Morgan Burchhardt was not about to let go of the Class A regional championship plaque that she and her Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake teammates had won minutes earlier with a 5-0 victory over Peru.
Stopped two wins shy of playing in the state semifinals a year ago, the Lady Spartans, and Burchhardt in particular, made it their mission to get another shot at a state title.
Now, they will play Garden City in a 5 p.m. semifinal in the Cortland area next Saturday.
“I needed to go to states in order to achieve something,” said the senior forward, Burnt Hills’ leading scorer. “I’ve won states with my club team with [BH coach Brian] Bold, but I’d love to win for my team and school.”
“The fact that we’re going back again is huge,” said Bold, who saw his team dominate the first half, but only have one goal to show for the effort until the closing seconds, when Burchhardt blasted home a penalty kick earned by sophomore Mindy Corney.
Niskayuna was denied a spot in the Class AA state semifinals, dropping a 1-0 decision to Section III champion Cicero-North Syracuse, the goal coming on a misplayed Northstars throw-in early in the game.
Burnt Hills had little touble taking control over the Section VII champions, pushing the Indians well into their defensive third from the start. Peru nearly got out of the half down by just a goal, but Corney was pulled down at the top right of the penalty box with 26 seconds remaining until the break.
Burchhardt left nothing to chance on the PK, ripping her shot into the right side of the net.
“It was a little frustrating, but we did find a goal and tried to build off that,” said the College of Saint Rose-bound Burchhardt of the first half. “It gave us a little more room, but we knew that we had to keep going. We had to keep building off that.”
“In the beginning, we had many opportunities that we should have gotten on top of, but it eventually came to us,” said sophomore right back Kylee Babcock, who found lots of opportunities to join the attack. “We’re getting our backs up, which we had trouble doing in the beginning of the season. That’s good to see.”
“They’re very direct, and we can’t get caught up in that,” Bold said of Peru. “We did a little bit. But when we put the ball on the floor, and went east to west, we had miles of space to play in.
“It was frustrating, because we were dictating play. I just wanted to get back into how we wanted to play.”
Burnt Hills had a goal called back on an offsides call in the first minute of the second half, but it was only a sign of things to come.
“We knew they were going to be aggressive. We knew they didn’t have a lot of subs, so we wanted to outwork them,” Burchhardt said.”
Meghan Malone made it 3-0 10:35 into the second half. Jenna Retell and Ashley Capron added goals for the 12-7-2 Lady Spartans.
“We always talk about scoring first, scoring early. I would have loved to have a couple more going into halftime,” said Bold, who subbed out his starters with 15 minutes to play. “My thing today, more than anything, is that every kid got to be part of a regional final. I’m happy every kid gets a piece of it.”
Niskayuna was stunned by the early CNS goal, then held in check at both ends by a speedy attack and tough defense in the Class AA regional final.
What would turn out to be the only goal came 2:30 into the game, off an innocous throw-in 30 yards from goal. The ball bounced over goalie Kristen Hartlage, and found its way into the goal inside the back post. The Northstars’ leading scorer, junior Reid Garner, got credit for the goal. She was injured 10 minutes later, and didn’t return.
“It was misplayed by a bunch of us,” said Niskayuna coach Bryce Colby of the goal. “We probably had two good chances to get at the ball, and missed. And we didn’t finish the chances we had.”
The goal, and the Northstars’ tactic of overloading the midfield, threw Niskayuna off its game.
“It unsettled us quite a bit. I thought we played very timid for a while,” admitted Colby, who had a team playing this deep into the season for the first time since 2006. “Part of it was the goal, part of it was what they forced on us. We were not prepared for what they were bringing. They were as physical a team as we played, but they were also fast. It took us quite a while to get going.”
Garner, and the players who replaced her, dropped into midfield after the goal, giving the Section III team an advantage.
“They were playing a 4-4-2, but they kept dropping one of their forwards back into the middle of the field, and we were having trouble accounting for everybody,” Colby said. “On punts and goal kicks and all the loose balls, they had an extra body there.”
“They were a brutal team to play. They were fast. They were strong.”
Sophomore defender Meghan Duffy kept Suburban Council MVP Meghan Doyle in check, taking away Niskayuna’s best weapon.
“Their goalkeeper was pretty strong, and their No. 16 [Duffy] had just a great game on Meghan Doyle. That was the difference in the game, too,” said Colby.
Still, Niskayuna came within inches of forcing overtime in the closing seconds. Doyle managed to get loose, but the ball wouldn’t roll for the Silver Warriors, who saw a post, CNS goalkeeper Alyssa Jim and the Northstars’ defense combine to put a bitter end to a 16-4-0 season for the Section II champions.
“We threw everybody forward, that’s what you do,” said Colby, who tried to get defender Sophia Constantine forward to supply some offense. “We were playing with one defender at the end. I took Sophia and pushed her up. What’s the point in not taking every risk to try to get that last goal? And we almost did.”
“They were very smart with the ball, too. When they got by us, they didn’t just kick it away. Most of the time when they counterd, they were able to string passes together and get deep into our end before we were able to get it together and take the ball back. They were very good on the counter.”
Colby tried to console his nine seniors, who saw their varsity careers end two games short of what they wanted,
“It was a fantastic class for us,” he said. “They were 12-0 as a modified team . They were 14-0 as a freshman team. They lost their first game when I split them into varity and JV their freshman year.”
Canajoharie and Oppenheim-Ephratah-St. Johnsville both lost on the road.
The Cougars dropped a 3-1 decision to Section VII champion Northern Adirondack in the Class C regional final, while the Lady Wolves came out on the short end of a 2-1 score in their Class D game against Section IX champ Eldred in Middletown.
Boys: Guilderland advances
Guilderland got goals from Chris Connelly and Connor Rubin and beat Section III champ Baldwinsville, 2-1, in overtime, in the Class AA boys’ regional final held at Colonie High School.
Mike Kinnally’s 16-4-0 Dutchmen will meet Section V champ Fairport nest Saturday in an 8:45 a.m. state semifinal at Middletown High School.
Averill Park and Fort Ann also won, giving Section II a clean sweep of the regional finals.
Owen Nuss scored in OT to give Averill Park a 2-1 win over Peru in the Class A game. Josh Lionarons scored the goal in regulation for Averill Park.
Fort Ann qualifed for its fourth consecutive state semifinal with a 1-0 win over Smithtown Christian in the Class D game played at Colonie.
Chris Jackson scored from a Jeremy Johnson assist in the first half for the 19-1-0 Cardinals.