Sports

Port Jefferson School District’s new athletic director, Adam Sherrard. Photo from PJSD

Port Jefferson School District’s athletic programs have excelled in recent years, but the Royals faced a new kind of challenge this summer.

Adam Sherrard has been named the replacement for Port Jeff’s outgoing director of health, physical education and athletics, Danielle Turner, who accepted a similar position in the Locust Valley school district in June.

Sherrard, a Farmingville resident, has coaching and teaching experience from previous stops at Huntington and Smithtown school districts, where he taught physical education at all grade levels. Most recently he taught at Jack Abrams STEM Magnet Intermediate School in the Huntington district. He served as Smithtown East High School’s defensive coordinator for the varsity football team and as a middle school lacrosse head coach, in addition to other high school and middle school coaching assignments, according to his LinkedIn page.

“I’m eager to work with the students, staff, nurses, administrators, coaches and parents in the district,” Sherrard said in a statement. “Since I first arrived here, I noticed the commitment to the well-being of students is profound and I look forward to continuing to strengthen the positive environment in the Port Jefferson School District.”

He earned an advanced graduate certificate in educational leadership from Stony Brook University and a Master of Arts in educational leadership and administration from Touro University International, according to a district press release. He holds a Bachelor of Science in physical education from Cortland University.

“The energy and enthusiasm that Mr. Sherrard exudes will serve our district well,” district Superintendent Paul Casciano said in a statement. “We look forward to his leadership and progressive ideas in building on the many successes of our athletic program. Mr. Sherrard will continue to move us in the positive direction of our physical education and health education programs. This includes social and emotional growth opportunities to ensure our students have the support systems needed to succeed.”

During Turner’s time with the Royals, the girls varsity basketball and soccer teams each reached New York State championship rounds, with the soccer team bringing home its second straight trophy in 2016. It was the team’s third straight appearance in the finals. The basketball team fell just short in the 2017 state title game, though it was the first time it had won a county crown since 1927. Quarterback Jack Collins broke numerous school records and became the first football player in school history to be named League IV Most Valuable Player. The wrestling team went undefeated and won the League VIII championship during the current school year. Shane DeVincenzo put Port Jeff’s golf program on the map, winning the Suffolk County individual title in 2017.

“Port Jefferson will always have a special little place in my heart, and I could not be more thankful that my career has led me through it,” she said in a June email.

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Sports agent Burton Rocks, right, a former Three Village Central School District student, recently negotiated a six-year $26 million contract for St. Louis Cardinals’ shortstop Paul DeJong. Photo by Scott Rovak

By Anthony Petriello

A Ward Melville High School grad recently scored a home run in the world of sports.

A success story in the making, Burton Rocks, 46, has overcome great adversity to make history in Major League Baseball as a sports agent. Having worked a historic six-year, $26 million deal for St. Louis Cardinals’ shortstop Paul DeJong in the spring, Burton has now reached the upper echelon of sports agents. DeJong’s contract may be worth more than $51 million due to an option to earn more money in the last two years of the contract, which makes it the largest ever awarded to a first-year player in MLB history.

To garner the tremendous success he has achieved, Rocks has overcome a debilitating illness — life-threatening asthma — which he has suffered with since he was a young child. As a student at Ward Melville High School, Rocks said he missed many days in class due to his constant battle with the most extreme form of asthma. He had a passion for band — having played the clarinet and the saxophone — but was rarely able to play at concerts due to his illness, which continued throughout his school years.

As a middle school student at R.C. Murphy Junior High School, Rocks said he felt like an outsider due to his absences and had an issue with bullying when he was present.

“I was the outsider kid with the inhaler,” he said. “But you have to accept what God gives you and move on, and I don’t hold any grudges.”

Rocks said his parents, who still live in the Three Village area, sacrificed a lot for him. His father, world-renowned chemist and author Lawrence Rocks, spent much of his time caring for his son, in and out of the hospital, during his childhood. Rocks said his father always made sure he came back home each night, even when he was away on business.

