The Saratoga Springs field hockey team continually pounded the ball toward Shenendehowa goalkeeper Brittany Steele in Saturday’s Section II Class A championship game.
It was a relentless effort, and in the end, a fruitless one.
“Everyone chipped in,” Steele said after the Lady Plainsmen’s hard-to-fathom 1-0 victory at Knox Field. “They took a lot of shots on the cage. They’ve got a great offense and they know how to find people, but everyone on our team held their mark.”
Lexi Williams scored on Shenendehowa’s only penetration of the first half, and the Lady Plainsmen (No. 2 seed, 15-6), under pressure from start to finish, turned in one of the finest defensive stands in the history of the Class A title game.
“It’s a hard 1-0. We applied so much pressure,” said Blue Streaks coach Jo-Anne Hostig, after her team outshot Shenendehowa,
22-2. “We were inches away from a win. If they [Shenendehowa] didn’t have their sticks down . . .”
But Shenendehowa did, and successfully fended off 21 penalty corners, including 12 in a frantic second half, to win its first sectional title since 1995 and third going back to 1980. Saratoga (No. 1, 16-3) was denied its second straight crown and third since 2004.
“It was definitely a team effort,” said Shenendehowa senior forward Mandy Ferro, who serves as the flyer on penalty corners. “We had to have every single person step up, and when the ball got through, Brittany made saves.”
In her finest performance, Steele, who had never played the goalkeeper position before this season, finished with 10 saves in each half. Her counterpart, Meredith Farley, made only one stop early in the second half.
“Brittany was a blessing in disguise,” Shenendehowa coach Jeanne Frevola said of the senior and converted midfielder. “We needed a goalie, and she came in in August and said, ‘I’ll do the best I can.’ She’s stepped it up.”
Steele caught a break with 12 minutes left when Morgan Powell ripped a line drive from 13 yards away, and the ball banged off the left post.
“I flew after it and saw the ball hit the post,” said Ferro, whose role on penalty corners is to run directly to the ball after the in-bounds hit and break up the play. “The first thing that went in my mind was, ‘We’ve got to get the ball out of the circle.’ ”
Shenendehowa did, yet Saratoga was hardly done, and continued to threaten. The Suburban Council champions closed in on Steele with three minutes left, and her kick save amid a pile of bodies kept it a 1-0 contest.
“I was definitely amazed,” said Ferro, who notched all three goals in Shenendehowa’s 3-1 semifinal win over Shaker. “We’re a good defensive team, but to have a team get shot after shot and not score a goal, it was definitely amazing.”
“I’ve been on the other end of this,” said Frevola. “We had those undefeated Suburban Council teams and in the big games, we couldn’t put it in the cage. It happens.”
Saratoga brought an eight-game win streak into the final, which included a 2-0 victories over Bethlehem and Columbia in previous tournament outings, and routs of Columbia (4-1), Shaker (5-2) and Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake (4-1).
“We’ve been able to finish in intense situations, and they didn’t let us,” said Hostig. “We had the desire, but maybe we didn’t have the destiny.”
“Saratoga wanted to get back to the regionals. They never gave up,” said Frevola, whose Lady Plainsmen split two league games with the Blue Streaks. “We deserved to be here, and it was our year.”
Williams helped make it so, scoring her eighth goal of the season with 4:32 left in the opening half. Stephanie Ciulla drove the ball from the top of the circle toward the left corner of the cage, and Williams tapped it in.
“We didn’t have the ball on our side of the field very much in this game,” said Williams, a senior forward. “When we did, we knew how to finish. I was sitting on the post, and I smacked it in.”
“That’s one thing we’ve been able to do all year, put it in the cage when we get our chances,” Frevola said.
Along with her assist, Ciulla, a senior midfielder, stopped two potential goals with stick stops. The entire Shenendehowa team was packed in defensively down the stretch as Saratoga battled for the equalizer.
Shenendehowa will meet Kingston (Section IX, 11-5-1) in a Class A regional game next Saturday at the Hudson Valley Sportsdome in Milton (between Kingston and Newburgh) at noon. Kingston defeated Shenendehowa early in the season, 2-1, and advanced to the regionals with a 2-0 win over Pine Bush.
Sarah Mason scored with 6:17 left in the second half, and Glens Falls (No. 1, 21-0) captured its third Class B championship in four years with a 1-0 triumph over Johnstown (No. 2, 15-6). Glens Falls is the only other team to beat Saratoga this season.
Carol White’s overtime goal lifted Warrensburg (19-2) past Hoosick Falls (16-6) in the Class CC-C playoff, 2-1. Juliet Needham scored for the Burgers with six minutes left, forcing the overtime.
Warrensburg and Glens Falls will also see regional action next Saturday aginst Section IX champions.