Considering the amount of energy expended through 110 scoreless minutes and a gut-wrenching penalty-kick shootout, it’s amazing that Niskayuna found enough left to celebrate.
But celebrate the Silver Warriors did after Ian Cutting put home the decisive kick from the spot Thursday night that got them past Shenendehowa and into their first Section II Class AA championship game since 2007.
“I’ve never been fond of PKs,” said Niskayuna co-captain Phil Weeber, the second of four consecutive Silver Warriors to convert in the tiebreaker. ”They just don’t do justice to the game. Great players miss PKs. The kids from Shen who missed are good players.
“But I’m very happy that we get to go on and play for a championship.”
Goalkeeper Taylor Tear also turned in a great PK round. He stopped half of the four shots he saw, and got most of Phil Barrett’s shot that had enough steam to get across the goal line.
“I’ve never been involved in a situation like that in school soccer before,” said Tear.
“The first one they scored, I really didn’t do anything. What I’ve been trying to do in practice is just get big before the shot.”
“He was huge,” said Weeber, talking both literally and figuratively.
Second-year Niskayuna coach Joe Carosella is not a fan of the current tiebreaker, either.
“I’ve never like PKs, and I was a little more nervous than they were,” he said. “I have confidence in them. They know what they can do.”
Carosella went with experience in determining his five shooters after the top two teams in the Suburban Council North could not determine the winner of their third game this season.
“Once you establish who’s going to kick, it’s up to them to go up there and do it on their own,” Carosella said. “You can’t do much for them.
“I trust these guys. All the kids who took the kicks are seniors. They’ve been leaders all year long.”
There was never any doubt who would be called on to keep the Plainsmen penalty takers at bay.
“He’s been a leader in the back all year long,” Carosella said of Tear. “He knows what to do tactically. He inspires the players.
“He made great saves. He’s a smart kid and he puts that to good use on the field. He’s made a big difference for us.”
The 11-4-3 Silver Warriors will meet Bethlehem for the title back here Monday at 6 p.m. in a rematch of the 2007 title game. The Eagles ended four years of postseason frustration with a 2-0 win over Big 10 runner-up Albany, making its first trip to the semis since a 1-0 loss to Niskayuna in 2007.
After the 16-0-2 Eagles missed on a handful of good chances early, Ethan Gunty scored off a great run down the right flank with 18:56 to go in the first half.
Though rarely dangerous on offense, Albany refused to give up another goal until Liam Roohan scored with 4:29 to go.
“Albany never stopped the whole game,” said Eagles coach Phil Ridgway. “They played through their very good midfield. They just couldn’t seem to connect between their midfield and their forwards, but they did not stop.
“They gave us a run. They worked their butts off. I give them all the credit in the world.”
The Falcons were not just there for show.
“Maybe nobody outside the programs expects this, but inside the program, we do,” said senior Tyler Stempsey. “It’s our purpose. We deserve to be here. The boys, in the future, will be back, and they will go farther.”
Albany coach David Weiss, while not happy with what he sees as a bias against Big 10 teams in the tourney, was also expecting his team to show well.
“I expect to be here every year,” he said. “This year, we’re young. I had three sophomores out there and three juniors. We’ve been wracked with injuries.
“To be honest, if we played this kind of team, week in and week out, I guarantee there would be a champion from the Big 10. We’re at a severe disadvantage. The seeding is messed up. The seeding is unfair, it’s biased toward the Suburban Council.
“This is not a sectional tournament, its a Suburban tournament with some Big 10 teams sprinkled in. We’re lucky to get an invite.
“It needs to be changed. We’re the No. 1 team out of the Big 10, and we’re playing the No. 1 team out of the Suburban Council in the semifinals. It doesn’t make any logical sense.
“Not to take anything way from Bethlehem, they’re a fantastic team. But you want equity. These are kids, and you want to provide equity for them. We don’t feel that there is.”