BY JIM SCHILTZ
MIDDLETOWN — With a quarter left in Wednesday’s state Class A semifinal game with Syosset, Niskayuna’s options were few.
It was either put up or call it a season, and the Silver Warriors were not ready for the latter.
“No one wanted it to end. No one wanted this to be our last game,” Niskayuna senior Aidan O’Brien said after scoring the clinching goals in a 14-11 upset win against the Nassau County heavyweight at Middletown High School. “We had to finish the game out. All year we talked about four full quarters, four great quarters, and we didn’t do that all year until today.”
Niskayuna generated four unanswered goals in the final frame, and Nick Testa made three of his 15 saves in the final minutes as the Section II representatives prevailed for the third time at this stage of the state tournament, but for the first time since 2009.
“We heard they were a great team,” said Testa, one of Niskayuna’s eight seniors. “We believe we’re a great team, too.”
Syosset (Section VIII, 18-2) came in ranked No. 3 on the Inside Lacrosse/Under Armour national poll and No. 2 on the LaxPower national poll. The Braves used a seven-goal, second-half run to beat Smithtown East 14-8 in their last game before the Silver Warriors turned the tables in similar fashion with their late burst.
“People were Tweeting, ‘Syosset is going to beat Niskayuna.’ That motivated us. That hyped us up,” said O’Brien, who finished with three goals and four assists. “I knew from the start if we played with heart, we could do it.”
“We were confident,” said sophomore Lucas Quinn, who notched five goals to go with an assist. “I don’t know how many other people thought we could beat the No. 2 team in the country.”
Niskayuna (20-2) showed it could play with Syosset in the first quarter when it erased a 2-1 deficit with three goals in a span of 27 seconds.
“Really, it was about matching their energy, and execution,” said Niskayuna coach Mike Vorgang.
In the last quarter, Niskayuna went beyond that, and added Syosset to previous state semifinal foes West Islip and Sayville that it defeated in 2005 and 2009.
“We had to keep going,” said Quinn. “We had to keep our heads in it. We knew they could score.”
Testa’s three saves capped a superb defensive effort in the fourth quarter, which included a key interception by Mike Doxie which led to one of O’Brien’s two goals.
“He [Testa] was great. We had to have that,” said Vorgang. “On faceoffs, we had to be 50-50. On ground balls, we had to be 50-50. We had to have our goalie make the saves he was supposed to, plus a couple of spectacular ones. He did that.”
“I was trying not to think too much. React to the ball,” said Testa.
Quinn scored the last of his five goals early in the fourth quarter to tie the game for the eighth time, and John Prendergast delivered to push Niskayuna ahead 12-11 with 8:29 left. O’Brien scored with three minutes left, and a faceoff win by Dylan Pantalone led to the North Carolina-bound senior’s last goal at the 2:39 mark.
“They tried to pressure us in the fourth quarter,” said Vorgang. “We handled it the right way.”
Mac O’Keefe scored six goals for Syosset, his last two giving the Braves an 11-10 advantage heading into the last quarter.
“It’s a game of runs. It’s momentum,” said Quinn. “They got it. We got it.”
Niskayuna improved to 3-5 all-time in state semifinals, with three of those setbacks coming in 2012, 2013 and 2014. Niskayuna will take on West Genesee (Section III, 18-2) in Saturday’s 1:30 New York championship game at Vestal High School.
West Genesee, which beat Niskayuna in the 2005 state Class A final, advanced with an 8-7 win over Pittsford (Section V, 19-2).
“We’re going to let them have fun on the bus ride home. We want them to enjoy it,” said Vorgang. “When we get home, I’ll tell them they earned two more practices, which is what they wanted.”