roughnecks in the Boulder NIT tournament quarterfinals Saturday morning, whether at the plate, atop the mound or across the diamond.
And so the Roughnecks' time in Colorado is at an end following a 6-2 loss to Slammers-Loseke at Peak to Peak High School in Lafayette, leaving the roster of mostly recent high school graduates one last tournament in Oklahoma before embracing the college game.
"When you come up against the caliber of competition you're going to see in a tournament like this, you've got to expect sometimes you go out there and put forth your best effort and it just isn't good enough," coach Nate Howell said. "This squad played its heart out and did everything we could. We stung a lot of balls, they just ended up in gloves. Sometimes you're snake bit like that. I couldn't ask them to do anything different. They did everything they were supposed to and then some."
Howell handed the ball to a rare player with high school eligibility remaining in Thompson Valley senior-to-be Jake Hewson, hoping the lefty could help advance the Roughnecks through to the semifinals Sunday in Boulder.
A tight strike zone set stage for what would become a day of near misses for the Roughnecks, and an efficient use of what was available by the Slammers.
A roster made up of metro-Denver area grads, the Slammers didn't need to hit the ball particularly hard to generate offense. Walks, wild pitches and a crop of singles provided all they would need.
The Slammers whacked just one extra-base hit (in the sixth inning), mostly relying upon singles through the infield and balls dropping in front of the Roughnecks outfield to score.
Twice they brought home runs on sacrifice flies while scoring in every inning except the third. Hewson battled control to pepper the tight zone through 4 ⅔ innings, surrendering two runs in the first frame and forced to watch the Slammers kill him with paper cuts the rest of the way.
"It's kind of an annoying thing that pitchers have to deal with, when those batters kind of just Texas league you with base hits in those little pockets of the field," Hewson said. "It happens every once in a while and it's difficult to defend against, and it's tougher to watch as a pitcher."
As the Roughnecks repeatedly witnessed the opposition sneak balls into green areas, they could hardly find green themselves. Thompson Valley grad Matt Berg ripped a double in just the second Roughneck at-bat of the contest, but was stranded at second.
They wouldn't produce another base hit until Matt Sims in the fourth, a frame in which saw three hits and a walk to score Bailey Porter (running for catcher Mike Berg), thanks to an RBI hit from Hunter Nelson.
The Roughnecks managed seven hits as Mountain View grad Dylan Norsen drove in their second run in the seventh inning on a single, spending most of the game swatting balls straight to leather.
"You really can't do much about that," Matt Berg said. "We were hitting the ball hard, it was just going right at them."
Many of the players will likely never play together again beyond this summer as they spread out to various college and collegiate summer teams, but the experience will certainly create lasting memories.
"I thought this summer was extremely valuable, it was outstanding and it was super fun," Hewson said. "Being able to spend time with guys I played spring ball with in kind of one last hurrah was a good deal."
"We're all moving on to bigger and better things," Matt Berg added. "It was a lot of fun. I liked all those guys before, they're really good competitors, so it was nice to have them on our team."