CLIFTON PARK — This season hasn’t exactly been a normal one for the Shenendehowa softball team, which has taken on an underdog mentality on its route to the NYSPHSAA Class AA semifinals.
The road to Long Island just got a bit bumpier, as the Plainsmen will head down to the Moriches Sports Complex on Long Island without all of their seven seniors.
“Our student-athletes have the opportunity to compete for a state championship, but some have made the decision, exercising their right, to go to the prom instead,” said Shenendehowa athletic director Chris Culnan.
On Monday, Shenendehowa’s group of seven seniors approached the softball coaches, saying that they intended to play in the state semifinal game on Friday, but should they advance to the championship on Saturday, they would elect to go to prom instead.
“That, in and of itself, was their decision,” Culnan said. “Our only reaction to it is that if we’re going to go to the state championship, we’re going to field the best team possible. If that meant we were going to call up some JV players, that’s what we were going to do.”
In consultation with Shenendehowa administrators, Culnan and head coach Chris Farquharson determined that seniors would need to decide whether they were going to prom, or whether they were committed to the softball team for the entire weekend.
“How are we going to allow them to play on Friday, and if we win, abandon their teammates on Saturday in the state championship game,” Culnan explained. “I feel an obligation as the Section 2 champion, to go down there with the best team possible. It’s a tough situation all around. These are good, nice girls, but I would have liked to see them complete their season with their teammates.”
“I’ve never experienced this in 16 years,” Culnan added. “We’ve had teams that have changed in the parking lot to get to prom.”
“It was seven out of seven seniors who decided not to play,” Farquharson confirmed. “They informed us they wouldn’t be playing on Saturday. We were concerned that they would just leave after the first game, and the impact that could have on the rest of the team.”
Shenendehowa (16-6) is scheduled to face Section 1’s North Rockland (20-2) on Friday at 3:30 p.m.
The NYSPHSAA Class AA championship game is scheduled for noon on Saturday, also at the Moriches Sports Complex. The senior prom is scheduled for around 6 p.m. on Saturday.
“We gave them the option of leaving immediately after the game, if we played Saturday. Maybe they’d be a little late, but they’d be back,” Farquharson said. “I was really trying to understand their perspective and the situation they were in, but also trying to keep in mind the players who are still here and want to compete. I wanted to understand both sides and what’s important to them, but we just couldn’t come to the same solution together. The Saturday plan, leaving right away, they didn’t choose that solution.”
As of this edition, attempts by The Daily Gazette to reach some of the team’s seniors and parents have been unsuccessful.
The seniors, who have elected to stay behind, are reportedly planning to watch the games together, from home.
Shenendehowa’s seniors include captains centerfielder Kelsey Higgins and second baseman Sara Isaacs. The seven also include Ava DeMarco, Mya Green, Rhianna Smith, Lauren Bieniek and Maeve Brannigan.
Farquharson made four call-ups from the junior varsity team, including sophomores Ava Margosian and Sarah MacFarlane. Twin sisters Hailey and Quinn Farquharson, who are freshman and daughters of Chris Farquharson, were also called up.
“I reached out to coach [Mike] Cuttita and asked him to recommend four players to move up,” Farquharson said.
“With the group that’s left, we had a good amount of conversation. Everyone expressed their feelings about the situation, so they could just talk freely. We tried to practice, which we did. We put some different players in new roles, as well as some players who are now getting the opportunity to start.”
At the end of the day, the Shenendehowa softball team will have a game to play on Friday, and if they win, they’ll have another on Saturday.
“I’m just looking forward to getting down there, having fun and experiencing that state championship atmosphere,” said junior Kayla Kean during practice on Tuesday. “I’ve experienced it before in volleyball and we won states last year. It’s an amazing feeling being there and experiencing it with everyone.”
“We have the die-hard mentality,” said junior Emily Baumes. “We just want to win.”
During the course of the season, Shenendehowa dropped six games — all of their losses — over a span of seven games.
Five of those losses were either by one run, or in extra innings.
“A stretch like that isn’t really something that we’d gone through, here at Shen,” said Farquharson. “We kept the mentality that we were in every game. We were right around a hit or two of turning those games into wins. After that we were considerably louder and more into the games. We realized how much more we needed to work to get through that.”
“Honestly, there was a point in the season where our whole entire goal was to make sections,” Baumes said. “Now that we’re at this point, we’re really proud that we came back to beat Shaker, Guilderland and Colonie. We won the regional and we’re all in; we’re just the hot team right now.
“It took a lot of grit and not giving up,” she added. “A lot of our heads were down, but we knew it wasn’t over. We were still given a chance and we made the most of it.”
After breaking a scoreless tie to walk-off in the Section 2 quarterfinals, the Plainsmen overtook Guilderland in extra innings in the semifinals. Shenendehowa hung on to upset No. 1 Colonie, winning the section title.
“I know that as long as we play together, we can fulfill our dream of playing in the championship game and winning a state title,” said Kean, who has excelled during her first season at the varsity level.
“It made me push myself harder every day, to earn my spot on the team,” she said. “Being a first-year varsity player and starting, it was a really big achievement for me. I wasn’t sure at the beginning of the year if I’d even play, because of who was ahead of me.”
Shenendehowa junior pitcher Bre Hayes, along with third-baseman Emily Baumes, have reportedly been named captains, in the anticipated absence of the team’s seniors this weekend.
“What we did on the field was really special,” Farquharson said. “Everybody was at our Board of Education meeting last night being recognized, seniors as well. It was special, working through all of those close games, that’s what I want to remember. Hopefully there’s more ahead, going into the tournament.
“As I told the girls, I’ve never been this far either,” he added. “I’m really happy I can do it with them.”