The Niskayuna lacrosse team got a look at the latter stages of Shaker’s 9-5 Section II Class A semifinal win over Shenendehowa Tuesday night, and was not all that surprised.
The postseason victory forged with a mid-game outburst was Shaker’s third over a higher seeded team, and set up of a championship showdown with the Silver Warriors tonight at 8 at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s Ned Harkness Field. The Blue Bison will come in with six wins and renewed confidence, while Niskayuna shows 20 victories without a defeat, a No. 5 state rank and three straight titles under its belt.
“They’re on a roll. Obviously, their team has changed since the end of the season,” said Niskayuna senior attacker Steve D’Amario. “They’ve beaten quality teams. We’ll have to be ready for them.”
Shaker (No. 10 seed, 6-14) upset No. 2 seed Guilderland in overtime, 7-6, and beat No. 7 Schenectady before that, 13-7, to open its who-would-have-thought sectional bid. The Blue Bison ended the regular season with seven straight losses, including a 9-1 loss to Niskayuna.
“In the beginning of the season, we were up in the first half, and had other teams come back on us,” Shaker senior midfielder Ryan Gifford said after a two-goal, five-assist effort against No. 3 Shenendehowa. “We said we’re not going to let happen in the sectionals.”
Though Guilderland did fight back from a 4-0 deficit in the quarterfinals, Shaker found a way to win, on Stefan Dabkowski’s OT goal with three seconds left. The semifinal was decided much earlier, with a six-goal run spanning the middle quarters.
“It was a stretch to think we could get here, but I believed we could,” second-year Shaker coach Shawn Hennessy said. “I knew it was going to take the kids to do it. I felt if they played hard, we had a shot.”
Sam Cuddleback notched four goals against Shenendehowa, and sophomore goalkeeper Ken O’Connor made some superb stops among his 15 saves in Shaker’s first semifinal win since 2001. O’Connor also made 20 saves against Guilderland.
“We didn’t come in overconfident, but we knew we were a good team,” said Gifford. “We had six one-goal losses this year, and a couple of them were in overtime. We felt we could do this.”
Niskayuna (No. 1, 20-0) beat Shaker early in the season, 7-6, and forged sectional wins over Columbia, 14-3, and Colonie Tuesday, 14-4, to gain its 11th title-game appearance (Class A and Class B) and sixth in row at the large-school level.
“Shaker is playing with a ton of confidence. Their coaches have got them on the right track, and we’re going to be in for a battle,” Niskayuna coach Mike Vorgang said. “We’re not going to change anything we do. We’re going to give our kids the best opportunity to do well.”
D’Amario excelled against Colonie with seven goals and four assists, Dan McKinney had three goals and an assist and Niskayuna’s defense held its 10th opponent under five goals. That win gave Niskayuna an opportunity to add to its seven Section II championships.
Tonight’s game matches Section II’s most recent dynasty against its first. Shaker was the area’s first state representative in 1982 and 1983 by virtue of its Suburban Council crowns, and from 1984 through 1994, the Blue Bison won eight of their 10 Section II tourney titles.
Shaker won the title in 1997 by beating Niskayuna, 9-2. Niskayuna topped Shaker for the 2001 championship, 11-6.
Schuylerville’s first-year varsity will take on defending champ Johnstown in today’s Class C final at 3. Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake’s second-year varsity meets South Glens Falls in the 5:30 Class B title game.