CLIFTON PARK — Shenendehowa figured out Schenectady’s drive-and-dish offense just in time to keep its lengthy Suburban Council win streak alive Tuesday night.
“Throughout the second half we saw that they were doing that and it was, ‘We have to stop this,’ ” Plainsmen junior guard Chris Hulbert said after his team’s 67-59 homecourt victory. “Once adversity hit us, we started to get after it and got some steals.”
Jaia Benson had the last steal and sank two free throws afterward with 13 seconds left to give the Plainsmen (8-0, 8-0) a 66-59 lead in what would be their 52nd consecutive league win and 58th straight triumph against Section II opponents.
Like several games before for the two-time defending Section II Class AA champs, this one was decided late after Schenectady (6-2, 8-2) scrambled back from a 17-point third-quarter deficit.
“We’re obviously the No. 1 target on everyone’s schedule,” said Hulbert, who had two steals early in the fourth quarter and finished with six to go along with 14 points. “We’ve got to be ready to come and fight no matter who the opponent is.”
Shenendehowa’s streaks include a 99-48 league win and a 65-32 sectional win last season against Schenectady.
“They are a nemesis to our program,” Schenectady coach Eric Loudis said, noting Shenendehowa’s 6-0 postseason record against the Patriots in the last decade. “This is a tough pill to swallow. We can’t get over the hump, but we’ll get there. I’m confident.”
Dashawn Westbrook’s 3-point basket — the Pats’ fifth 3 of the fourth quarter — pulled Schenectady within 60-59 with 1:50 left. Shenendehowa closed out the game with seven free throws including Luke Hicks’ two that made it 62-59 after a steal by Benson. Hicks sank two more to boost the lead to 64-59 after he came away with a steal.
“You can’t practice for it,” Hicks, a senior guard, said. “When you’re in a game and the adrenalin is rushing and the crowd is into it, you just gotta play hard.”
Hulbert’s two foul shots had Shenendehowa up 45-28 in the third before John Ryals’ 4-point play kick-started Schenectady’s grand comeback. Ryals finished with 27 points, 17 in the second half, and 10 rebounds.
“We played really hard and fought our way back into the game,” Loudis said. “In the second half we got into our original game plan to attack the middle and create an inside and outside game.”
Schenectady was within 12 with a quarter left, and used a 17-6 run in the fourth to get within one. Ryals and Tyrone Jenkins both nailed two 3-pointers in the spurt.
“They hit some big shots, and we came up with some big steals,” Hicks said after a 17-point, 11-rebound effort. “Hulbert came up with a couple big steals early in the fourth quarter and Benson had the big steal at the end.”
Shenendehowa, the state’s No. 9 Class AA team, won earlier games against Guilderland by seven points and against Bethlehem by eight.
“The Bethlehem game was close and the Guilderland game, we were down 10 at one point,” Shenendehowa coach Tony Dzikas said. “This wasn’t our first rodeo.”
Shenendehowa never trailed after starting the game with a 9-0 run that Hulbert began with two 3-pointers before Benson sank another. Shenendehowa led 19-11 after the first frame, was up 34-23 at the break, and 45-28 after
Mike Pizziketti delivered seven of his 17 points in an 11-5 run to start the third.
The 6-foot-8 Pizziketti grabbed nine rebounds and blocked two shots, and Benson notched 13 points.
“We came out flat,” Loudis said. “The light bulbs didn’t go on for a while there, but we did a lot of good things. We didn’t back down. The guys played their hearts out.”
Jenkins had 14 points, seven rebounds and three steals. Teammate Elijah Nisbitt blocked four shots, all in the second half.
Shaker dealt Schenectady its first loss Friday 65-64 on Cameron Germaine’s 3-point basket with four seconds left.
“My coaching staff, the people around the program, they know what we have,” Loudis said. “We’ve got guys putting in a lot of work and it’s showing.”
Ryals 10-2-27, Jenkins 4-4-14, Coles 2-0-4, DeJesus 1-0-2, Baez 1-0-2, Westbrook 2-0-6, Nisbitt 2-0-4. Totals: 22-6-59.
Dzikas 1-1-4, Hulbert 4-3-14, Hicks 2-13-17, Benson 4-2-13, Pizziketti 8-1-17, Sangare 1-0-2. Totals: 20-20-67.
Schenectady 11 12 19 17 — 59
Shenendehowa 19 15 20 13 — 67
Three-point goals: Ryals 5, Jenkins 2, Westbrook 2, Dzikas, Hulbert 3, Benson 3.
Reach Gazette Sportswriter Jim Schiltz at 395-3143, email@example.com or @jim_schiltz on Twitter.