CLIFTON PARK — Niskayuna looked ready to pull off an epic comeback.
Then, Albany found some answers.
“We’re going to try to build from here,” Albany head coach Decky Lawson said Thursday after his girls’ basketball’s team upset win. “Try to pick up momentum. We were up and down all season long, so we were just waiting for a [big] win. Beating a contender . . . is a thing we can build on.”
Sixth-seeded Albany emerged with a 63-52 win against third-seeded Niskayuna in the Section II Class AA quarterfinals, the first game of two at Shenendehowa High School where the host Plainsmen — the tournament’s No. 2 seed — also advanced to next Thursday’s semifinals with a 68-40 win against seventh-seeded Bethlehem.
Albany senior Ahniysha Jackson, slated to play next season at Siena College, had a game-high 30 points to lead the Falcons in their elimination game.
“It feels good. I’m still here,” Jackson said. “I’ve still got it. I’m still going.”
Albany sprinted to an early lead against Niskayuna, which finished its season at 18-3. Albany scored the game’s first 13 points, then added another 15 following back-to-back baskets from Niskayuna sophomore Heather Schmidt.
“I’m not sure if it was nerves or what happened, but we certainly couldn’t find our offense and Albany came out strong,” Niskayuna head coach Sarah Neely said. “They outplayed us for a little while, but I’m proud of my girls for not giving up.”
Down 28-4 early in the second quarter, the Silver Warriors started to fight back as junior star Olivia Olsen got going. Olsen scored 10 of her team-high 22 points in a second quarter that ended with Niskayuna down 32-21, then added six more in the third that closed with Albany’s lead at 40-35.
Olsen scored the first basket of the fourth quarter, too, but Albany responded after Niskayuna pulled within 40-37 with a 9-3 run to take back control. Key in that spurt were a pair of 3-pointers from junior Lanahria Whitaker.
“That’s what Whitaker does,” Lawson said. “She does that in practice all the time.”
From there, Niskayuna struggled to regain the momentum it had in the game’s middle quarters. With Niskayuna forced to start fouling, Jackson made one free throw after another in the final minutes to provide Albany with a comfortable cushion down the stretch.
“We just couldn’t get into an offensive groove,” Neely said.
Jackson scored 15 of her points in Albany’s 28-4 start, then had 13 fourth-quarter points. After missing her first two foul shots in the final period, Jackson made her next eight.
Jackson was the lone Albany player to contribute double-digit scoring, while senior Emma Souky had 10 points for Niskayuna in addition to Olsen’s team-leading total.
In Shenendehowa’s victory, senior Bella Stuart had 20 points to lead the Plainsmen, who led 34-20 at halftime and 54-29 heading into the fourth quarter. Sophomore Jillian Huerter added 11 points for 20-1 Shenendehowa, which also received nine points apiece from junior Rylee Carpenter and senior Simone Walker.
ALBANY 63, NISKAYUNA 52
Albany 23 9 8 23 — 63
Niskayuna 4 17 18 17 — 52
Albany scoring: Boyd 4-1-9, House 1-1-3, Whitaker 3-0-9, Gates 0-2-2, Evans-Edmonds 2-0-4, Jackson 7-12-30, Gonzalez 2-0-4, Bright 1-0-2. Niskayuna scoring: Owens 1-2-4, Souky 3-2-10, Schmidt 3-2-8, Prian 1-2-5, Olsen 11-0-22, Endres 1-1-3. Scoring totals: Albany 20-16-63, Niskayuna 20-9-52.
SHENENDEHOWA 68, BETHLEHEM 40
Bethlehem 9 11 9 11 — 40
Shenendehowa 13 21 20 14 — 68
Bethlehem scoring: Harvey 1-0-3, Wise 5-2-12, Cerf 4-0-12, Mullen 2-0-5, Cicek 1-0-3, Louridas 2-1-5. Shenendehowa scoring: J. Huerter 4-1-11, Walker 4-0-9, Carpenter 4-1-9, Watrobski 2-0-5, M. Huerter 4-0-8, Stuart 6-7-20, Flannery 2-0-6. Scoring totals: Bethlehem 15-3-40, Shenendehowa 26-9-68.