A hot goaltender can take a team a long way in the postseason.
If senior Kristen Hartlage continues to play like she did in Wednesday night’s Section II Class AA girls’ soccer final, Niskayuna could be playing for a state title next weekend.
Hartlage was the difference as Niskayuna beat Saratoga Springs for the third time this season, 2-0, to move into a 2 p.m. Saturday regional here against Section III champ Cicero-North Syracuse.
The Western Athletic Conference had two teams win sectional titles and advance to Saturday’s regional championships.
Oppenheim-Ephratah-St. Johnsville beat Fort Ann, 3-1, in the Class D opener of the triple-header, and Canajoharie followed with a 3-0 victory over Waterford-Halfmoon in Class C for the first sectional title in program history.
Hartlage was confident and safe in the Niskayuna goal, and the Silver Warriors got goals from Kelly Hartlage and Meghan Doyle to claim its first sectional title since 2006.
“Kristen had one of her best games,” said Niskayuna coach Bryce Colby. “She’s been unusually focused. She’s starting to use her voice more. She’s been on the ball the last six, seven games. She works hard.”
“She had a great game,” noted Saratoga coach Adrienne Dannehy. “We’d been able to push one by her both games we played [during the season], and to not be able to get one tonight was disappointing, but she played a great game. She came up with some great saves.”
Two of those came in the late stages, with her team clinging to a 1-0 lead.
“That last save was the big one,” said Colby. “The bottom dropped out of the shot, and she smothered it. No rebound. No anything. She gobbled it up, and that was a big save. It was 1-0 at that point.”
“That’s one of my best games. It’s sectionals. Everyone has to play their best,” said Hartlage as she held the Section II championship plaque. “It’s your last chance to win, so you give it all you’ve got.”
After Saratoga pushed Niskayuna hard in the first 30 minutes, the Silver Warriors got the first goal when Kelly Hartlage was first to a Rachel Walsh pass with 5:05 to go in the first half.
Suburban Council Player of the Year Meghan Doyle made it a two-goal game late in the game.
Colby pointed to a handful of players who made a difference.
“We put a game plan together to play Saratoga,” he said. “We had to make some adjustments at the beginning of the game. I had to pull them, and say, ‘Look, This is how it happens. Watch it happen.’
“Marika [Contompasas] is a great example. I took her out after about 10 minutes and put Mimi Curro in. Mimi worked her butt off, and when I threw Marika back in, she got it. When you think about it, all of our possession came from Marika. Balls were played up front, and she’s battling with two players and winning the ball, finding Meghan. She played really well after that first 10 minutes.”
“Our defense struggled the first 10 minutes. They struggled with the wind. They struggled with the long ball. We knew Saratoga was going to push it at us. But every time we fell down, Kristen was there. They continued to back each other up and play together.”
Center midfielder Hailey Golub was a calming influence for the 16-3-0 Silver Warriors.
“Hailey Golub is the brains in the middle of the field,” Colby said. “She sees people, and she finds them and gets good matchups or takes it herself. She’s always in the right spot. She played a very intelligent game.”
Dannehy’s team had won five straight, and upset defending champion and top seed Guilderland in the semifinals.
“Every single game they improved on something from the previous game,” she said. “As a coach, that’s what you want to see. It was a gradual thing. We wanted to peak at sectional time, and that was the game plan from Day 1.
“We gave it our all, and that’s all I ever ask them to do.”
WAC teams win
Morgan Koelbl gave Canajoharie a 1-0 lead in the Class C final, driving home a header from six yards away 10 miniutes in.
Janelle Dillenbeck doubled the Cougars’ lead 12 minutes into the second half, and the Canjo defense kept close tabs on CHVL MVP Ashley Lefebvre to close out the team’s 17th win in 20 games. Jordyn Logan finished the scoring in the closing seconds for Canajoharie, making its first appearnce in a final since 1982.
“Some of these girls’ mothers played the last time we got to the finals,” said Cougars coach Elle Fitchthorn. Canajoharie will travel north for Saturday’s regional final, getting either Northern Adirondack of Section VII or Section X champ Brushton-Moira.
“The first half, our nerves were on high alert,” said Fitchthorn. “We settled down in the second half and played a beautiful second half. That’s what we were looking for.”
Rylie Smith scored a pair of goals to lead Oppenheim-Ephratah-St. Johnsville past Fort Ann, 3-1, in the Class D final.
The 15-3-1 Lady Wolves travel to Middletown High School for a 3 p.m. Saturday regional final against Section IX champ Eldred.
“We’ve been talking about this all season,” said OESJ coach Zale Benton, who led the 2003 St. Johnsville Saints to the Class D title. “I told them that if they kept working, they’d be able to do it. And they did it.”