Alison Broomhead touched on several points as she huddled with her Niskayuna field hockey team just before Friday’s Suburban Council showdown with Shenendehowa.
Staying with the play was one of those subjects.
“Before the game, I told the girls it’s not always about the first shot. It’s about collecting the rebound,” Broomhead said after her Silver Warriors edged the Lady Plainsmen, 2-1. “You’ve got to be ready.”
Jackie O’Brien was, scoring the tie-breaking goal with 65 seconds left on a quick tap as Niskayuna beat Shenendehowa for the second time this season and captured its third consecutive league championship at Brent Steuerwald Stadium.
O’Brien also connected earlier in the second half, and Niskayuna (13-1, 14-1) contained the league’s most prolific offense as part of its 14th straight victory. Niskayuna dropped its season opener at Saratoga Springs, 2-1, before putting together its streak.
“After that first loss, we didn’t want to feel that again,” said O’Brien, a senior forward, after her first two-goal varsity game. “We came together as a team, and when you do that, it’s unbelievable.”
Niskayuna handed Shenendehowa (12-2, 14-2) its first loss late last month, 1-0, also on a goal late in the second half. Niskayuna has won five games in a row against its rival, including a 1-0 overtime decision in last season’s Section II Class A final.
“We look at our season as three stages. The first half, the second half where you play everyone a second time, and the sectionals,” said Broomhead. “This was a big game, but not an end-all. It’s a positive to finish the league this way, but we’ve still got things to do.
“I feel there’s still more feistiness to our game. We played smart today and we played hard, but there’s more in us.”
Rachel Picchi forged a 1-1 tie with 10 minutes left before Niskayuna answered.
“Broomie always tells us, ‘Don’t put your head down,’ ” said O’Brien. “You’ve got to keep playing and try to get the next goal. You want to be the one to get that goal.”
O’Brien delivered in overtime earlier in the season when Niskayuna avenged its loss to Saratoga with a 1-0 overtime victory, before coming through with another clutch goal.
“I can’t put in words how good it feels,” O’Brien said of her decisive goal against the Lady Plainsmen. “The ball hit off something. I’m not sure if it was their goalie or another player. I saw it, and knocked it in.”
Niskayuna got the game-winner on a penalty corner, which started on an Ali Wells hit to Carrie Hanks at the top of the circle. Hanks spun away from a defender and zipped a backhand pass toward the cage, and the ball hit off the foot of Shenendehowa’s Anna Bottino. That’s when O’Brien smacked the ball in from close range for her fifth goal of the season.
“Carrie is a great playmaker,” said O’Brien. “You don’t even realize it’s coming, and it’s there.”
“It was just a standard corner we use, and she [Hanks] improvised,” said Broomhead. “She made a phenomenal play, and made it look easy.”
Hanks, an All-American midfielder who has committed to Maryland, also set up Mia DiRienzo’s goal when the Silver Warriors clipped the Lady Plainsmen last month.
“If we get lucky enough to play them again in the [Section II] finals, we know where the ball is going,” Shenendehowa coach Jeanne Frevola said, referring to Hanks. “We know what we’re supposed to do. It’s a matter getting it done.”
Hanks provided Niskayuna with its two best scoring chances in the first half, both coming on penalty corners, when she unleashed hard shots from the top of the circle. Melissa Nealon stopped the first bid and Hanks drove the ball wide on the second.
Shenendehowa had an excellent opportunity to break the deadlock three minutes into the second half when Molly Hagen’s backhand shot sailed just wide.
Niskayuna broke through with 20:41 left in the second half when Wells sent a left-to-right crossing pass toward the cage and O’Brien knocked the ball in to complete a penalty corner.
Picchi tied it when she converted a left-to-right feed from Casey Stata. Hagen had drilled the ball from the 35-yard line into the circle, and Stata, setting up near the post, was quick with her feed.
“That was a great cross from Casey,” said Frevola. “Rachel was moving at top speed and got the ball and banged it into the corner.”
Niskayuna’s game-winning goal came on the third of three quick penalty corners. Hanks was denied on the first bid when Nealon made her fifth and final save.
“After they scored, I though we controlled the play,” said Broomhead. “Our girls did a nice job of responding.”
Emily King made five saves for Niskayuna, while teammate Ali Frary consistently thwarted Shenendehowa’s thrusts with her stick stops and counter passes.
Niskayuna and Shenendehowa will be the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds for the upcoming Section II Class A tournament. Shenendehowa beat Niskayuna in title games in 2011 and 2010.