“My dad used to bring me up food from the coffee shop as a treat when he would come visit me late at night after a business trip,” he said. “My dad might’ve been Dr. Rocks to the world, but to me he was Dad. He was there in the morning every day to wake me up, and at night every night to tuck me in.”

“I was the outsider kid with the inhaler. But you have to accept what God gives you and move on, and I don’t hold any grudges.”

— Burton Rocks

Burton Rocks’ mother, Marlene, a former substitute teacher at Ward Melville, spent just as much, if not more time by his bedside. Rocks said his mother quit her job as a Spanish teacher in New York City to spend more time with him.

When Rocks was able to attend school, he did his best to overcome the difficulty of missing so much class time. He had a special connection with his eighth-grade social studies teacher, Dan Comerford, with whom he still keeps in touch. Comerford worked at Ward Melville as a teacher from 1968–2001 and now lives in Jupiter Inlet Colony, Florida, where he is the mayor and the police commissioner. Comerford had fond memories of meeting Rocks in the mid-1980s, when he helped the junior high school student overcome a bullying problem.

“Because he wasn’t there a lot, there was a lot of work to be made up,” Comerford said. “My goal always [with Rocks] was to tell him to relax and take it easy. He was and is a worrier, but that’s what makes him a fantastic agent, he’s a detail man. I made it my mission back then to take care of him and make sure he wasn’t being picked on by anyone.”

Even during high school, Rocks said he frequently visited St. Charles Hospital due to his condition, but was still able to complete multiple Advanced Placement classes including AP Chemistry, AP Calculus and AP Spanish. Rocks graduated in 1990 and attended Stony Book University, where he graduated with a degree in history in 1994. Rocks continued his education at Maurice A. Deane School of Law at Hofstra University and graduated with a juris doctor degree in 1997.

During law school, Rocks said he had the unique opportunity to go on scouting missions with the late Clyde King, who was a close friend of Rocks’ father and was special adviser to George Steinbrenner, the late owner of the New York Yankees. Rocks was given the chance to read through the original handwritten scouting reports from Steinbrenner, information that was and still is undisclosed to the public. Rocks also had the opportunity to have an informal pitching tryout at King’s home in North Carolina in 1995, but while he was a great pitcher on his own accord, King did not feel he was ready for the major leagues due to his health issues.

Burton Rocks as a child with his mother Marlene Rocks, a former Ward Melville substitute teacher. Photo from Burton Rocks

The late Norma King, Clyde’s wife, once spoke about Rocks, as recalled by the sports agent: “Clyde always said ‘When one door closes another door opens.’ Burton is living proof of that expression. He threw for Clyde here [in North Carolina] but his health precluded him from playing professionally. When that door closed, he turned to writing.”

After the realization that his option to play professional baseball would not come to fruition, Rocks focused on his writing. He said he worked with King on his memoir “A King’s Legacy: The Clyde King Story” which was released in 1999. Not long after he graduated college, Rocks worked on his second memoir and co-authored the 2003 New York Times best-selling book “Me and My Dad: A Baseball Memoir” with Yankees outfielder Paul O’Neill.

After writing several books, Rocks said he founded the C.L. Rocks Corporation, a sports agency, in 2008. Rocks implemented what he called “the quantified intangibles metric” in his evaluation of MLB players. This metric measured a player’s life experiences and adversities prior to becoming a professional baseball player and took those into account when measuring a player’s value to a team. Rocks looked back at his own adversities as a child and young adult and saw that those life experiences hold value when drafting a player or coach who will be performing in front of millions of people.

“As a kid, you search for answers to feel normal, and this is what I bring to the table,” Rocks said. “That was, for me, a cathartic product of my search. I realized I could apply it to business. I said to myself, ‘Can I find coaches or players that coach or play well because they’ve overcome adversity and know how to channel it into wins?’”

Participants in MLB’s Home Run Derby listen to the national anthem. Photo by Daniel Dunaief

It’s all about family.

Sure, there was plenty of high-powered baseball last week when I had the privilege of attending my first Major League Baseball All-Star Game at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C., July 17, with my son, but, ultimately, it’s clear between and outside the lines that the players fill their energy reserves with the support of their families.

