By Jim Schiltz
QUEENSBURY — The Saratoga Springs field hockey team was stuck in an offensive rut until Niskayuna lost its glue.
“I think we were going in that direction,” Blue Streaks coach Jo-Anne Hostig said after her team’s 3-0 Section II Class A semifinal win Thursday at the Adirondack Sports Complex. “At the halftime, we figured it out. That opened it up.”
Sophomore Lindsey Frank assisted on Saratoga’s first goal, drew a penalty shot and scored twice, all of that coming after Niskayuna leader Natalie Metzger departed due to an ankle injury with 22:40 to play.
“They look at her as a safety person. They go to her for help and guidance,” Niskayuna coach Alison Broomhead said of her standout senior midfielder. “When she went out, there was a little hiccup. It got into our heads. We were unsure of ourselves.”
Metzger was the centerpiece in a strong defensive effort by Niskayuna (No. 3 seed, 9-8-1) in the first half. The Silver Warriors intercepted numerous passes to deny a Saratoga team (No. 2, 16-2) it was trying desperately to beat after a pair of Suburban Council defeats.
“She [Metzger] is a playmaker,” Hostig said. “I’m sure it was a mental thing. She’s their quarterback. That’s hard to replace.”
Metzger stepped on the ball while attempting a steal and twisted her already-banged up left ankle. Coinciding with her departure was a concerted effort to take the ball wide while attacking rather than try to plow through the Niskayuna defense.
“They were very organized,” Hostig said. “We worked on getting around them instead of going through them. There was a lot in the way. Once you got beyond it, the floodgates were open.”
Maggie Conway scored first for Saratoga with 19:27 left, and Frank notched her goals with 13:31 to go and with 6:45 on the clock.
“It definitely felt good to get the ball rolling,” Frank said. “We just needed . . . We just had to get it together.”
Saratoga earned its third straight title-game berth and a chance at its second championship in three years. The Blue Streaks will meet either nationally ranked Shenendehowa (No. 1, 16-0) or Bethlehem (No. 5, 7-10) in Sunday’s 4 p.m. final at Schuylerville. Shenendehowa will be eyeing a seventh consecutive title-game appearance when those teams, postponed Thursday due to snow, meet today at 3 on the Plainsmen’s turf.
“You can’t assume,” said Hostig, whose Blue Streaks lost to Shenendehowa in the 2015 Class A final and beat them for the 2014 crown. “Honestly, you never know.”
The Blue Streaks knew the Silver Warriors had become one of the league’s better defensive teams as the season progressed. Niskayuna beat Columbia 3-0 in the quarterfinals last Thursday, and played Kingston to a 1-1 non-league draw Tuesday.
“Niskayuna was very aggressive,” Conway, a senior forward, said. “We figured out how to get around them.”
It did take a while, though.
“We were picking off passes,” Broomhead said. “We had good speed. We just couldn’t finish.”
Conway did, with a hard drive from about 10 meters away, after Frank dribbled right to left and sent a crossing pass to her teammate.
“We connect,” Conway said of Frank. “Whether it’s me going to the goal, or her going to the goal.”
Frank increased Saratoga’s lead when she inserted the ball on a penalty corner, sifted toward the post, and then got the ball back on a pass from Erin McCarthy. Frank scored her second close-range goal on a feed from Mimi Liebers.
“She’s had a lot of good games,” Hostig said of Frank, who had a goal in a 2-0 win against Niskayuna early in the season and another in a 6-1 semifinal win against Guilderland. “She’s been consistent. She’s maturing as a player.”
Liz McIntyre made two saves for Saratoga and Emma Skumurski made 10 stops for Niskayuna, one of them on a penalty shot by Sarah Winters in between the first two Blue Streak goals. The penalty shot was called when Frank beat three defenders on a sideline run and was hauled down just inside the circle.
Saratoga held a 13-3 advantage in penalty corners and outshot Niskayuna 20-3.
“They definitely picked themselves up from last year,” said Broomhead, whose team won seven league games to match its total from 2014 and 2015 combined. “They connected on and off the field. They had value in what they were doing.”