Safford finally captures coveted sectional title

Deirdre Rafferty of Burnt Hills loses control of the ball after being struck in the head by Audreanna Bucci of Albany Academy.
Deirdre Rafferty of Burnt Hills loses control of the ball after being struck in the head by Audreanna Bucci of Albany Academy.

ROTTERDAM — One of the leading players in the history of Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake girls lacrosse finally got a championship, with plenty of help from her teammates.

Taylor Safford scored the tying and go-ahead goals in the first half, and the Spartans collectively held off Albany Academy from there in a tense 9-6 Section II Class C title-game victory at Mohonasen High School on Wednesday.

Safford finished with five goals in the highlight game of her five-year varsity career, Lauren Hopsicker notched two goals, and the Burnt Hills defense quelled Academy’s offense in the program’s fourth finals triumph.

“I made a goal for myself that before I leave, I want to win a sectional championship,” Safford, a Marist-bound attack player, said. 

Burnt Hills (No. 2 seed, 10-7) captured Section II titles at the Class B level in 2011, 2012 and 2014, yet Safford missed that last one while recovering from an anterior cruciate ligament tear. Burnt Hills lost semifinal games to Queensbury in 2015 and 2016.

“I figured it was my senior year. I wanted to go all out,” Safford said. “The last game I didn’t perform as well as I wanted. I wanted to redeem myself.”

Caroline Muller’s goal gave Burnt Hills a 4-2 advantage after Safford’s consecutive connections erased a 2-1 deficit, and although the Cadets (No. 1, 13-3) twice got within one afterward, they never could muster a tie.

“Before the game [assistant] coach [Steve] Hopsicker said defense wins games, and we took that to heart,” BH-BL senior defender Amalia Daviero said. “I think this was our best defensive game of the year.”

Spartans’ goalkeeper Abbie McHerron made 12 saves and only allowed three goals in open play, while Academy’s other three came on free position plays.

“You’ve got to have a goalie, and you’ve got to have a defense protecting her,” BH-BL head coach Jake McHerron said.

Much of Abbie McHerron’s defensive support came in the from of Daviero, Monica Muscato, Kiera Walsh and Kerry McKeown.

“Give Albany Academy credit,” Jake McHerron, the goalkeepers’ dad, said. “They played hard and never gave up, but after we got the lead, we did the little things. We got ground balls. We hustled. We weren’t going to let it slip out of our hands.”

Soon after Hopsicker gave Burnt Hills a 7-4 with 16:37 left in second-half lead, the Burnt Hills defense stepped up big by fending off Academy with a player down for two-minutes after a penalty.

Hopsicker also gave BH-BL an 8-5 lead, while earlier in the second half, Safford connected to give the Spartans leads of 5-3 and 6-4.

“This is the best I’ve seen this team play,” Safford, who celebrated alongside her twin sister, Alex, said. “They wanted this championship, and dug deep to get it. The defense was on fire. The midfield was on fire. The attack finished.”

Academy netminder Sydney Christiansen was a big reason BH-BL didn’t get more, with the junior totaling six of her 13 saves on free position bids. Abbie McHerron stopped five free position attempts.

“Their goalie did everything she could,” said Jake McHerron. “She stepped up and played huge. She kept them in the game for as long as she could.”

Christina Pedone, who excelled for BH-BL’s Section II title-winning field hockey team in the fall, supplied the clinching goal with 1:32 left to make it 9-6.

“I’ve got to give it to my team,” Abbie McHerron said after her third straight title-game victory. The junior transfer helped Scotia-Glenville win Class C titles in 2015 and 2016. “We got down early and didn’t hang our heads. We played with a lot of passion.”

Taylor Safford, who during her standout career sustained injuries to both knees, led the way.

“She gave it everything she had,” Abbie McHerron said. “She left everything out there.”

“It’s a great closing to her Burnt Hills career,” Jake McHerron added. “Playing and playing well.”

Isabelle Uccellili and Sarah Richardson gave Academy 1-0 and 2-1 leads before Safford began her offensive output.

“We all took a deep breath after we got the lead,” Dav­iero said. “Our confidence went up. Our energy level went up 10 levels. And we did the little things.”

Burnt Hills will host Goshen (Section IX, 13-3) in a sub-regional game Tuesday at 5 p.m. Goshen beat Red Hook 7-5 for its first sectional title. 

Albany Academy is the Section II record-holder with 12 area championships.

Schuylerville (No. 1, 16-2) defeated Catholic Central 13-4 to win its first championship in program history, and become Section II’s first Class D titlist in the newly expanded tournament.

“It’s awesome,” Black Horses coach Erin Lloyd said. “It’s a great accomplishment for these ladies and for Schuylerville.”

Amy Moreau scored four goals to pace Schuylerville, and four of her teammates had multiple points. Schuylerville reached the Class C final a year ago and lost to Scotia-Glenville 8-3.

“We made a couple of mistakes. Some things didn’t go our way,” Lloyd said. “We learned from that.”

Kelly Stanton had two goals for Catholic Central (No. 2, 12-3), a second-year varsity program.

Schuylerville will meet Millbrook (Section IX, 11-1) in a sub-regional game Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Burnt Hills.

BH-BL    4 5 — 9
Albany Academy    3 3 — 6

BH-BL scoring: Taylor Safford 5-0, Lauren Hopsicker 2-1, Christina Pedone 1-0, Caroline Muller 1-0, Erin McClernan. Albany Academy scoring: Isabelle Uccellini 1-0, Camryn Fisher 1-0, Mia Milliken 1-1, Stephanie Szelest 1-0, Candane Teliska 1-0, Sarah Richardson 1-0.
Goalkeepers: BH-BL, Abbie McHerron, 12 saves. Albany Academy, Sydney Christiansen, 13 saves.

CCHS    3 1 —  4
Schuylerville    8 5 — 13

CCHS scoring: Colleen McDonnell 0-2, Kelly Stanton 2-0, Hannah Field 1-0, Emma Field 1-0. Schuylerville scoring: Amy Moreau 4-0, Cassie Patrick 2-1, Alison Burnham 2-2, Claire Barton 2-0, Morgan Gunter 1-2, Grace Hanehan 1-0, Hailey Abruscato 1-0.
Goalkeepers: CCHS, Emily Caelow, 7 saves. Schuylerville, Brooke Carpenter, 7 saves.

Reach Gazette Sportswriter Jim Schiltz at 395-3143, [email protected] or @jim_schiltz on Twitter.

Categories: -Sports-, High School Sports

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