DELMAR — Cam Wilders hadn’t gotten a shot to fall all night. When she and the Shenendehowa girls’ basketball team needed it most, Wilders and the Plainsmen did what they do best and turned defense into offense.
Down a point with 36.7 seconds left in the fourth quarter of Thursday’s Section II Class AA quarterfinal against Niskayuna, Shenendehowa turned up the pressure and trapped Niskayuna’s Rebecca Schmidt near the baseline in the backcourt. Schmidt’s attempt to pass out of the trap was deflected into the hands of Wilders, who finally got a shot to fall for the go-ahead bucket with 26.6 seconds left.
“It was so good,” Wilders said, “especially getting one when it mattered and counted felt so great. It was a nice redemption for the whole night.”
A few defensive stops and four free throws later, and Shenendehowa was able to walk out of Bethlehem High School with a thrilling 56-54 win.
“At this time of the year, no one cares what the score is,” Shenendehowa head coach Joe Murphy said. “You’ve just got to win and advance, and have the opportunity to play the next game.”
Shenendehowa (No. 3 seed, 17-4 overall) now heads to the semifinals on Monday at 4:30 p.m. Hudson Valley Community College to face second-seeded Bethlehem, which beat No. 7 Shaker 56-52 in Thursday’s second quarterfinal at Bethlehem. The Eagles trailed by 11 points at the half and were down 45-36 with six minutes to play before closing the game with a 20-7 surge.
Shenendehowa, which led by as many as 13 in the first half, saw its lead whittled down to 26-24 by halftime and headed into the fourth quarter tied 40-40. A Schmidt putback with 3:17 to play put Niskayuna (No. 6 seed, 11-10 overall) up 49-48, the Silver Warriors’ first lead since it was 8-6 late in the first quarter.
“That’s the way we’ve played all season,” Niskayuna head coach Sarah Neely said. “We don’t even look at the scoreboard. These girls, it doesn’t matter what the score is, they fight until the end. They did that again tonight.”
The teams went back-and-forth in the closing stretch, but after Shenendehowa’s Gabby Stuart missed a potential go-ahead shot in the final minute and Neely called timeout, Murphy made a change in his team’s pressure defense.
“We went away from our regular run-and-jump that possession, and we decided to trap the first pass,” Murphy said. “They were doing a good job breaking our man-to-man press, so we just decided to trap the first pass. We got a great trap, a great deflection and a layup.”
That tweak resulted in Wilders’ go-ahead layup. Shenendehowa’s defense came away with three stops in the final 26 seconds, with Kaleigh Montanez and freshman Gianna Winter — who had a key steal and rebound in the final stretch — each hitting two free throws to push the lead to five before Niskayuna’s Jackie Reffelt banked in a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
Bri Carey led a balanced effort for Shenendehowa with 13 points, 10 of which came in the first half. Montanez added 11 points, while Gabby Stuart and Abby Stuart combined for 19 crucial points off the bench. Gabby Stuart scored 11, and Abby Stuart scored eight.
“I think we did a good job dealing with adversity,” Wilders said, “and coming back when it mattered, making plays when we needed to.”
Reffelt finished with a game-high 20 points for Niskayuna, which also got 14 points from Olivia O’Meally and 10 from Kathleen Birmingham.
Niskayuna 9 15 16 14 — 54
Shenendehowa 11 15 14 16 — 56
Niskayuna scoring: O’Meally 6-1-14, Reffelt 7-5-20, Schmidt 2-4-8, K. Birmingham 3-3-10, Gonzalez 1-0-2. Shenendehowa scoring: Carey 5-3-13, DeMura 1-0-2, Montanez 4-2-11, A. Stuart 3-1-8, G. Stuart 4-0-11, Cozzens 0-3-3, Wilders 1-2-4, Winter 1-2-4. Scoring totals: Niskayuna 19-13-54, Shenendehowa 19-13-56.