After playing in three consecutive title games, Bethlehem and Shenendehowa had been accustomed to meeting in the Section II Class AA girls soccer finals.
So, it was odd for both teams to meet in Sunday’s quarterfinal round in Clifton Park with the prospect of missing the semifinals for the first time in several years.
“We always play past Halloween,” said Bethlehem coach Tom Rogan. “I thought before this game, ‘My gosh, Halloween is still in front of us. What’s it going to be like on Halloween not to have a game to prepare for ?’”
Rogan’s Bethlehem team made certain he didn’t have to face that prospect. An early goal by Autumn Fetterolf and some timely saves by goaltender Katie Nickles helped the Lady Eagles (10-6-1) edge Shen (9-7-1) 1-0 and advance to Thursday’s Class AA semifinals against top-seeded Niskayuna.
It was the fifth time Shen had been shut out in its last six games.
“We’ve been in a little bit of a scoring slump,” said Shen coach Holli Mulholland. “We haven’t been able to finish our chances.”
Complicating matters for the Plainsmen was an injury to starting midfielder Paige Byrne the day before they met Bethlehem.
“We didn’t have much time (to adjust),” said Mulholland. “We had 30 minutes Saturday to find a new flow for our offense.”
Mulholland moved forward Kristen Connors to center midfield to replace Byrne, and it helped Shen create several scoring chances.
“Our transition and our pressure into the (penalty) box were all great,” said Mulholland. “We just couldn’t finish when we got the ball into the box.”
The lone goal came in the eighth minute of the first half. Shen goaltender Makayla Foley stopped Stephanie Dootz’s initial shot, but Fetterolf banged the rebound home for a 1-0 Bethlehem lead.
Once the Lady Eagles had the lead, they let their defense handle the rest. They consistently broke up passes near their own penalty box, which forced Shen to take long shots on goal that Nickles handled.
“You drop back in the box, and if they want to shoot from the outside, we’ll take that because Katie Nickles will catch those every time,” said Rogan.
Nickles finished with nine saves to pick up her 60th career win and her 43rd shutout.
Bethlehem must now face a Niskayuna (16-1-1) team coming off a 4-0 quarterfinal victory over Colonie in Thursday’s semifinal round at Schuylerville High School.
“They’re a good team, but it’s a semifinal and it’s on the turf,” said Rogan. “Anything can happen.”
As for Shen, it enters the offseason one week earlier than it’s used to. But with only five players scheduled to graduate in June, Mulholland said she’s looking forward to the 2013 season.
“That’s the exciting part — knowing that we were in a transition year this season after losing 14 seniors last season,” said Mulholland.