BY JIM SCHILTZ
SARATOGA SPRINGS – Shenendehowa’s field hockey team got super aggressive in the second half of Monday’s Suburban Council game at Saratoga Springs.
Even Plainsmen goalkeeper Sheridan Messier got into the act.
“When they have breakaways, I go to what I have been taught,” the senior netminder said after her team’s 2-1 victory. “I go after them.”
Messier stuffed Saratoga scoring star Lindsey Frank on a rush just after Jenna Graf delivered the tie-breaking goal late in the second half, and the defending state Class A champions played ball control the rest of the way in their 27th consecutive win.
“We all, collectively, said we need to pick it up and play stronger,” Graf said of the second half, which Shenendehowa dominated after a quick offensive flurry by Saratoga. “We had to put the pressure on.”
The Plainsmen did that, and the by-product was 10 second-half penalty corners to Saratoga’s four.
“I was hoping we’d get that” advantage, Saratoga coach Jo-Anne Hostig said.
Graf scored on one of those penalty corners, and Messier made the biggest of her seven saves moments later against Saratoga’s junior standout Frank, who had registered multiple points in six previous games.
“I knew there was no one back,” Messier said of Frank’s dribble into the circle and scoring bid. “She pulls it and makes moves. I got a foot on it and one of the girls cleared it away.”
Saratoga (6-1) had piled up 27 goals in its six-game win streak to begin the season. Erin McCarthy had the Blue Streaks’ lone goal Monday late in the first half, tying the game at 1.
“We did it collectively,” Messier said.
Kelli Russo, Bridget Shanahan, who cleared the ball after Messier’s final save, and Meghana Caron stepped up defensively for the Plainsmen (6-0), who earned a No. 16 national ranking by Max Field Hockey in its first poll of the season.
“On defense, we’ve improved a lot since the start of the season,” Messier said. “The marking is much better. They’re doing a better job of outletting the ball.”
Russo made the final stop for the Plainsmen at midfield and pounded the ball downfield as time expired in a rematch from the last three Section II Class A finals.
“This game could have gone either way,” Shnendehowa coach Jeanne Frevola said. “They’re a good team. They give us the best competition.”
Saratoga was awarded three quick penalty corners to begin the second half before momentum swung, and Shenendehowa maintained it for all but a few moments.
“Some of my inexperienced players showed through,” Hostig said of the defensive infractions that led to one Shenendehowa penalty corner after another. “We couldn’t get the ball out of there.”
Saratoga scored the go-ahead goal with 10:49 left when Russo inserted the ball to Graf on a penalty corner, and Graf blasted the ball past Saratoga netminder Renee Banagan from just inside the circle. Banagan’s nine-save performance included a sprawling stop earlier in the half.
“I have to hand it to Kelli,” Graf said. “The insert was perfect. On grass it can be bouncy. It was a smooth pass.”
Hostig said Frank could have used some support on her ensuing rush.
“We got a shot, and that was it,” Hostig said. “I was hoping when she [Frank] went someone would be trailing. She’s so fast. No one was there.”
Eliza Branch scored Shenendehowa’s first goal unassisted with 22:38 left in the opening half. Sarah Phillips assisted on McCarthy’s equalizer with 7:09 left in the first half, after taking in a backhand pass from Frank.
“She’s so fast,” Frevola said of Frank. “It’s like watching [former Shenendehowa star] Emily Fraser.”
Hostig said the game benefited Saratoga.
“It gives us a lot of things to work on,” she said. “This helps us figure out what our weaknesses are. You can’t find out in those other games. I’d play them once a week if I could.”
Shenendehowa finished with a 12-10 advantage in penalty corners.