Los Angeles Dodger Manny Machado signs autographs. Photo by Daniel Dunaief

After our first trip to FanFest — a gathering of dedicated baseball aficionados — we wandered over to a nearby burger joint where a man named Frank suggested we go to the Marriott across the street because that was where all the players were staying. We wolfed down the last of our burgers and found a lobby filled with kids of all ages — including adults who enjoy sharing the excitement of the game with their own children — waiting for a glimpse of their favorite stars.

Within a half-hour of our arrival, superstars wandered in the front lobby, where they had about a 50-foot walk between a huge revolving door and a private, security-protected hallway opposite a sign forbidding pictures or autographs.

Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman, whose muscular 6-foot, 5-inch frame made him appear to be the picture of a professional athlete, carried his young daughter in one arm and luggage in another, making it impossible for autograph seekers to ask him to sign their baseballs, programs or notebooks.

Other athletes followed the same pattern, carrying their young children or holding their hands, making it impossible for fans to demand a signature or even to interrupt their family moments.

On the other side of the spotlight, many of the eager fans weren’t too far from their parents, who urged them on and wished them well.

“Who’d you get?” one fan asked her son as he raced back to her, holding a ball carefully by the seams to avoid smudging the valuable ink. “Manny Machado!” he beamed, referring to the former Orioles superstar who the Los Angeles Dodgers would soon trade five players to acquire a day later.

“Good for you,” she clapped and cheered, pleased with her son’s success.

Cameras follow Yankee star Aaron Judge’s every move. Photo by Daniel Dunaief

On another trip to FanFest, I watched parents clad entirely in the ubiquitous red uniform of the Washington Nationals. A father with an open jersey flapping at his sides led his two small children, whose jerseys were buttoned up to their clavicles, across the enormous space toward the Major League Baseball store.

At the Home Run Derby July 16, the event that precedes the game in which a few sluggers essentially see how far they can hit baseballs, Washington fan favorite Bryce Harper didn’t disappoint the rabid Nationals fans, beating a determined and electrifying Kyle Schwarber of the Chicago Cubs. After his victory, Harper thanked the fans and his pitcher who, as it turned out, was his father Ron.

At the game itself, we were fortunate to sit fairly near the families of the American League all-stars. Patty and Wayne Judge, parents of burgeoning Yankee-great Aaron Judge, watched their 26-year-old son’s every move, filming him during his introduction and cheering as he circled the bases after his home run against starting pitcher Max Scherzer of the Nationals. Many in the Judge entourage, like those from other families, proudly wore jerseys with the names and number of their all-star on their backs.

Rays’ pitcher Blake Snell’s family filled up almost an entire row of seats, with his name and his number “4” draped across their backs.

When Detroit Tigers pitcher Joe Jiménez entered the game from the bullpen, his family stood proudly, with each of them filming the jog from the left field fence.

Cleveland shortstop Francisco Lindor electrified his family with a hit that almost made it out of the stadium on a record-setting night for home runs. As he jogged back to the dugout to get his glove, his family stood and applauded his effort, as his broad, patented smile crossed his face.

Yankee pitchers Aroldis Chapman and Luis Severino play catch. Photo by Daniel Dunaief

In the top of the eighth, Lindor’s replacement at shortstop, the Mariners’ Jean Segura crushed a three-run homer, triggering a big celebration from his extended family, who high-fived each other and who received congratulations from the nearby Lindor family.

Segura was an unexpected hero, who was the last player named to join the American League team, beating out Yankee Giancarlo Stanton, among others.

Yes, we witnessed all-stars with the ability to hit balls over 400 feet. Ultimately, though, we had the chance to see families share a weekend that mirrored similar scenes around the world, albeit on a smaller scale. Watching all these families come together to celebrate their baseball achievements made me feel like I was at a high-profile Little League game. Parents, siblings and friends stand on the sidelines, supporting their sons, daughters, brothers and sisters as they revel in the opportunity of the next at-bat.

The result? The American League triumphed over the National League, 8-6, in the 10th inning of an unforgettable all-star game.

The Town of Huntington hosted its 5th annual tournament at Coral Park July 21

The Town of Huntington hosted its fifth annual Co-Ed Basketball Tournament at Coral Park in Greenlawn July 21.

