Play defense like crazy, and somehow find a way to score.
Niskayuna was successful in its two-fold plan against streaking Shenendehowa, which came into Wednesday’s showdown as the Suburban Council’s most productive field hockey team, and also its stingiest.
“Everyone knew Shenendehowa was a talented team,” senior forward Mia DiRienzo said after providing the goal in Niskayuna’s 1-0 victory. “We knew we had to put all of the pieces together.”
The Silver Warriors did so in a game that left them and the Lady Plainsmen with one league loss halfway through the season. Niskayuna held Shenendehowa to eight shots on goal, and built momentum with a series of penalty corners leading up to DiRienzo’s first varsity tally.
“I asked her [DiRienzo] before the game what her goal was for today. She said her goal was to score,” Niskayuna coach Alison Broomhead said after her team extended its win skein to six games. “She did everything right to get the result she wanted.”
DiRienzo deflected a Carrie Hanks drive past Shenendehowa netminder Melissa Nealon with 6:31 left in the second half, and Niskayuna didn’t allow a shot on cage afterward to put the finishing touches on another narrow win against its longtime rival.
Niskayuna also beat Shenendehowa in last year’s Section II Class A title game, 1-0 in overtime, while the Lady Plainsmen claimed the two championships before that at the Silver Warriors’ expense.
“We knew we’d be put to the test. Shenendehowa has skilled players. Shenendehowa has smart players,” said Hanks, an all-state senior midfielder. “We wanted to beat them going into the second half, and we knew what we had to do.”
Shenendehowa (6-1, 8-1) had outscored its first eight opponents, 39-3, which included an eight-goal outburst against Guilderland, seven-goal assaults against Glens Falls and Columbia and five-goal outings against Johnstown and Bethlehem.
“We changed our formation for the game to help fill in spots,” said Broomhead. “I wanted more support between the lines.”
That left defenders Ellie Petraccione, Stephanie Macri and Kayla Bartnicki as the last line in front of Emily King. King made five of her seven saves in the first half, topped by a diving hand-pad stop on a close drive by Holly Hagen.
“With the new formation, they had to step up,” Broomhead said of her defensive cast. “They played as a coheesive unit. They saw the ball, made tackles and found open players in transition.”
Hanks found an opening inside the circle to set the stage for DiRienzo’s goal into the right side of the cage.
“Carrie was at the stroke line and drove it from there. I was playing pads and I deflected it in,” DiRienzo said of her goal. “It was just like we practiced it.”
“I took a step and sent it to the far post,” said Hanks. “We had noticed they weren’t guarding it so much.”
The goal came on the last of six penalty corners that were awarded to the reigning SC champs (6-1) in a rapid sequence. Ali Wells hit the ball in from the end line to the top of the circle to Hanks to start the play, Hanks worked a give-and-go with Ali Frary, and then dribbed toward the cage before drilling the ball.
“Up until the last eight minutes, it was pretty equal,” said Shenendehowa coach Jeanne Frevola. “The corners did us in.”
Nealon had made a sprawling save on a shot by Jackie O’Brien on a penalty corner shortly before the deciding play.
“At one point, Ali [Frary] and I were looking at each and a saying, ‘We’ve got to get this in,’ ” said Hanks. “We were getting shots off, and their goalie was making saves. We finally got a window and put it in.”
Nealon made six of her 10 saves in the second half. Niskayuna had the advantage in shots on goal (14-8) and penalty corners (13-10).
“This finishes off a first half where we made great steps forward,” said Broomhead. “I told the girls, ‘We can’t backtrack now. Let’s keep moving forward.’ ”
Niskayuna’s defensive success against Shenendehowa goes back to last year in league play, when the Silver Warriors beat the Lady Plainsmen in double overtime, 2-1, and also 2-0.
“This is a reality check for us. We were on cruise control for a while,” said Frevola. “We’ll do some reevaluating and get back to work.”
Niskayuna will look to avenge its only loss Friday when it hosts Saratoga Springs.