BY MICHAEL KELLY
NISKAYUNA — Both Niskayuna varsity basketball squads were dealt losses in the first rounds of their respective Section II Class AA postseason tournaments, leaving each program nothing left to do but look forward to next season’s fresh start.
“One of our seniors made the comment that we always have to be a tight group so that our bond continues to next year,” said Niskayuna girls junior guard Taylor Green. “That way, we can continue progressing.”
Seeded No. 11 in their draw, the Silver Warriors girls dropped a 56-28 decision Feb. 26 to No. 6 Colonie. Two days earlier, the No. 6 Niskayuna boys had fallen to No. 3 Christian Brothers Academy in an exciting 73-60 affair. Both Niskayuna clubs finished with 7-13 records for the season.
Against CBA, Niskayuna tried to rekindle its magic from a year ago, when it stunned top-ranked Catholic Central in the first round. After some rough sledding early in the Feb. 24 contest, Niskayuna looked like it might have a similar upset effort in it; CBA started the game with a 10-1 burst, but the Silver Warriors were down only four points at the end of the first quarter.
“We went back to running our basic offense and it worked for us,” said Niskayuna junior guard Tommy Kelly, who had a team-high 22 points. “We got some good shots, some stops on defense, and we got back into the game.”
CBA sophomore guard Mike Wynn, who finished with a game-high 23 points, did enough in the first half to get the Brothers into halftime with a 37-28 lead, but Niskayuna was never willing to go away. Kelly provided his scoring in bursts for the Silver Warriors, while junior forward Aidan Byrne regularly worked the pick-and-roll with senior guard Tim Doyle to great success.
“Their big kid, he had some nice on-ball screens and rolls with great finishes,” CBA head coach Dave Doemel said of Byrne, who finished with 16 points and eight rebounds.
Down five points at the end of three quarters, Niskayuna pulled even closer to start the final stanza. Senior guard Pat O’Brien — who finished with six points and eight rebounds — knocked in a 3-pointer to start the fourth quarter and almost tied the game seconds later after securing a steal. From there, though, CBA was able to build up its lead and used trips to the foul line to push the game out of reach.
“All in all, they outplayed us,” Byrne said.
In the Niskayuna girls’ Feb. 26 loss, Colonie blitzed the Silver Warriors early in the game. After some back-and-forth action to start the contest, Colonie was up 37-17 at halftime.
“We had difficulty stopping their dribble penetration with our man and zone defenses,” said Niskayuna girls head coach Sarah Neely. “We tried to prepare for their fast style of play . . . but they were very, very good.”
“We had a lot of games like this season — there’s a lot of great teams in our league,” said Niskayuna senior Isabel Curro, whose team had lost to Colonie earlier in the season, 55-30.
“But the great thing about this team — I’ve been playing with these kids since fourth grade — is that we always keep our heads up,” said Curro. “I got to end the game with some of my best friends, and that’s all I could ask for.”
Junior guard Deirdre Schutzman led her team in the loss with 10 points, while senior guard Kayla O’Brien added nine and junior forward Olivia Souky had eight.
In the offseason, Neely said her goal is for her players to come back to her in the next preseason with more developed offensive skills. The coach said she has been encouraged with the amount of support in the community for her program, which allows many of her players to play AAU basketball, and her hope is that the extra playing time transfers to more consistent play next season for her team.
“We need to be able to put the ball in the hoop on a consistent basis, in all four quarters,” she said. “This year, we’d have a quarter where we’d score 15 points — and we’d score two in the next one.”
For the Silver Warriors boys, the club knows where its scoring will come from next season. Byrne and Kelly showed this season the potential to be a great one-two punch for the squad as seniors, and the duo should have a veteran group around it.
“We might have eight, nine seniors next year,” said Kelly. “That maturity will give us a confidence boost going into next year.”
“We’ve been playing together, that crew, since the sixth grade,” added Byrne. “We have chemistry.”