Teens between the ages of 12 to 18 came out for a number of friendly half-court games in a round-robin tournament. Those games were followed by an alumni game with teams made with graduates from area high schools. While the kids played, event organizers stood on the sidelines and shouted advice and encouragement to the young players on the court.

“We do this every year to keep kids out of trouble,” tournament organizer Vernon Lowe said. “Somebody did it for me when I was growing up, and somebody should do it for them.”

Several kids were given awards for being recognized as Most Valuable Player by the tournament organizers. Huntington High School student Omari Stephen, who plays boys’ junior varsity basketball team, and Leisaan Hibbert, of Dix Hills, were awarded MVP for the youth tournament. Damique Reddick, a 2016 graduate of John H. Glenn High School in Elwood, won MVP for the alumni game.

Stony Brook University baseball player Nick Grande slides into third. Photo from SBU Athletics

By Desirée Keegan

Nick Grande was home for a few weeks during winter break, and while his mother joked he could get a job during his extended stay, the shortstop had a different idea.

“No, mom,” he said in response. “As soon as the new year starts that’s it, you won’t see me again. I’ll be at Stony Brook every day.”

The Stony Brook University sophomore was a standout for Smithtown West’s baseball team, helping the Bulls claim two league titles during the three years he was team captain. He was named second team All-State as a senior after posting a .529 batting average, which also earned him the Suffolk County Silver Slugger Award. He also captained the league title-winning basketball team in his senior season. But while there are always adjustments to be made making the jump from high school to Division I college ball, his freshman season didn’t go as smoothly as he’d hoped.

Stony Brook University baseball player Nick Grande turns two. Photo from SBU Athletics

As a freshman at SBU, he played in 35 games, collecting multiple hits in seven of those contests. He notched his first collegiate hit and home run in the same game at Presbyterian College, and went 3-for-3 as the designated hitter in a win against Sacred Heart University. But he wanted to become more consistent, so he got up every morning during winter break at 8 a.m. to work on improving his game, and he did.

Grande batted .377 for the 32-25 Seawolves this past season. His 78 hits were the sixth most in a single season in Stony Brook history; his 32 stolen bases are the second most in a season only behind MLB-draftee Travis Jankowski’s 36 in 2012; he had 22 multi-hit games, including eight in a row; and reached base safely a team-best 22 straight games. Grande batted .418 in America East conference play and had five of his six home runs in conference.

“There’s a reason why people are talented,” said Nick Grande Sr., who was the head baseball coach and now principal at Island Trees High School. He recalled bringing his son to the field every day after school since he was 3 years old. “It’s all about the time they put into perfecting their craft … his desire, his determination. He hates to lose more than he loves to win, and that’s been since he was 3 years old.”

Although the elder Grande said his son has a fear of failure, he doesn’t show it. Grande Jr. said he’s picked up a philosophy of positivity along the way, from his time spent on the diamond at the age of 7 with his dad at the end of the day from his father’s Island Trees coaching job, to his new head coach Matt Senk, and everyone else he met along the way.

“You have to go into a game expecting to be successful — that’s the only way it’s going to work out of you, I think,” he said. “Even if you’re cold or having a tough day you have to step into the box knowing that you’re going to get a hit. I tried to have a positive mindset out there.”

“He hates to lose more than he loves to win, and that’s been since he was 3 years old.”

— Nick Grande Sr.

The starting shortstop earned back-to-back America East Player of the Week honors March 27 and April 3. He went 6-for-11 with a homer and three RBIs in a home series against the University of Massachusetts Lowell and went 6-for-6 with three doubles and a pair of RBIs in a win against Binghamton University. One of the nation’s top base stealers in 2018, he swiped three in a game twice. He went on to be named second-team ABCA/Rawlings Northeast All-Region, an America East spring scholar-athlete, a first-team Google Cloud Academic All-American and a first-team All-American by Collegiate Baseball.

