By PHIL BLACKWELL and ROB JONAS
Aggressive and productive at the start, the Niskayuna girls soccer team needed every bit of its defense to preserve the advantage in last Saturday's Class AA regional final against Section III champion West Genesee.
The Silver Warriors pulled it off, hanging on to beat the Wildcats, 3-2, at Chittenango High School near Syracuse to advance to this weekend's state final four in the Cortland/Homer area.
Just to reach this point, Niskayuna had to survive a tense shoot-out with Bethlehem in the Section II Class AA final after they played to a 0-0 draw.
The regional game was far different, as the Warriors and West Genesee combined for three goals before many fans had settled in under their umbrellas.
Ignoring the heavy rain, Niskayuna took a 1-0 advantage on junior Kara Sullivan's goal 1:09 into the contest, but WG got even at the 4:51 mark when Colleen Bubnack banged a shot off the left post into the net.
Shaking that off, the Warriors went back in front, 2-1, when star junior Brooke Knowlton put home a rebound shot 6:09 into the game after Whitney Fary's original shot was mishandled by WG goalie Melissa Stevens.
Both defenses finally settled down, and the scoring chances decreased for the rest of the first half as the rain's intensity rarely let up.
Then Knowlton showed her magic touch. In the 31st minute, she took possession at midfield and tore past two Wildcat defenders, maintaining her dribble on the left side until she could deposit a hard shot past Stevens, her 40th goal of the season.
As it turned out, that would be the game-winner. All was quiet until the 56th minute, when defensive standout Alicia D'Allesandro left with a hand injury, not to return. This only made WG push more, and stopper Molly Hinton had to turn back more shots.