Shenendehowa midfielder Molly Hagen thwarted several scoring opportunities by Saratoga Springs during an 80-minute stalemate Thursday with her fine defensive work.
In the end, it was Hagen who got the ball in, providing the deciding goal in the second round of overtime strokes as the Lady Plainsmen edged their longtime rivals, 1-0, in a Section II Class A semifinal game.
“That’s probably the best game she’s played. She was on fire today,” Shenendehowa field hockey coach Jeanne Frevola said of the junior. “She was great at getting the ball out of there.”
The marathon win gave Shenendehowa (No. 3 seed, 13-5) an opportunity to capture its third straight championship, and avenged a pair of 1-0 setbacks against Saratoga (No. 2, 15-3) during the Suburban Council season.
Niskayuna (No. 1, 15-2) also advanced Thursday with a 3-0 triumph over Columbia (No. 5, 7-11), setting up Sunday’s 4:30 p.m. final at Shenendehowa’s Steuerwald Stadium.
“It’s hard to beat a good team three times,” said Hagen, who scored during the first round of overtime strokes before finishing the contest with another accurate flick. “We knew we would come back. We deserve it more than anything.”
The game was an emotional roller coaster for Hagen, who was brought to tears by some heckling fans in the first overtime and wore a big smile after answering Maclaine Matties’ miss with her conversion.
“Some fans were screaming that we were trash, and they were saying my number,” Hagen said afterward.
“She was really affected by that,” Frevola said. “I told her to stay focused and take her upsetness and put it into the game.”
The game was another classic between Shenendehowa and Saratoga, with the Plainsmen controlling the pace in the first half, the Blue Streaks answering with a strong second half and the teams playing on even terms over the two 10-minute overtimes before both scored three goals in the initial stroke session.
“It was who capitalized on their opportunity,” said Saratoga coach Jo-Anne Hostig. It was the Blue Streaks’ first playoff game that went to strokes since a 2000 quarterfinal win over Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake.
“They finished. We finished a lot of times this year, but unfortunately we didn’t finish on the last one.”
Matties fired high and wide right to begin the second stroke round, and Hagen beat Sam Geils with a foot-high drive that snuck just inside the left post.
“We practice strokes every day. I thought about where I was going to place it,” said Hagen. “Last year, we went to strokes with Shaker, so I was kind of used to the pressure. I knew I could do it.”
“So many girls want to lift the ball,” said Frevola. “I tell my girls to place it low, fast and to the side. She did it. It was great.”
Saratoga’s Kelsey Briddell and Shenendehowa’s Nicole deCunha both connected on their team’s final opportunities to force the second round of strokes, with Briddell delivering the ball to the low left corner, and DeCunha scoring on a thigh-high rip inside the left post. Earlier, Matties and Marisa Larkin had scored on Saratoga’s first and third chances, and Hagen and Erin Buckley had scored on Shenendehowa’s second and fourth chances.
“I though that was a tough spot for Sam, being a first-year goalie,” Hostig said of her sophomore, one of Section II’s emerging stars. “Their goalie [Melissa Nealon] has more experience. She’s been through it.”
Geils was sharp with nine saves in the first half, and made 12 stops in all, her last one coming in the first round of strokes. Nealon made two saves in the stroke round, and also finished with 12.
“It’s like a power that just keeps growing,” Frevola said of her team that graduated its top three playmakers from a year ago. “We’ve worked very hard the last two weeks and we’ve gotten better. We had a nice showing against Shaker [4-0 quarterfinal win], and I knew we were going to be tough today.”
Shenendehowa is looking to repeat last year’s playoff performance when, as the No. 3 seed, it beat No. 6 Shaker, No. 2 Saratoga and No. 1 Niskayuna for the Class A championship. Shenendehowa also beat Niskayuna for the 2010 title.
“Our last game with Niskayuna was a very good game,” said Frevola of a 2-1 double-overtime defeat. “I’m thinking the final could go either way.”
Carrie Hanks, Ali Wells and Anna Torri scored Niskayuna’s goal Thursday, Ali Frary had an assist, and Emily King made seven saves in shutting down Columbia. Niskayuna beat Saratoga for the large-school flag in 2009 before Shenendehowa outlasted the Silver Warriors in back-to-back overtime finals.
Greenwich (No. 1, 17-1) and Hoosick Falls (No. 2, 15-3) will play for the Class C title Sunday at 12:30 at Shenendehowa after the Witches beat Warrensburg, 3-2, and the Panthers tripped Schuylerville in overtime, 1-0, in semifinal action.