“It was nice to be able to produce and contribute to help the team win games,” Grande said, adding it helped having role models like recent MLB draftees pitcher Aaron Pinto and infielder Bobby Honeyman and Coram outfielder Andruw Gazzola. “Being in a great lineup where top to bottom guys are having great at-bats didn’t hurt either.”

Despite his strong showing on the offensive side of the ball, Grande said he has a defense-first mentality.

“He’d rather catch a ground ball than get a base hit, and when he makes an error I hear about it for days,” Grande’s father said, laughing. “That’s because we’ve hit thousands of ground balls. He doesn’t stop, he doesn’t quit, and that’s because he wants to be as close to perfect as you can be.”

Senk said though that Grande wanted to be more of a consistent hitter to balance his game. He said he pointed out to his shortstop he had an inside-out swing that didn’t allow him to hit the ball as hard as he could, so he started pulling the ball more. Grande also practiced using his backhand to get to more ground balls.

Stony Brook University baseball player Nick Grande digs into the box. Photo from SBU Athletics

“He has such a tremendous work ethic — that was never an issue,” the SBU coach said. “He worked hardest in the toughest part of the game. He takes well to coaching, he kept working at it and working at it and ended up really clicking in a big way. I knew it when we were playing the defending national champs, University of Florida, and he hit a home run off first-round draft pick Brady Singer. From there his season took off. I think that was because of his dedication, athleticism and intelligence.”

But there’s more to the ballplayer than his devotion and talent. Smithtown West head coach Al Nucci said what he does in the classroom, and the kind of teammate he is makes him exemplary in every which way.

“He stood out from the day he started,” Nucci said of seeing Grande during a Booster Club practice as a youngster. “As crazy as it sounds as a young boy he had an incredible work ethic, he loved the game, he was always looking to improve, he smiled, he was super polite — as a 6-year-old on 60-foot diamond completely and totally standing out from his peers.”

He was pulled up to varsity as an eighth-grader to get more of a challenge, and ended up starting the second half of the season and into the playoffs after an injury sidelined one of his teammates. His coach joked that he might be the only Bulls player in history to hit a home run in his first at-bat and sacrifice bunt his next, showing his team-first mentality.

“He’s probably a better person and a better student than he is an athlete,” Nucci said. “He’s the first on the field and the last one off it, and he backs up his leadership skills and his work ethic with results on the field. And Nick didn’t need to speak — he spoke with his mitt, with his arm, with his bat, with his baseball intellect and with his attitude. Nick is the type of kid that takes a little something from everyone and uses it to his advantage. I hope my son ends up like Nick one day, I’ll tell you that.”

“He takes well to coaching, he kept working at it and working at it and ended up really clicking in a big way.”

— Matt Senk

Grande’s father said although it can be nerve-racking, it’s been nice to take off the coaching uniform and sit back and watch his son play.

“Your stomach is turning, you’re a nervous wreck, your hands are sweating, but there’s not a better place in the world to be than watching your kids play sports,” he said. “The sport to me always had such a positive effect on my life, and from an early age he seemed to be following in the same footsteps, that the game was going to be meaningful for him, too.”

Baseball is a game of highs and lows, and it’s those who turn the lows into highs that tend to become successful. Nick Grande is the epitome of that according to those who know him best.

“When you get a text from your son that says, ‘Dad, I was just chosen as first-team All-American,’ after you pick yourself up off the floor, you take a deep breath and say, ‘Wow, all of his hard work, all of his dedication really paid off for him,’” Grande Sr. said. “People that work hard deserve to be rewarded in life, and in his case he has.”

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Ward Melville High School’s varsity ice hockey team celebrates its Suffolk County championship victory against Smithtown-Hauppauge.

By Desirée Keegan

Mark Devlin was at his son Ryan’s high school graduation ceremony last month and couldn’t believe his ears. As Ward Melville High School’s valedictorian took to the podium, he referenced three state championship teams from the past school year — the field hockey, boys lacrosse and ice hockey teams.

“I almost fell out of my chair,” the former five-year president and general manager of the Ward Melville Ice Hockey Club said, laughing. “They’ve never recognized our hockey club at the high school, and there was a huge roar up in the stands, so it was really cool. Our town is known for lacrosse and now the word is getting out about the hockey team.”

