BY MICHAEL KELLY & JIM SCHILTZ
ROTTERDAM — The halftime message was direct.
“Be who we are,” Niskayuna coach Jason Bach told his players. “Be yourselves.”
In other words: Play like champions.
The Silver Warriors wasted no time in heeding their coach. Twenty-six seconds into the second half of the June 1 Section II Class B girls’ lacrosse title game against Queensbury, Niskayuna senior Marisa DiVietro broke a halftime tie with a goal. The star midfielder punctuated the play with a quick pump of her arms in celebration, a maneuver which ended with her arms in a flexed position.
Niskayuna never stopped showing its muscle from there. The Silver Warriors blitzed Queensbury after intermission on their way to a convincing 14-8 victory.
“We had to play our game,” Niskayuna junior Erin Doyle said. “We’ve always done that. We’re a second-half team.”
“Coach said what needed to be said,” said Niskayuna senior Maya Manchester, who made three of her four saves in goal during the second half. “It wasn’t about us trying [harder]. He just told us we were going to be better.”
DiVietro — who had four goals and an assist — led that effort for Niskayuna, which turned a 5-5 halftime score into a 10-5 advantage within the first eight minutes of the second half at Mohonasen High School.
“She’s amazing,” Doyle said of DiVietro, who will play next year for the University of North Carolina. “She’s unstoppable. You can’t stop Marisa — and she feeds the ball, too. She’s so fun to play with.”
In Niskayuna’s two postseason games, DiVietro scored 10 goals. For the season, she has registered 69 goals and 36 assists.
But DiVietro also got support from her teammates. Doyle had three goals and an assist, while junior Becca Curro, freshman Annabelle Conover and senior Abbey O’Brien each had a pair of goals. Freshman Tori Pantalone scored Niskayuna’s final goal, while senior Meghan Kirwan added a pair of assists.
“We’re such a unique team,” DiVietro said. “We don’t always need to go to one player. We’re very skilled and it really showed here. We had multiple girls with goals, assists. We’re such a team.”
Queensbury received two goals apiece from senior Lindsey White, junior Devon Bolen and junior Natasha Rahal.
The teams traded goals to start the game before Niskayuna (No. 1, 16-2) ripped off three scores in a span of 2:18 late in the half to take a two-goal lead. Queensbury (No. 3, 15-4) then answered with a pair of scores to send the game into intermission at 5-5.
The Silver Warriors rolled, though, in the second half. After going up 10-5, Niskayuna never saw its lead dwindle to fewer than three scores.
“We’re a fast, athletic team that plays a great style of team ball,” Bach said. “We got away from that in the first half, so we needed to get back to that in the second half, relax and have fun.”
The championship was the second in a row for the Niskayuna program, which has now won seven titles. The Silver Warriors beat Queensbury 11-8 in the 2015 finals, then beat them again, 15-7, in May during the regular 2016 season.
SQUAD FALLS IN STATE QUARTERFINALS
Niskayuna’s best lacrosse player drove toward the Yorktown cage and drew a swarm of defenders as the ball popped out of her stick.
“We had a chance at the end of the first overtime,” Bach said of DiVietro’s fruitless scoring bid. “We didn’t do it. That was our chance.”
Niskayuna never saw the ball in the second overtime, and Katie Comerford cashed in on the Cornhuskers’ lone possession with 53.6 seconds left to propel the Section I champions to a 10-9 state Class B quarterfinal win at Mohonasen High School on June 4.
Yorktown (16-5) led only once in regulation, for 21 seconds in the second half, before Annabelle Conover created one of the tense contest’s five ties that DiVietro later broke with her lone goal.
A second goal by the North Carolina-bound midfielder would have sent Niskayuna to the state semifinals for a second time in program history.
“I had my mind set to get a free position,” DiVietro said of her overtime bid. “I thought I drew a foul. The refs didn’t think so. I thought there were a few sticks that shouldn’t have been there.”
Niskayuna (16-3) was humbled in the regionals 18-4 a year ago by another Section I heavyweight — Somers.
“That’s the experience,” Bach said. “Use these games as stepping stones. From that game last year to now, we’ve matured and grown.”
Doyle capped a 3-0 game-starting run for Niskayuna, and the junior’s third goal with 4:31 left had the Silver Warriors on top 9-8.
“Niskayuna is a great team,” said Comerford, a Villanova-bound attacker and one of Yorktown’s eight Division I recruits. “As a program, we never give up.”
Casey Duff tied the game at nine with 1:20 left in the second half and set up Comerford’s game-winning goal with a left-to-right pass across the crease. Comerford caught the ball, took two strides and fired high past Manchester.
“We knew we had to be hungry for the ball,” Comerford said. “Duff got it for us, and gave me a great feed.”
Comerford scored five goals, including the icebreaker after Niskayuna’s early run, and the Cornhuskers’ go-ahead goal that briefly made it 7-6 with 18:50 left in the second frame.
The senior also notched the game-winner with 14 seconds left when Yorktown edged Somers 10-9 for the Section I title. Somers came into that game unbeaten at 18-0.
“She’s their scorer, and we knew that,” Bach said. “She had two goals in the first half, two in the second half, one in overtime. We defended her well. We didn’t give it to her.”
Yorktown ate most of the clock in the first overtime before turning the ball without unleashing a shot. DiVietro was the player who scooped up the loose ball and raced the length of the field to set up her scoring opportunity from close range.
“It’s frustrating,” DiVietro said. “We came out and scored three goals on them. They came back. It’s fun to play in these games, but frustrating to come out on the other side.”
Niskayuna earned its seventh state tournament berth by surging in the second half to beat Queensbury in the Section II final 14-8. Niskayuna entered the game with a No. 6 state rank, one spot behind Yorktown.
“I couldn’t be any more proud,” Bach said. “Yorktown is a heck of a team. Our girls battled. I told them to be proud. Be proud. They overcame some obstacles and had a great year.”