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The top high school teams of 2017

The top high school teams of 2017

A season full of Pride, and other outstanding programs
The top high school teams of 2017
Holy Trinity head coach John Barber with his son Colton, the teams' offensive coordinator.
Photographer: PETER R. BARBER

SCHENECTADY — It wasn't until well after the football season ended that Holy Trinity football coach John Barber sat down and wrote out a list of program accomplishments.

It starts with the rebuilding of the Pride's field house that had burned down the season before, and ends with the all-star recognition his players have received. In between, he notes the successful debut of his son Colton as Holy Trinity's new offensive coordinator,  the Section II-record 39 touchdown passes thrown by Joe Tortello, Nelon Priest's  team-record 10 interceptions, and the program's first state title-game appearance at the Carrier Dome.

There's so much more.

"I'm just proud," Barber said the day after Christmas. "I'm proud of Colton and proud of the kids. How much they improved and worked together. How they're doing in school. Where they are and what they've done."

What Holy Trinity did was among the top Section II team performances for 2017, a diligent effort by a group of young men from Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons and Catholic Central that began with weight lifting and 7-on-7 work last winter and culminated with a gritty-though-fruitless comeback in the state final against Skaneateles.

That 28-25 setback left Holy Trinity 11-2 after it had never won more than five games before, and had never prevailed in a playoff game before.

"It was a great experience," Barber said. "All different things happened."

Like the third-and-15 gamble Holy Trinity took, and succeeded on, while closing out its 28-23 state semifinal win over Burke Catholic. That's the play when Tortello passed to Jordan Mettler, who pitched the ball to Nacier Hundley, who then pitched to Priest for a clutch first down late in the fourth quarter.

Earlier in the quarter Cam Kiser, Noah Foster and Hundley scored touchdowns and Burke Catholic came back to set the stage for that risky play.

"Colt and I talk about that game every day," Barber said. "I remember [Special teams coordinator] Dave Murello saying at the half, 'If they don't score, we win,' and they scored the first two times they had the ball [to go up 17-7]. For them to settle down and come back was awesome."

That was Holy Trinity's fifth playoff win which included a 41-14 regional victory over Ogdensburg Free Academy and a 34-12 Section II title-game triumph over Stillwater in the two weeks before. Holy Trinity's playoff history prior to the season was a one-and-done at Hoosic Valley in 2016, a quarterfinal game played less than 48 hours after its field house was decimated.

"We did not talk about the fire unless someone from the media brought it up," Barber said. "It was a new season. Time to move forward."

Holy Trinity beat Chatham in its opener 13-6, lost to Mechanicville 38-34 in Week 2 and then put together a 10-game win streak. The streak  included four shutouts which set a one-season team record, and a 63-point outburst against Corinth which set a one-game team record. That was a special day for Hundley, who scored on two punt returns, an interception, a fumble recovery and a reception. Hundley finished with a team-record 24 touchdowns.

"In the beginning we had to figure some things out offensively and defensively," Barber said. "After the first Stillwater game [49-6 win in Week 5] we played really good football right up to the state championship game."

Holy Trinity couldn't climb out of a deep hole in the state final but certainly did try as Tortello fired scoring passes to Mettler and Foster inside the final five minutes.

"Colt and I haven't watched the game," Barber said. "I tried and got to the end of the first quarter. I was yelling and my wife told me to shut it off. As the winter goes along, maybe I'll try again."

Holy Trinity gained the No. 2 state rank behind Skaneateles (12-1) on the final Class C football poll released by the New York State Sportswriters Association.

Here's a few more Section II outstanding team achievements from 2017.

REPEAT CHAMPS

Fall: Troy (Class AA, 13-0) and Cambridge (Class D, 12-1) defended their state football championships and became Section II's first teams to do so in the 25-year history of the NYSPHSAA tournament. After 3- and 7-point state tourney wins, Troy slugged Lancaster 41-26 in the AA final behind Joey Ward's four TDs to stretch its state-leading win streak to 26 games.

GOING THE DISTANCE

Fall: Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake won its fifth straight Section II Class B boys' cross country title before defending its NYSPHSAA championship, and later added the program's first Federation crown to its list of feats before a third-place run at the Nike New York Regionals. Seven Spartans made the all-state team including first-team picks Aidan Gillooley and Tyler Berg.

ANOTHER STEP CLOSER

Fall: Shenendehowa (21-3) reached its first state Class AA girls' volleyball championship match before letting a 2-1 lead get away in a 5-set loss to Connetquot. The Plainsmen earlier secured their eighth straight Section II title and fourth straight regional flag. The Plainsmen had failed to advance from state semifinal pool play in 2014, 2015 and 2016 but went 5-1 this year including a split with Connetquot.