Ward Melville High School’s varsity ice hockey team celebrates its state championship victory against Smithtown-Hauppauge.

Although Devlin, who was also the varsity head coach last year, has since stepped down as president of the club, the soon-to-be varsity assistant coach said it has come a long way from when he took over five years ago, creating a board and turning the 30-year-old organization into a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.

The varsity team was 1-19 when his son first entered the youth league, and last year, the Patriots became the first team in the Suffolk County High School Ice Hockey League to go undefeated. They also took home the club’s first state championship, which qualified the team for its first national showing.

“This year we told a very different story,” recent graduate and co-captain Zachary Boritz said. “We found out after our last game that we were the first team to go undefeated and I was in shock, I couldn’t believe it. And to make it to states and then to nationals was a dream come true.”

Ward Melville took the ice in Minnesota right before the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School team from Florida, the district rocked by a tragic mass shooting in February. The Patriots wore stickers on their helmets that said, “MSD Strong,” the parents of the teams greeted one another, and the Stoneman Douglas kids applauded the Patriots as they took center stage. 

“Most of the time when you watch hockey there are three forwards and two defensemen, and you can clearly see that on the ice, the difference with this team is there were five players out there regardless of what position they played that could score or defend.”

— Greg Kryjak

“It was a horrible tragedy and we hoped to show our support from the guys on Long Island,” Boritz said. “Being on that stage was something else. Out of all of the tournaments and showcases I’ve been to throughout my hockey career, nationals was the best game I’ve ever played in. It was a good challenge.”

Part of the program’s secret is four years ago Devlin created 10- to 12-year-old and 13- to 15-year-old developmental teams. The club also takes in players from the greater Port Jefferson area and Mount Sinai, hoping to expand in the future to create more teams.

“Those teams have taken off,” Devlin said. “Now, I think they’re looking at creating a 7- to 10-year-old team, so from a community aspect we’re getting kids involved in hockey at the lowest levels now.”

Current vice president Greg Kryjak said watching the varsity Patriots excel the way they did was jaw-dropping, especially with a 126-21 goal differential.

“Most of the time when you watch hockey there are three forwards and two defensemen, and you can clearly see that on the ice, the difference with this team is there were five players out there regardless of what position they played that could score or defend,” he said. “It really differentiated them from the rest of the teams.”

This set the stage for a dynamic playoff atmosphere, where Devlin said people had to be turned away as the rink filled with high school classmates and parents. The team bested St. John the Baptist 5-2 and blanked reigning league champion Smithtown-Hauppauge 5-0 in a decisive game three for the Patriots’ first league title. Ward Melville went 4-1 in the state tournament to secure a place in the final game, which the team won 3-0.

“We’re huge with offense — scored a lot of goals this year,” Boritz said. “It wasn’t just the first line — every single line all the way to the fourth line, everyone was contributing, which was great to see because a few years prior it wasn’t really like that.”

Ward Melville High School’s varsity ice hockey team celebrates its state championship victory against Smithtown-Hauppauge.

Co-captain Brendan Callow was also recognized by Devlin as being a big playmaker out on the ice, especially when some of the other major contributors were out with injuries.

“He won games almost single handily, and he’s the most humble, high-character kid you’d ever meet,” the coach said. “If I had to pick one kid, he’s the guy who when we needed a big goal or we needed something going on, he did it. He was also an extension of the coaching staff. Because he’s such a great player and a great guy, the rest of the team looked up to him.”

Blanking Smithtown 5-0 was significant for the team, after Ward Melville lost in devastating fashion to the Bulls in the state finals two years ago with 2.1 seconds left in a decisive game three.

“That was one of the most heart wrenching losses we’ve ever had,” said Devlin, who was an assistant at the time. “They’ve been our nemesis. It was thrilling to beat them.”

He said he was also feeling so many different emotions at the time of the win because his son was one of 13 seniors on the squad, and because he’d been coaching 10 of the upperclassmen since they were 5 years old.

