CLIFTON PARK — It was a two-game sweep in mid-May that had Shenendehowa baseball coach Greg Christodulu thinking a year away may actually be this year.
"We beat CBA that afternoon, and we beat Niskayuna that night at the Joe [Joseph L. Bruno Stadium], and I'm thinking, 'We've got a chance here,' I call it 'Magical Thursday.' We scored 22 runs, pitched well and played solid defense," Christodulu said. "That type of performance showed up in the playoffs."
Doing enough of those things at the plate and on the bases, on the mound and in the field has Shenendehowa headed to the state Class AA final four for the first time since 2016 when the Plainsmen captured the title. They'll take on reigning New York champion Massapequa Friday at 5 p.m. at Binghamton University in a semifinal game, and will do so with a lineup consisting mostly of juniors.
"We always field a competitive team here, and the goal is always to win a sectional championship," said junior third baseman Jake Reinisch. "A bunch of young guys stepped up. Look at Pat McGuire. He's had a fantastic season. Look at Chase Carroll and how he's come on. The whole junior group proved to ourselves we can play with senior-laden teams."
While seniors Brendan Disonell and Evan Jones have anchored the Shenendehowa mound staff and 12th-grader Ben Lavery has been a mainstay at first base, those juniors have delivered in a significant way.
Reinisch hit a walk-off single when Shenendehowa edged Saratoga Springs 3-2 in the sectional semifinals, and his RBI triple kicked-started a six-run ninth when the Plainsmen beat Niskayuna 7-1 to snag the area flag.
"We want it," said junior designated hitter Thomas Krill, who hit an RBI single in Saturday's 6-0 regional win over Fayetteville-Manlius. "We've very passionate about it. It's all about business for us. We're trying to make our community proud."
Christodulu said his 17-7 team already has.
"In the sectionals, we played two one-run games and went nine with Niskayuna. Then we go on the road and win in Syracuse," Christodulu said. "Not an easy road."
Lavery said the team believed great things could be achieved despite a heavy player turnover. Sixteen seniors dotted Shenendehowa 2018 roster, and Reinisch was the only sophomore in the varsity mix.
"If you don't see yourself playing in June, you're not going to play in June. If you don't see yourself getting plaques, you're not going to get them," Lavery said. "This is a young team, but we've played together the last eight, nine years. We have a good chemistry."
They've got fight and desire, too, a couple of things Christodulu said they displayed in an up and down regular season.
"We started out 8-0 and afterward, we hit a couple of rough patches," Christodulu said. "We lost three in a row for the first time in years. They kept bouncing back and kept grinding."
"When we were 8-0, we're thinking we're all that, and then we lose three in a row. It hit us in the face," Krill said of the setbacks against Niskayuna, Ballston Spa and Kingston. "It was, 'We've got to buckle down. Lock and load.'"
Shenendehowa also dropped three in a row just before the playoffs began, to Queensbury, Guilderland and Ballston Spa.
"Every team experiences ups and downs. It's how they respond," Reinisch said.
Krill said they the junior cast has been aided greatly by the seven seniors that dot Shenendehowa's roster.
"The seniors have led by example. They're the ones who have set the tone for this team," Krill set. "And I've got to give it to our coaches, too. They've gotten us well prepared."
Christodulu said this season could be just the start of a big run for Plainsmen baseball.
"Our JV team went 17-2, and our freshmen went 19-0. We're excited about the next couple of years if we can develop our pitching," Christodulu said. "If they jell, they can accomplish some great things."
Massapequa (Section VIII, 22-2) has done that with three straight overall Long Island championships, the latest coming with a 7-6 comeback win against Connetquot.
"The swing the bats very well. They've got some Division I scholarship players. Their pitchers are more than capable," Christodulu said of the state's No. 4 team; Shenendehowa is No. 7. "We'll try to win each pitch, each at-bat."
Massapequa is a two-time state champion with a title-game win over Baldwinsville last year, and another against Colonie in 2006.
"The pressure is not on us, which should help," Reinisch said. "They're the reigning state champs."
Suffern (Section I, 22-5-1) and McQuaid (Section V, 22-2) meet in the other Class AA semifinal Friday at 2 p.m. at Binghamton University. Saturday's title game is at Union-Endicott High School at 10 a.m.