SCHENECTADY — Niskayuna knew what Shaker was going to bring to Tuesday’s Section II Class A lacrosse semifinal, but for the longest time, the Silver Warriors couldn’t do anything about it.
“We were kind of messed up with their zone [defense],” Niskayuna goalkeeper Drew D’Allaird said after his team pulled out a 7-3 win Union College’s Frank Bailey Field. “Once we figured it out, we had some success. Same thing the last time.”
Niskayuna scored the final five goals after falling behind 3-2 late in the third quarter, and earned its 17th consecutive championship-game berth with another difficult victory over the Blue Bison.
Niskayuna also used a late run to beat Shaker 8-4 in a Suburban Council game on April 5. No other Section II team has played Niskayuna so close this year.
“We knew what we had to do. They’re not No. 2 in the state for nothing,” Shaker coach Shawn Hennessey said. “It’s hard to hold on sometimes.”
Shaker played a ball-control offense that chewed up the clock, and dug in defensively in the game that matched Section II’s first dynasty team against its second.
“We came out slow,” Niskayuna freshman attackman Brock Behrman said. “At halftime, we picked ourselves up together. In the second half, we kept shooting and got some goals.”
Griffin King scored two of them and had an assist in the game-breaking five-goal run, Behrman scored a goal and assisted three times and Finn McCullough got the spurt started with three minutes to go in the third frame, tying the game at three apiece.
“I did not do a good job of getting across what I wanted them to do with their zone,” Niskayuna coach Mike Vorgang said. “I didn’t get them ready. It took a little while to figure out what would work.”
“In the first half, we were frustrated,” said King, a senior midfielder and Brown University commit. “All of their poles have been doing it for so long, they’ve mastered it.”
During its late spree, Niskayuna (No. 1 seed, 18-0) changed its spacing while on offense, and used timely and well-placed passes to create shooting lanes.
Behrman gave the reigning Section II champions a 4-3 lead with six seconds left in the third quarter, and assisted on the Silver Warriors’ trio of fourth-quarter goals.
“In the middle of the third quarter, we were saying, ‘We’ve got to figure this out,'” King said. “Our defense was playing solid. We made an adjustment and ran our stuff.”
King turned Behrman feeds into goals — both coming on bounce shots — with 9:24 left and 5:53 to go. Drew Collins delivered Niskayuna’s final goal with 4:35 remaining.
“A lot of it was about spacing,” Vorgang said. “I can’t say enough about Griffin King’s ability to take information and put it into practice.”
Goals by King and McCullough had given Niskayuna a 2-1 first-quarter lead. Behrman set up King for the first of his four assists.
“Their best player played awesome,” Hennessey said of King, who was recently named to the United States U19 national team tryout roster. “As usual.”
“He’s a great player,” Behrman said of King. “I love playing alongside him. Get him the ball, and you know it’s going to drop.”
Jack Leto scored in the second quarter for Shaker, and John Stewart gave the Blue Bison (No. 5, 10-8) a 3-2 advantage with 3:48 left in the third period on a breakaway goal.
“In all reality, we needed to get up a couple on them,” Hennessey said.
D’Allaird finished with six saves.
“It was not just me,” said the junior netminder. “I had my defense, and we were communicating the whole time.”
“Credit goes to the defensive guys and defensive coordinator Chris DeLano,” Vorgang said. “I think defense was the key to the game, holding them down.”
Ryan Mazzariello made nine saves for Shaker, eight coming in the first three quarters.
“They [Niskayuna] average 18 goals,” Hennessey said. “They didn’t get that on us.”
Niskayuna will meet Bethlehem in Friday’s 6:30 p.m. championship game at Columbia High School.
Shaker 1 1 1 0 — 3
Niskayuna 2 0 2 3 — 7
Shaker scoring: Stewart 1-0, Calicchia 1-0, Leto 1-0, Grimm 0-1. Niskayuna scoring: Behrman 1-4, Collins 1-1, King 3-1, McCullough 2-0.
Goalkeepers: Shaker, Mazzariello, 9 saves. Niskayuna, D’Allaird, 6 saves.