“They’re second and third sons to me — I’ve watched them grow up,” Devlin said. “Their work ethic, their accountability, their love for each other, no one wanted to let the guy next to them down. To watch these seniors go out on top like that, it was a fairytale ending. I couldn’t have written a better script.”

Photos courtesy of Ward Melville Ice Hockey

This post was updated July 18 to correct Ward Melville’s record in the state tournament.

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By Desirée Keegan

The fireworks came a day late for a group of Suffolk senior softball players.

A thriller ensued in a battle between some of Long Island’s best 65 and older softball players. Down 7-6 in the bottom of the ninth inning, Tim Rocklein smacked a pitch to right field with runners on first and second with no outs, and Ed Carney hit a sacrifice fly to score Dave Argenzio in a walk-off, 8-7 thriller as Suffolk edged Nassau in the first-ever Super Seniors All-Star game July 5.

“It got closer and closer, and why get a lead early when you can get the lead and go home?” head coach Paul Killian said, laughing. “I was losing so much sleep afraid that, A, it was going to rain, and, B, it wouldn’t’ turn out right. I couldn’t be happier with the way it ended.”

Rocklein’s game-tying single served as a bit of redemption. The Islip Terrace resident had made back-to-back errors in a four-run second inning for Nassau.

“It’s really wonderful how the team came through at the end,” said Rocklein, a former student of Killian’s at St. John the Baptist Diocesan High School in West Islip. “It was a team effort. We all won.”

The Suffolk offensive onslaught was contagious. Down 6-1 heading into the bottom of the seventh, base hits by John Carmichael and Carney set up an RBI-single for Louis Re. Later in the inning, Mike Cavanagh hit an in-the-park bases-clearing home run to pull Suffolk within one, 6-5.

“We were just hoping to be competitive,” Cavanagh said. “I flew out the first two times, so it felt great to come through with a hit.”

Rocklein said he saw the hit a bit differently.

“You could feel everyone’s spirits go from 20 to 190,” he said, grinning from ear to ear. “It’s an emotional game. We didn’t give up. We were all there for each other, and in the end, we prevailed.”

Assistant coach Victor Scalone, of Sound Beach, said he was impressed by his team, especially considering the Nassau team had three more full league teams to choose from when assembling its All-Star roster. Suffolk pulled off three double plays, with middle infielder Fred Taal helping turn two of them to John Petraglia at first. Catcher Tony Laino, who led off the bottom of the ninth with a single, helped complete the other, which ended a Nassau scoring threat. Tom Gomez went the distance on the mound, also collecting two hits.

“We’re all older players, and we just wanted to look respectable in this game,” Scalone said. “We’ll be talking about this for a long time.”

The assistant coach pointed to the home run by Cavanagh as having ignited the team. Killian, a Holbrook resident, said he’s in awe of what the sport can do for him and his players.

“I feel like I’m 16 again,” he said. “The fireworks were a day delayed, but they’re here.”

Mount Sinai duo join Ward Melville, Northport standouts in Maryland for game of a lifetime

The Under Armour All-America senior team representing the North gather together during practice June 29. Photo from Meaghan Tyrrell

By Desirée Keegan

Although North fell to South in a 10-9 overtime thriller during the Under Armour All-America lacrosse game in Maryland June 30, featuring the country’s best high school seniors, recent Mount Sinai graduate Meaghan Tyrrell was just proud to have been a part of it.

Ward Melville midfielder Shannon Berry grabs the ball during the Under Armour All-America senior game June 30. Photo from Shannon Berry

“Being chosen to be part of the Under Armour game is such a huge honor because it’s the top 44 players in the country being chosen, which makes for a great game,” she said. “It was quality, competitive lacrosse, which is good to have before heading into college.”

According to Ward Melville senior Shannon Berry, another player selected for the game, the teams arrived in Baltimore Thursday, June 28, and the girls spent the first evening at the Under Armour headquarters, where they received all of their gear. The teams practiced twice on Friday before taking the field Saturday morning.

“It was crazy to talk to some of those girls over the weekend and reflect on our time as young lacrosse players, and to see how far our journey’s as lacrosse players have gone,” the Princeton University-bound
midfielder said. “All of my teammates were both incredible lacrosse players and great people. They were all extremely competitive, but also very friendly and kind.”

