BURNT HILLS — Jake McHerron knew there would be growing pains this spring.
With such a young lineup, the veteran Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake girls’ lacrosse coach knew there would be some errant passes, dropped balls and missed defensive assignments, things the Spartans had kept to a minimum in previous years.
“It’s going to be up and down,” McHerron said. “We knew that coming in, but it’s not what you’re doing now that counts as much as what you’re doing in May. It’s a building process, and what it comes down to is playing each game and learning from mistakes. Hard lessons need to be learned.”
The Class C Spartans, with five eighth-graders and four sophomores on their roster, are learning under fire in the highly competitive and Class A dominated Suburban Council. Four of their first five league games came against title contenders, including Bethlehem, which notched an 18-6 victory Thursday on the Spartans’ turf field. Shenendehowa, Guilderland and reigning Class A champion Shaker also own SC wins against the Spartans.
“The first two weeks, we’ve played some of the toughest teams in the Suburban Council,” McHerron said. “You’re looking at teams with juniors and seniors, and they’ve all gone through it. It’s like throwing them to the wolves.”
Burnt Hills showed some fight Thursday with two quick goals, one by eighth-grader Allie Connally on a free position, after Bethlehem opened the game with a five-goal run. The Eagles pulled away from their 5-2 lead with eight straight goals in what would be their first victory over the Spartans since the 2012 season.
“I see success in the future,” Taylor Safford, who, along with her twin sister Alex and Amalia Deviero, are BH-BL’s lone seniors and three of its four returning starters. “You saw little sparks in this game.”
Bethlehem (3-2, 4-4) provided more, though, using its fast transition and crisp passing to create numerous quality scoring chances.
“We’ve got a really strong group of seniors,” Bethlehem coach Nick Petraccione said. “If we move the ball it’s hard to stay with us.”
Burnt Hills (1-4, 2-4) wasn’t able to do that consistently in a game that saw nine different Bethlehem players score goals. Sophie Powers led the way with four goals, three coming in the game-starting push.
“I’ve always tried to build from the defense on out,” McHerron said. “We’ve got to work harder there and we’ve got to communicate more. That means not only talking, but you have to listen, too.”
Caroline Wise and Kathryn Sancillo scored goals eight seconds apart to begin Bethlehem eight-goal surge. Later in that spurt Wise and Tessa Hughes scored goals 26 seconds apart.
“The goal is to keep moving forward,” said BH-BL’s other returning starter, junior Lauren Hopsicker. “We lost such a big part of our team and we have a lot of new girls that are learning quickly. Every day we’re trying to get better.”
No Section II Class B team was better than Burnt Hills in 2011, 2013 and 2014. Burnt Hills was also the Class B runner-up in 2012, and each of its last two editions reached the Section II final four with past standouts like Haley Schultz, Carly Grant, Julia LeVan, Maggie Roberts and Lexie Ball. McHerron said his current group is missing a key intangible that those teams had, but believes it will come with experience.
“You have to compete for all 50 minutes,” he said. “From the first whistle to the last whistle. That’s what being an athlete is all about. At this level you have to put mistakes aside. The game goes too fast. When you dwell it effects your game.”
Burnt Hills had some of those lulls Thursday.
“The ability to come back,” Safford said when asked what area the Spartans need to improve on. “Sometimes girls will shut down when they make a mistake. You’ve got to keep at it. It’s got to be, ‘I made a mistake. I have to get back out there.’
“We are a young team and our younger kids are amazing, but they are still getting used to it.”
“You’ve got to keep hustling,” said Hopsicker, who, like Safford, scored two goals and assisted on another. “Being relentless and fearless are two things we’re focusing on.”
Down the road it will be a Section II Class C championship. Burnt Hills, which owns wins against Schenectady and Emma Willard, has moved from Class B to Class C as part of the state’s new enrollment-based four-class playoff system.
“No year is the same,” McHerron said. “You get different kids, and you try to mold them to be successful.”
Bethlehem 15 3 — 18
BH-BL 3 3 — 6
Bethlehem scoring: Katie Zito 1-2, Caroline Wise 3-4, Kathryn Sancillo 2-1, Grace Hanifin 1-0, Lindsey Ayres 1-1, Sophie Powers 4-0, Natalie Cook 2-4, Tessa Hughes 1-0, Sophia Calabrese 3-1. Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake scoring: Taylor Safford 2-1, Lauren Hopsicker 2-1, Allie Connally 2-0, Sallie Suski 0-1.
Goalkeepers: Bethlehem, Katherine Chiarella, 3 saves; Sophia Koch, 4 saves. Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake, Abbie McHerron, 4 saves.