Niskayuna field hockey coach Alison Broomhead couldn’t have asked much more from her Silver Warriors as a well-balanced, finely tuned team all season long. The same could be said for the unit’s final game, which ultimately turned into a one-on-one battle, rather than the group effort she wanted it to be.
When senior midfielder Emily Burns blasted a shot past Niskayuna junior goalkeeper Emily King in the second round of sudden-victory strokes, it put all the pressure on Niskayuna junior forward Ali Frary, who couldn’t put her shot past Liverpool keeper Megan Evangelista.
The result, after eight minutes and seven rounds of penalty strokes, was a Liverpool victory that sent the Navy and Orange Warriors to their first championship game today at Cicero-North Syracuse High School.
Niskayuna, playing in its first-ever state final four, finished the season at 17-3.
The score was tied, 2-2, at the end of regulation, and both teams scrapped their way through a pair of 10-minute overtime periods that pitted seven Niskayuna Silver Warriors against seven Liverpool Warriors.
But when the game couldn’t be decided in OTs, the tie-breaker format called for a penalty-stroke shootout with five players from each team taking shots at the opposing keeper.
Liverpool’s best player, Emma Lamison, got things started with a quick score off King, but Frary matched that goal after the first round.
Both keepers grabbed the spotlight for the next three rounds, with neither team scoring.
When senior defender Jennifer Ryan put Liverpool on top, 2-1 in strokes, it appeared that the Navy & Orange Warriors were going to advance, but junior Maura McCann came through with a clutch stroke for Niskayuna to send the game into the ultimate tie-breaker, a sudden-victory round of strokes, where the first team to score without being matched wins.
Lamison once again started for Liverpool in this round, but she missed wide right. That put Niskayuna junior midfielder Carrie Hanks, who excelled all over the field most of the game, in the spotlight. But Hanks missed her shot, as well.
That set the stage for Burns’ game-winning stroke in the next round.
“In overtime, we thought we were going to win,” said Hanks. “We felt we had the momentum going into OT. It’s very hard to lose a game like this. I thought my shot was going to go in, but I just didn’t get enough on it.
“Like I said, it’s tough to lose in penalty strokes, but that’s the way it is.”
Broomhead said her team had nothing to be sorry about.
“This is not the way we wanted the game to end, but I told our players after the game that this game doesn’t define their season,” she said. “It was exciting for everyone, but it was also nerve-wracking for us. To tell you the truth, I think it’s kind of unfair to decide a big game like this. It comes down to a goalie against a player, and it puts all the pressure on one player rather than the team.
“But I think we had a great season, and we reached most of our goals.”
Niskayuna dominated play in the first half, but had little to show for it. Liverpool was held without a shot on goal or a penalty corner, while Niskayuna had three shots and three corners, as well as several other excellent possessions when the Silver Warriors just couldn’t get a good shot off.
Senior midfielder Alexa Angerami finally ended the shutout with a blast from 15 yards that slipped through a bunch of players with 4:38 left in the half. Hanks was credited with the assist.
But Liverpool (13-4-1), which looked much slower than Niskayuna in the first half, suddenly woke up in the second half. Lamison quickly knotted the score in the opening minute on a tough-angled shot that floated high into the far corner of the net.
Lamison also figured in Liverpool’s second goal, when she fired a shot from 20 yards out into a crowd of Niskayuna defenders. Morgan Thomas, a junior forward, got her stick on the ball and deflected it past King with 13:45 left in regulation.
Just when it seemed Niskayuna had lost all of the momentum, the Silver Warriors clicked for the tying goal. Gabrielle Litz slapped at the ball just outside the circle, and Frary bounced it high over Evangelista’s head with 7:28 left.
Neither team could break through in the two overtime sessions.
“We knew Liverpool was a good team and that they would come out hard against us in the second half,” said Hanks. “They had two weeks to prepare for us, because they didn’t have any regional opponents to play against, so we knew they were going to be ready for us.”