With a 10-yard drive early in the second half, Carrie Hanks gave Niskayuna a two-goal lead in Monday’s state Class A quarterfinal field hockey game with Suffern.
“That was a big goal,” said Silver Warriors coach Alison Broomhead. “It let us breathe easy for a bit . . . For about 30 seconds.”
Niskayuna weathered Suffern’s only sustained thrust shortly after Hanks’ goal, and then went back to dominating just as it had in the first half on the turf at Schuylerville High School.
Anna Torri scored midway through that period, and with its 2-0 victory, Niskayuna secured the first state regional championship in program history.
“I scouted them [Suffern],” said Broomhead. “I gave my team some input, and told them, ‘If you play with intensity and play your style, you can walk away with a win.’ ”
The breakthrough win was Niskayuna’s second straight. The Silver Warriors (17-2) edged Shenendehowa, 1-0, on Torri’s overtime goal in the Section II final, after losing to the Lady Plainsmen in overtime in each of the previous two title games.
“This feeling is so indescribable because of the last two years. That was hard for us,” said Torri, a senior forward. “Because of last two years, that makes this so special.”
Niskayuna will take on Liverpool (Section III, 12-4-1) in its first state semifinal appearance Saturday at 3:30 at Cicero-North Syracuse High School. Niskayuna was one-and-done in its previous state tourney ventures, with a 1-0 regional semifinal lost to Mamaroneck in 2009, and a 2-1 regional final loss to Cicero-North Syracuse in 2006.
“It was great intensity from all of us,” said sophomore forward Ali Wells, who, as Niskayuna’s inserter on penalty corners, set the wheels in motion for both goals. “We wanted to get this so bad. We worked so hard for it, and to get it done, it’s amazing.”
“They’re very driven. They’re not okay with having their season end,” said Broomhead. “They know what it’s like to lose and they don’t want to feel it. They want their last game to be a win.”
Niskayuna won Monday by controlling the pace for all but a brief stretch in the second half, when Suffern (Section I, 15-2-3) was awarded three quick penalty corners. Niskayuna netminder Emily King made two of her three saves in the flurry to keep the Mounties at bay.
“We had really good pressure throughout the game,” said Torri. “Our defense did a good job of getting the ball up, and we played a real good passing game. We were holding onto the ball until they challenged us, which is what coach wanted us to do, and then we passed off. Everything clicked in this game.”
A most telling statistic of Niskayuna’s dominance was its 24-5 advantage on penalty corners, which gave the Silver Warriors one scoring chance after another.
“We had pressure on top of the circle and inside the circle, and that created penalty corners,” said Broomhead. “We executed and made some nice plays, but their goalie was excellent.
Kaila Cahoon was Suffern’s standout, with five saves in the initial 13 minutes and 11 stops in all. One of the senior’s best saves came early when she kicked away a blast by Alexa Angerami from the top of the circle on a penalty corner bid. Hanks fired just wide from up top and had another drive stopped by Cahoon soon after on two more corner opportunities.
“Their goalie was phenomenal,” said Torri. “She made some great saves to keep them in it.”
Torri beat Cahoon on a reverse sweep, directing the ball into the low left corner. Wells started
Niskayuna’s 10th penalty corner with a feed to Hanks up top, and Hanks poked the ball forward to Ali Frary, who then slid it to Torri.
“We didn’t feel safe at the half. We wanted at least one more if not two or three,” said Torri. “Luckily we got the one.”
Hanks handled a feed from Wells up top, moved left to right past a Suffern defender, and smacked the ball to complete Niskayuna’s 19th penalty corner and give her team a 2-0 lead before Suffern attempted its first shot of the game.
Suffern won a pair of 2-1 double overtime games before Monday, with the Mounties beating Kingston in the regional semifinals and Mamaroneck for the Section I title. Suffern was unbeaten in 13 straight games (11-0-2) before bowing to Niskayuna.
Three-time defending state Class B champion Lakeland continued its postseason surge with a 7-1 regional win over Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake, which started just two seniors.
“This is a learning experience for us,” said Spartans coach Kelly Vrooman. “We’ll look at this game and point out things we need to work on to improve as a program.”
Lakeland (Section I, 20-1) continually cut off BH-BL’s passing lanes, moved the ball up with long drives and and nifty stickwork, swarmed when the ball neared the cage. Burnt Hills freshman goaltender Brittany Ryan finished with 27 saves, some of them spectacular.
“They’re totally skilled. They could dodge. They were faster than we thought they’d be. They were good on corners,” said BH-BL senior Amy LeBel.
Lakeland scored on four of its 21 penalty corners and kept the Spartans off the board until LeBel connected unassisted with 6:10 left. That was the first postseason goal the Hornets had allowed. In four previous playoff games they outscored their foes, 23-0.
“The girls kept going,” said Vrooman, who as a senior played on BH-BL’s state Class A title-winning team. “They showed a little persistence there. That was nice to see.”
Burnt Hills (12-8) beat top-seeded Johnstown, 3-1, to reach the state tournament for the first time since the 2007 season. Burnt Hills also won Section II titles in girls’ volleyball, swimming, tennis and soccer, as well as football.
“It was great for us to be here,” said LeBel. “Field hockey isn’t one of the programs that usually gets here. I think its great for our team, the school and the community.”
Burnt Hills is losing five seniors to graduation, and it’s returning cast next year will include five freshman.
“Our group is so close. We came together like a family, and I’m sure it will be the same way next year,” said LeBel. “That’s going to keep this team going. That sense of family.”
Gianna Bensaia had two goals and two assists for Lakeland, Dana Bozek and Kristen Conroy both notched two goals, and Mairead Hourihan made two saves. The Hornets led at the half, 3-0, with Conroy starting the scoring spree just 1:51 in.
Abby Dusha and Leah Foster scored first-half goals, Samantha Whitehouse made 14 saves, and Greenwich (19-1) earned a return trip to the state Class C final four with a 2-0 victory over Bronxville (Section I, 17-3-1).
Greenwich plays Greene (Section IV, 17-0) Saturday at 10 at C-NS. Greenwich lost in the 2011 state title game.