Niskayuna was in position to end its lengthy playoff drought Friday night, but Ballston Spa caught fire and ended its own instead.
Andrew Gentile nailed a trio of three-point baskets early in the fourth quarter, and the Scotties pulled away for a 60-50 Section II Class AA play-in win over their Suburban Council North Division rivals.
Ballston Spa was up after three quarters, 32-31, before nearly matching its scoring output with 28 points over the final eight minutes.
“We got in the huddle, and I told the guys, ‘You’re fine. You’ve got to dig in and make stops on defense and move the ball,’ ” coach John Lea said after Ballston Spa took the rubber match between the teams. “We spread our offense a little bit, made passes at the right time, and the shots started falling.”
Gentile’s threes were part of a 12-0 run to begin the fourth quarter. Dan Kaplan also sank a three during that key spurt, drilled another soon after and dropped in three free throws inside the final minute to help Ballston Spa (SC No. 8 seed, 8-11) finish off its third straight win.
“In our last three games against Burnt Hills, Saratoga and now Niskayuna, we came up big. We played well when we needed it the most,” said Kaplan, a senior forward who came off the bench to score a career-high 16 points. “Our passing in the last quarter was definitely big, and the shots were going down.”
Ballston Spa’s last sectional win came against Averill Park in 2004, 63-52. Scotties’ 6-foot-4 junior center Andre Edgerton played a significant role in Friday’s breakthrough victory with six points — including a tip-in and short jumper down the stretch — 11 rebounds, seven blocks and three steals.
“It’s been a long time. The kids have been working hard to build it,” said Lea. “We’ve got a few wins this year, but we’re coming.”
Ballston Spa will travel to four-time defending Class AA champ Christian Brothers Academy (Big 10 No. 1, 16-2) Tuesday for a first-round game. CBA humbled Ballston Spa in last year’s first round, 72-44, as a springboard toward its 10th consecutive title-game appearance.
“CBA has an excellent program down there. We’re going to go down there and have some fun,” said Lea. “The kids are excited. I’m excited.”
Brandon Fine collected 17 points and 10 rebounds for Niskayuna (SC No. 9, 3-16), which last tasted playoff success in 2006 against Amsterdam. Liam Byrne had eight points for the Silver Warriors, with the senior’s putback and layup getting them within 44-37 in the fourth period before Kaplan’s three and Edgerton’s two baskets shortly after.
“I’ve got fantastic kids with a lot of character. They play with a lot of pride,” said Niskayuna coach Ian McShane. “My kids have battled all year, but we haven’t executed as well as we could in some spots.”
Zach Green’s second layup late in the third quarter had Niskayuna trailing, 32-31. Gentile started the final quarter with a three-pointer, and after Edgerton made a steal, the junior connected from deep again. Threes by Kaplan and Gentile made it 44-31.
“It was amazing,” Gentile, a junior guard, said of the fourth quarter when he capped off his season-high 14-point effort. “We were passing the ball and setting screens. Everyone was playing great. Everyone was playing as a team. Coach said stay with it, and we were able to do that.”
Kaplan assisted on Gentile’s first three-pointer of the deciding quarter and set up his bomb that made it 44-31 after hauling down an offensive rebound and quickly finding his teammate on the perimeter.
“We were hanging in and scrapping and clawing,” said McShane. “We let some shooters get loose, and we didn’t get some big rebounds.”
Kaplan scored seven of Ballston Spa’s nine second-quarter points, with his late three pushing the Scotties ahead at the break, 21-18.
“He [Kaplan] came out and played tonight,” Lea said. “I could tell he was ready to go when I put him in in the second quarter.”
Jeremy Mendrick had eight points, six rebounds and seven assists for the Scotties, and George Kernochan had a fourth-quarter layup and three-pointer as part of his nine-point outing.
Brent Oliver and Aaron Gordon both added seven points for Niskayuna.
“They hung in there. I give them credit,” Gentile said. “We went up tempo and we were able to close it out.”
Sise 2-0-5, Oliver 2-2-7, Gordon 3-0-7, Green 2-0-4, Fine 6-4-17, Darsinos 1-0-2, Byrne 4-0-8. Totals: 20-6-50.
Mendrick 4-0-8, Bingham 1-0-2, Flynt 1-0-3, Gentile 5-0-14, Kaplan 5-3-16, Kernochan 4-0-9, Edgerton 2-2-6, Dillon 1-0-2. Totals: 23-5-60.
Niskayuna 13 5 13 19 — 60
Ballston Spa 12 9 11 28 — 60
Three-point goals: Sise, Oliver, Gordon, Fine, Flynt, Gentile 4, Kaplan 3, Kernochan.