LAKEWOOD — Niwot entered the final weekend of the state baseball tournament firmly in the driver’s seat, but sometimes momentum is a more prized possession than a favorable arrangement.
Green Mountain illustrated that notion to the fullest extent Saturday at All-Star Park, where the red-hot Rams toppled the Cougars 10-2 in the Class 4A state championship game.
Niwot (21-5) entered the weekend unscathed in the double-elimination tournament and had defeated Green Mountain in the opening weekend. But rather than hoisting the title hardware for the first time since winning successively in 2004 and ’05, the Cougars were forced to watch Green Mountain celebrate its initial title in the sport.
“They had the momentum and you have to commend them,” said Niwot pitcher Bryan Meek, one of several Cougars seniors to don graduation caps during postgame after missing a 10 a.m. ceremony at the school. “They came out to play and we didn’t.”
Green Mountain (20-7) first had to defeat Longmont in the morning game to reach the title matchup. The Rams emphatically won that one 9-1, and had the luxury of allowing pitcher Talon Schaller to keep going.
The junior right-hander limited Longmont to two hits and was scheduled to pitch the first two innings against Niwot. But he continued to cruise, permitting only first-inning singles to Meek and Alex Kinnison. He ended up throwing five innings before having to come out due to reaching the innings limit of 12.
“It’s very satisfying,” said Schaller, who departed with a 4-0 lead. “The first time we played them, they came out and played a hell of a game. To come back and hold them to two hits, it felt great.”
Niwot finished with five hits overall, but for the Cougars their single runs in the sixth and seventh were too little, too late. Third baseman Pate Katechis drilled an RBI triple in the sixth that cut it to 4-1, but Green Mountain came back to score six in the bottom of the inning — four on bases-loaded walks by Cougars pitching.
That rendered Aldair Cintora’s RBI single in the seventh nothing more than cosmetic. The typically booming bats of the Cougars produced a mere six runs in two games in the final weekend.
“We didn’t hit as well as we have, and maybe the nerves got to us,” Katechis said. “But it was a good season.”
After yielding an RBI double to Cole Shetterly in the first, Meek settled down. He was dominant through three innings, with eight of his nine outs coming via strikeout. But he encountered trouble in the fourth.
That’s when Rams sophomore Wyatt Featherston launched a three-run homer to center to put Green Mountain in command 4-0. Meek (7-1) was pulled a batter later.
“As for the home run, you can’t leave a 3-2 fastball — when they’re expecting a fastball — right over the plate,” Meek said. “So that’s my bad. It just wasn’t our day.”
For the Cougars, this was the culmination of a four-year blueprint designed to bring the squad back to prominence. In that regard, it worked. The Cougars just didn’t finish on the final weekend.
“The guy they had on the bump did a phenomenal job,” Niwot coach Craig McBride said. “Pitching back-to-back games, I think it was almost like they just stayed on that roll. Mentally they were very confident and we just didn’t swing it today.”
Asked how much of his performance was adrenaline, Schaller said: “Pretty much all of it.”
Josh Ramirez, who had pitched a complete game Friday against Durango, relieved Schaller and promptly surrendered Katechis’ RBI triple to make it 4-1. At that point, the Cougars had a glimmer of hope.
“We obviously have scored more than four runs in an inning, so at that point I was just trying to restart the game,” Katechis said. “Flip it around, maybe.”
But for Niwot, it simply wasn’t a banner weekend.
“It was just good pitching and good teams here, but that’s what you expect in the final four,” McBride said. “I don’t think we went into a slump or anything like that. I just think we didn’t hit as well as we normally do.”
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Green Mountain 10, Niwot 2
At All-Star Park
Niwot 000 001 1 — 2 5 0
100 406 X — 10 12 2
W — Schaller (5-0). L — Meek (7-1).
Niwot hitting (ab-r-h-rbi) — Halsey Mendez 2-0-0-0, Elrod 1-1-1-0, Plunkett 0-0-0-0, Meek 4-0-0-0, Kinnison 4-0-1-0, Katechis 3-0-2-1, Kirkpatrick 3-0-0-0, Caruso 2-1-0-0, Kopplinger 3-0-0-0, Messinger 3-0-0-0, Cintora 3-0-1-1, Pasma 0-0-0-0. Totals 28-2-5-2. 3B — Cintora.
Green Mountain hitting (ab-r-h-rbi) — Featherston 4-2-2-3, Akiyama 3-1-2-0, Kuberski 0-1-0-0, Shetterly 3-1-2-2, Schaller 4-1-1-2, Ramirez 4-1-1-0, Rogers 3-0-2-1, Effrein 0-0-0-0, Mulberry 0-0-0-0, Upson 4-0-0-0, Abercrombie 3-1-1-1, Martinez 2-2-1-1. 2B — Featherston, Shetterly, Rogers. HR — Featherston (two on in 4th). SB — Shetterly.
Niwot pitching (ip-h-r-er-bb-so) — Meek 3.2-7-4-4-2-8, Elrod 1.2-5-6-6-2-2, Cintora 0.2-0-0-0-3-2.
Green Mountain pitching (ip-h-r-er-bb-so) — Schaller 5-2-0-0-0-4, Ramirez 2-3-2-1-2-4.