BURNT HILLS — Down by three goals early and trailing by two late, Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake kept grinding and found a way to beat Rye Saturday in an historic Class C regional final lacrosse game.
The young Spartans became Section II’s first Class C state quarterfinal winner with their 10-9 double-overtime stunner, and will look to pull off an even bigger one Friday against the reigning New York champs.
“The biggest thing we can’t do is settle,” Burnt Hills coach Jake McHerron said. “I believe we have enough youth and older statesmen to not allow us to do it.”
Burnt Hills (12-7) heads to Friday’s 11:30 a.m. final four semi against Mount Sinai (Section XI, 16-2) at SUNY Cortland a different team than the one that lost double-digit games to Shaker, Guilderland, Bethlehem and Saratoga Springs in the early weeks of the season. They’re better at the ground balls and center draws now, much wiser with their pass and shot selection, and they’ve got a bit more bite.
“That’s the premise of, ‘Play relentless, play fearless,’ ” McHerron said. “They’ve got it now. They got behind [against Rye] and believed they could beat that team. I don’t think it’s going to change.”
A lot has changed, though, since Burnt Hills endured those double-digit defeats against some of Section II’s top Class A teams. Their run to Cortland includes four playoff wins with a 10-9 sub-regional success against Goshen, and a six-game win streak late in the regular season.
“At the beginning of the year, you’re learning,” McHerron said. “At the end, you want to be playing your best lacrosse. You have to learn to be competitive. You have to learn what each player can do. You’ve got to become a team, one whole unit. Then believe in each other.”
The Spartans believe in one another now more than ever, after Taylor Safford and Sallie Suskie combined for the last three goals against Rye, and the BH-BL defense threw a shutout over the final 15:40.
“It was amazing,” eighth-grade midfielder Isabel Adams said. “We really worked together and accomplished something special.”
Suski put her team in a tough spot for a couple minutes late in the state quarterfinal with Rye when she received a yellow card and took a seat.
The Spartans picked up their teammate with shutout defense, and the junior midfielder picked them up soon after by tying the game at 9 on a free-position rip.
“I just wanted to get back in and score,” Suski said. “By some miracle, it happened. I ran on the field, caught it, and they called shooting space.”
Suski was still smiling Tuesday afternoon as the Spartans worked out in the rain, prepping for the program’s second state semifinal following a 9-3 Class B loss to Manhasset in 2014.
“I did think if we worked together as a team, we could get here,” Suski said. “We were a brand-new team when we started. I didn’t know half of these girls, and now we’re so close. It’s amazing. It took a while, but as we kept going, we came together.”
McHerron knows his players will have each others’ backs come Friday, but is rightly concerned with the tangibles in such a pressure-filled setting.
“It comes down to the little things,” he said. “Can you get the ground ball when it’s needed? Make the right pass? We’ve got to be better at the little things. At many moments, we have been.”
Christina Pedone made the right pass in double overtime when she found Safford wide open for the game-winner against Rye. Mount Sinai won its state quarterfinal without much drama, topping Wantagh 10-3 Sunday for its third straight Long Island championship.
“They have great coaching. They have a game plan and stick to it. They watch film,” McHerron said of Mount Sinai, the state’s No. 1 team; BH-BL is No. 15. “Their girls are all Long Island Yellow Jackets and that’s one of the best travel teams in the country, but that’s why we play the game, for opportunities. We feel we have a great opportunity and we’re going to give it our best shot.”
Since the full state tournament began in 1995, few Section II teams have reached state title games and none have ever won.
“Our thinking is there’s two games left in the season,” McHerron said. “Let’s play in them.”
Vestal (Section IV, 15-1) and Honeoye Falls-Lima (Section V, 10-9) meet in Friday’s other semifinal at 11:30 a.m. Saturday’s title game is also set for 11:30 a.m.