With two regional wins the Shenendehowa boys (23-5) made it back to the state Division 1 final for the second time in three years. There, the Plainsmen bowed to Penfield in a 5-set thriller.

YOUNG WARRIORS

Fall: With only one senior in Faith Sheehan, Stillwater girls' soccer (20-3-0) came within one win of the NYSPHSAA Class C title. The team included eight freshmen and six sophomores, with 10th-grader Brooke Pickett scoring four of her 49 goals in a 4-2 Section II title-game win over Schoharie. Pickett had three more goals in a 4-2 OT win against Notre Dame-Elmira in the state semifinals.

The Queensbury boys' quest for soccer perfection ended with 4-0 loss to Vestal in the state Class A final. The Spartans found a way to win in each of their 22 games before that, seven decided by a single goal.

The Scotia-Glenville girls (18-1-0) had a perfect soccer season going before a 2-0 regional loss to Jamesville-DeWitt. The Schalmont girls (16-1-1) were unbeaten until a 2-1 regional loss to Westhill.

SIX IN A ROW

Fall: Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake (14-6) tied the Section II record with its sixth consecutive field hockey championship. The Spartans defeated Queensbury in the Class B final fourth the fourth year in a row 4-2, and added a 3-1 regional win against Camden as a springboard to the state final four.

CADETS COME CLOSE

Spring: Albany Academy (20-5) put together a late-season run before the magic ran out in the state Class B baseball final when Livonia scored three runs in the last of the seventh to win 9-8. In the semifinals, Brett Young's walk-off, 2-run homer in the ninth gave the Cadets an 8-7 victory over Seton Catholic-Binghamton.

Fort Ann (20-2) claimed its fifth state baseball title by edging North Collins 5-4 in the Class D final. The Cardinals scored three seventh-inning runs on RBI triples by Jon Allen and Garrett Bailey and a two-out error.

First-year head coach Chris Bianchi led Niskayuna (18-5) to its first Section II baseball title. The Silver Warriors did it by beating the 2016 Class AA state champ Shenendehowa 4-0.

RETURN TO THE TOP

Spring: Section II's first dynasty team in boys' lacrosse got back on top when Shaker (17-2) rallied in the second half to dethrown Shenendehowa 9-5 in the Class A final. Shaker had gone 0-5 in title games since winning the last of its 13 flags in 2000.

PLAINSMEN POWER

Spring/Fall: Anchored by such standouts as Hannah Reale, Alexandra Tudor and Jillian Shippee, Shenendehowa had a superb outdoor track and field season with wins at the Eddy Meet, Shenendehowa Invitational, Lady Eagles Invitational, Suburban Council championships and Section II Division 1 championships. Several girls came back this fall to help the Plainsmen secure Section II and Suburban Council cross country titles before a runner-up effort at the state meet.

In the fall, the Shen girls' cross country broke Saratoga's 17-year stranglehold on Section II by winning the title. Saratoga rebounded by winning the Federation title. Shen finished second.

STREAKING STREAKS

Winter: Saratoga Springs went unbeaten to snare its 10th consecutive Suburban Council girls' gymnastics championship, and followed up with its 16th straight Section II team title. Julia Van Horne won her fourth straight all-around title at the sectionals to lead the Blue Streaks.

GONE TOO SOON

Winter: Though Glens Falls had its boys' basketball season end in the regionals against a team it already had beaten, the Indians' 24-game win streak was indeed impressive with19 double-digit decisions. The Joe Girard III-led Indians were No. 1 in the state and had league and sectional titles secured when they lost in early March to Canton 87-63, the same team they beat 64-54 to begin the campaign.

EAGLES SOAR TO TOP

Winter: A 1-8 team to start the 2015-16 boys' basketball season, Bethlehem completed a two-year turnaround with a 57-45 win over Colonie in the Section II Class AA title tilt. Matt Riker and Michael Ortale were among the leaders in that win against the top-seeded Garnet Raiders which gave Bethlehem (21-4) its first area championship since 1972.

LIONS ROAR

Winter: The Mekeel Christian Academy girls' basketball team strung together 24 wins, which included league, Section II and regional titles, before a 60-49 state semifinal loss to Watkins Glen. The Lions began their streak after a season-starting loss to Gloversville.

MAT SUCCESS

Winter: Ballston Spa won its first Section II Class A wrestling championship, a prize Shenendehowa had earned for the previous 11 years. The Scotties also claimed the Suburban Council North Division crown behind a such standouts as Tyler Barnes, Jake Cook, Nick Palso and Jacob Stangle. Barnes went undefeated in winning a state title.

Reach Gazette Sportswriter Jim Schiltz at 518-395-3143, [email protected] or @jim_schiltz on Twitter.

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