CLIFTON PARK — The start of Shenendehowa’s “second season” looked awfully similar to so many games the Plainsmen played in their unbeaten run through league play.
Darien Espinal came up clutch at the offensive end, and the Plainsmen clamped down on the defensive side in a 1-0 win over Saratoga Springs Thursday night in a semifinal game of the Suburban Council boys’ soccer tournament.
“Our defense is amazing. On offense, we do our job,” Espinal said after scoring his seventh goal this fall, and fourth in his team’s last three games. “That’s how we win games.”
This game, and this win, sent Shenendehowa (No. 1 seed, 12-0-2) on to Saturday’s 1:30 p.m. title game opposite CBA (No. 2, 12-2-0). The contest on the Plainsmen’s field will feature the Section II Class AA tournament champions from the last two years.
“Beating them and winning the tournament, it would mean a lot to the boys,” Shenendehowa senior defender Brandon Barrett said.
Barrett was smack in the middle of another staunch defensive effort by the Plainsmen, who posted their eighth shutout, and second this season against Saratoga (No. 4, 8-4-2).
Shenendehowa also blanked the dangerous Blue Streaks on Nov. 6 by a 2-0 count.
“They are very good,” Shenendehowa coach Jon Bain said. “We came up with a couple of saves and some stops at the back line. All of our backs played well.”
Noah Flint made six saves for the shutout against a Saratoga team that got past Guilderland in the quarterfinals 3-2. Shenendehowa received a quarterfinal forfeit win when Colonie could not play due to a COVID-19 issue.
“Darien made an amazing play, and we had to hold the fort,” Barrett said.
Espinal scored his goal with 12:14 left in the first half, beating a pair of defenders before his drive to the right side of the net.
“I got the through ball and I was thinking goal right away,” the senior midfielder Espinal said. “I crossed up a guy in front of me and found the right side.”
“That was all Darien,” Bain said. “He probably did 80% of the work on his own. Hats off to him.”
While neither team scored afterward, the diligent effort to do so was there on both sides in the matchup of longtime athletic rivals.
Espinal had an opportunity to pick up his second goal with three minutes left when Saratoga netminder Tyler Munter came out, Espinal dribbled wide right to create an opening and fired the ball that was headed away by Evan Griffiths.
“Obviously, you could see how hard of a fight this game was,” Bain said. “It felt like a sectional game.”
Shenendehowa’s unbeaten league stretch included a 2-0 win over CBA on Oct 20. The Brothers have been a potent playoff team with Thursday’s 4-2 win over Niskayuna following a 3-1 quarterfinal victory over Albany Tuesday.
“We want to go back to back,” Barrett said in reference to Shenendehowa’s 2019 Section II Class AA title. “We’re going to try to win it again.”
Halftime: Shenendehowa led 1-0. Saratoga scoring: None. Shenendehowa scoring: Espinal 1-0. Goalkeepers: Saratoga, Munter, 6 saves. Shenendehowa, Flint, 6 saves.