SARATOGA SPRINGS — Hannah Ashcraft didn’t have much work to do in the first 40 minutes of Saturday’s Suburban Council girls’ soccer game against Saratoga Springs.
That rapidly changed after halftime for the Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake senior goalkeeper and co-captain. With pressure mounting from Saratoga Springs, Ashcraft produced a couple of key saves to keep the game tied.
“In the first half, there weren’t a lot of shots on goal, and that’s hats off to my teammates,” Ashcraft said. “So, when it was my time, I had to have their backs in return.”
Ashcraft helped the Spartans escape a couple of dicey situations, which set the stage for Abby Malagisi to strike with just over 10 minutes remaining, with the eighth-grader providing the winning goal as Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake pulled out a 2-1 victory on the long-awaited opening day of the Section II soccer season.
It was an exhilarating way for the Spartans to return to the field for a season that spent months in jeopardy due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
It’ll be a season like none before it, an abbreviated schedule with no Section II playoffs — the Suburban is one of only two area leagues playing soccer this fall — and mask-wearing required throughout games, with a two-minute break midway through each half.
Teams like Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake won’t have the chance to go after the Section II Class A championship that eluded the squad a year ago, but for seniors like Ashcraft, the chance to play is satisfying enough.
“It’s amazing,” Ashcraft said. “We have such a great group of girls here, and we’re all so close. To wait this long, we were all in it together and we did what we could over the summer because we knew that when we came together, it was going to make a difference. This is our year, so we’re going to make the best of it.”
Samantha Torres scored an early goal for Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake and assisted on Malagisi’s winner. Elizabeth Sheehan found the net for Saratoga Springs, and the Blue Streaks got seven saves from goalie Gwyn Long.
After the teams traded goals in the game’s opening nine minutes, things settled down until halftime. Coming out of the half, Saratoga Springs immediately began applying pressure.
Ashcraft came up with a save on Annalise Rodriguez in the opening 30 seconds of the half, and 10 minutes later, the Spartans’ goalie came up with her biggest stop when she deflected a blast from Hailey von Ahn off the crossbar and safely hauled in the ricochet.
Five minutes after that, Saratoga Springs barely missed on a pair of golden chances to take the lead. In a scramble following a free kick, Mia DiBlasi’s close-range effort hit the post, then von Ahn’s follow-up hit one of her own teammates in traffic in front of the net before the Spartans cleared it away.
“We were super unlucky a couple of times,” Saratoga Springs coach Adrienne Dennehy said, “but that’s the name of the game. That’s soccer.”
Shortly after the Blue Streaks’ flurry of chances, the game paused for the second-half mask break and Spartans coach Marisah Boucher took the chance to emphatically motivate her team.
“In the very beginning of the second half, we came out a little bit overconfident,” Boucher said. “We talked about making smart decisions, being first to the ball and playing our game a little more — not allowing them to set the tempo.”
In the 70th minute, Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake broke through when a slick pass from Torres teed up Malagisi at the top of the 18-yard box, and the eighth-grader calmly curled a shot that Long had no chance to stop.
“It felt awesome,” Malagisi said.
The game started with a wild flurry in the opening 10 minutes. Torres scored in the third minute when she latched onto a long pass from Cassidy Karl and outraced the Saratoga Springs defense before a cool finish. Sheehan answered for the Blue Streaks six minutes later by knocking the ball home during a prolonged scramble following a corner kick, and Torres nearly put the Spartans back in front moments later when she hit the post from long range.
It was a start neither team considered unexpected, given the lack of scrimmage preparation for the season.
“This is really the first time we’ve played outdoors, all together, 11-v-11, since last October,” Ashcraft said.
“Really, it’s crazy when you go 12 months without playing. But, we were all in the same position. Really, it was a perfect matchup and a perfect opportunity to show what we’ve got.”
Halftime score: Tied 1-1. Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake scoring: Torres 1-1, Malagisi 1-0. Saratoga Springs scoring: Sheehan 1-0. Goalies: Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake, Ashcraft, 4 saves. Saratoga Springs, Long, 4 saves.