MECHANICVILLE -- There was no fireworks display, but one rocket and one firecracker were plenty enough for the Bethlehem girls' soccer team to celebrate.
Joanna Van Royen crushed a long shot past Niskayuna goalie Emma Anderson just 1:17 into the game, and Ruth Hotaling easily tapped in a cross from Claire Hutton in the second half to give the Eagles a 2-0 victory in the Section II Class AA championship game at Mechanicville High on Saturday.
The Silver Warriors (15-3-1) controlled much of the play in the first half, but Bethlehem (18-1), ranked No. 2 in the state, took full advantage of its scoring chances to advance to the regional round of the state tournament against Section III next Saturday back at Mechanicville.
The first scoring chance came on the Eagles' first possession in the Niskayuna half, and Van Royen made no mistake, ripping a high shot from the left side that the diving Anderson couldn't reach.
"To be able to capitalize immediately right off the kickoff was a breath for us to get us to relax and settle into the game," Van Royen said. "The best thing you can do in that situation is to look up and take a breath really quick before you rocket it. Because when you're relaxed trying to play it, it comes just a little bit easier."
"The ball came to me and I kind of fumbled it, but Joanna said 'I got it,' and she ran through and got off a beautiful shot," Hotaling said. "Amazing shot. Rock-hard, and it always goes into the upper corner."
"To get that first goal is always huge," Bethlehem coach Tom Rogan said. "It got us to settle down. We looked a little heavy-legged today, and that first goal allowed us to sit back and try to get our legs underneath us.
"I thought we played much better in the second half. They came out very strong in the first half, they moved the ball well, kept possession well in our half of the field and getting out of that half ahead 1-0 was key for us."
Hotaling made it 2-0 with 29:44 left in the second half when Hutton exploded down the right wing in transition and kicked a low pass across the goalmouth.
After having made a run up the middle, Hotaling was all alone at the goal line and popped it into the open net.
"I can't take credit for it," she said. "Claire had an amazing run. Perfect ball, right on my foot, and all I had to do was touch it with my foot, and it was a goal. It was all Claire."
Anderson, who finished with 11 saves, did well to keep it at 2-0 when she leapt to tap away another hard shot from Van Royen over the crossbar with 13:10 left, but Niskayuna's best scoring chances came in the first half.
Sophia Soka made six saves for the Eagles.
"First and foremost, I want to thank Nisky for a great game," Bethlehem senior captain Beatrice Jones said. "They have great, great players, and Olivia Piraino, No. 11, she's a fantastic player. It was key to focus on her and try to stop her. Defensively, we've been working on talking, and it's been a pinpoint this entire year."
"Bethlehem showed all year that they were the class of the league," Niskayuna coach Bryce Colby said. "For us to get here was a lot of work, and the girls did what they were supposed to do. They put the effort in, and we just ran into an opponent that was driven from the beginning.
"We only gave up three or four scoring opportunities, and Bethlehem really punished us on the ones they got."