TROY — Missing out on the Section II Class AA championship baseball game last season didn't sit too well with Shenendehowa.
"Huge motivation," Plainsmen first baseman Ben Lavery said after Thursday's 3-2 semifinal win over rival Saratoga Springs. "Last year, it ended our run, and we had a chip on our shoulder."
Shenendehowa has another title to play for after grabbing a lead, letting it get away and then scoring in the last of the seventh on Jake Reinisch's single in a dramatic semifinal contest at Joseph L. Bruno Stadium.
Lavery cracked a two-out, two-run double in the fifth, and Nate Chudy pulled Saratoga even in the top of the seventh with a two-out, two-run single.
"The kids didn't stop believing," Shenendehowa coach Greg Christodulu said. "We weren't behind. They caught up, and we had the last chance."
Shenendehowa had reached six consecutive Section II title games from 2012-17, and prevailed three times, before an 11-1 semifinal loss to Ballston Spa last spring denied the Plainsmen another opportunity.
"That was a low point," Reinisch said after Shenendehowa beat Saratoga for the second time this season. "This is our bounce-back year."
Shenendehowa (No. 2 seed, 15-7) captured its last area championships in 2016, 2014 and 2013, and its 2016 edition that included ace pitcher Ian Anderson went on to win the state Class AA flag.
"These guys, they were freshmen when we won the state title," Christodulu said. "They were there, but not really a part of it. I'm sure they want to accomplish some great things."
Reinisch gave Shenendehowa that chance when he lined a one-out, 3-1 pitch from Saratoga reliever Alex Henderson the opposite way to left in the last of the seventh.
"It's awesome. It's what you play for," said Reinisch, a third baseman who drew a pair of walks and flew out before his walk-off RBI single. "I tried to hit the ball where it was pitched."
Patrick McGuire walked to begin the Shenendehowa seventh and moved up on a sacrifice bunt by Chase Carroll. After Lavery was intentionally walked, Reinisch delivered from his clean-up spot in the order.
"Give a lot of credit to Pat McGuire for grinding out that at-bat and getting us going," Christodulu said. "We had a lot of clutch performances."
Evan Jones singled up the middle, and Evan Bean drew a walk to begin Shenendehowa's fifth against Chudy, the Blue Streaks' Holy Cross-bound, 6-foot-7 starter. After Chudy got two popouts, Lavery lined a two-run double to the right-center gap.
Lavery had struck out twice in earlier at-bats, with one of those whiffs coming in the third with a runner at second base. Shenendehowa also left the bases full in the second.
"I was champing at the bit," Lavery said. "Last year, [in the semifinal loss] I lined out twice and grounded out. That's baseball. I was due."
Christian Arpey chased Evans, Shenendehowa's starter, with a pinch single to start Saratoga's seventh. After Christian Kondo singled off reliever Brendan Disonell, Luca Bonacio moved the runners up with a sacrifice bunt. Disonell recorded a strikeout before Chudy singled to right.
"I looked at our kids in the seventh and asked them,' Do you believe in yourself?'" said Saratoga coach Andy Cuthbertson. "We got a guy on and then another one, and Nate, he's got ice in his veins. He's the guy you want up there or at the free-throw line late in a [basketball] game."
Chudy was thrown out on a steal attempt to end the top of the seventh.
"We got some momentum back when Jack [Voce] threw Chudy out in the seventh," Reinisch said.
Saratoga catcher Ryan Dolan made the defensive play of the game after Shenendehowa put the first two men on in the fifth. McGuire followed with a bunt attempt and popped the ball behind home plate. Dolan spun from his crouch, ran toward the backstop and dove for the ball while making a sprawling catch.
Shenendehowa and Saratoga last met on the sectional trail in a 2017 semifinal that the Plainsmen won 5-3 to extend their title-game appearance streak, and before that in the 2015 championship game won by the Blue Streaks 1-0.
"We knew we had to play well," Reinisch said. "Saratoga is a great team."
RAIN HALTS SECOND SEMIFINAL
Rain Thursday night forced the suspension of the second Class AA semifinal between Niskayuna (No. 1, 14-6) and Guilderland (No. 4, 14-7). The contest will pick up Friday at 2 p.m. where it was called, with Guilderland leading 1-0 and Niskayuna batting in the home first inning with one out.
Niskayuna is striving for its second area championship in three years.
The Class AA title game is scheduled for Monday at 7 p.m. at Bruno Stadium.
Saratoga 000 000 2 — 2 9 0
Shenendehowa 000 020 1 — 3 4 1