Tyrrell said working alongside former competition was part of what made the experience unique.

“It’s cool to get to know people that you’ve played against in school and travel lacrosse,” she said. “I think our team clicked practicing on both offense and defense.”

Tyrrell played with teammate Meaghan Scutaro, a defender headed to the University of Notre Dame, for the last time. She said it was the best way she could cap off her high school lacrosse career.

“I can’t think of any other way to say goodbye to high school lacrosse,” she said. “The game itself was so fun.”

The Syracuse University-bound attack scored twice, her second tying the game at 9-9, which is something she’d consistently done for her Mustangs girls lacrosse team across her career.

Recent Mount Sinai graduates Meaghan Tyrrell and Meaghan Scutaro, at center, with their families during a photo shoot. Photo from Meaghan Tyrrell

“It was a great feeling to be able to help the team,” she said. “We had an opportunity to go into overtime and be able to try and win.”

Berry totaled four ground balls and five clears, taking one shot on goal.

“The level of competition was certainly the highest I have played in so far in my career,” said Berry, who played at attack, midfield and defense during the game. “The entire experience was incredible. Under Armour and Corrigan Sports truly do an amazing job of honoring the senior athletes and giving them an unforgettable, once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

Ward Melville graduate Alex Mazzone was chosen to play in the boys game. The Georgetown University-bound defender was on the South team that toppled North 22-15.

“It was really awesome to have both a male and female to represent Ward Melville,” Berry said. “It was great knowing that both of us were there representing our community.”

Northport attack Emerson Cabrera said the athletes are treated like professionals. They’re given new sneakers, cleats, uniforms and sticks and are followed around by photographers all weekend. The game is also broadcast live, and the teams took part in a charity day, working with Harlem Lacrosse, which Cabrera said was rewarding.

Northport’s Emerson Cambrera, at center, with future teammates Hannah Mardiney and Sarah Reznick. Photo from Emerson Cabrera

She assisted on Bayport-Blue Point attack Courtney Weeks’ goal, who Cabrera said is a longtime friend of hers with whom she played club ball.

“Everyone wanted to contribute somehow to the score, I was lucky to get a dodging opportunity to create an open cut for Courtney,” she said. “This was really an experience like no other. Under Armour makes it so special for us. I’m very proud to have ended my high school career being an Under Armour All-American.”

Cabrera, along with many of her teammates from the all-star game, will continue to compete alongside one another at the collegiate level. She’ll be joining Long Beach goalkeeper Sarah Reznick and Notre Dame Prep attack Hannah Mardiney at the University of Florida in the fall where several other local alumnae currently play, like soon-to-be senior Sydney Pirreca (Mount Sinai) and sophomore Shannon Kavanagh (Smithtown East). Cabrera added that ending her high school career with this game wasn’t just an honor, but a dream come true.

“It’s been something I’ve wanted to be a part of since I was little,” she said. “All of us have played with or against each other over the years and many of us will be joining forces together in college, so it was easy for our team to mesh. The transition I’m sure will still be a little tough, but as long as we all work hard, I’m sure it’ll go well.”

Gavin Buda hurls a pitch during the Blue Chip Prospects Grand Slam Challenge all-star baseball game. File photo by Bill Landon

Gavin Buda’s first word was “ball.”

“True story,” the Harborfields dual-sport standout athlete said. “I’ve been playing sports as far back as I can remember.”

Harborfields wide receiver Gavin Buda waits for the ball to drop along the sideline during the Empire Challenge football game. File photo by Bill Landon

Baseball was his first love, he said, signing up for every team he could play on. He played for the varsity team from freshman through senior year of high school, also competing on high-level travel teams and tournaments in other states.

“It just seemed my path was set to play baseball in college,” he said.

But during his sophomore year, he decided to try out for the junior varsity football team with some of his friends. The team went undefeated, and the wide receiver was hooked.

“There was a feeling I got playing football that I never felt playing baseball,” he said. “This bond that is created between teammates that only happens in football. The knowing that you have each other’s backs — that feeling made me think if I work hard enough, this is the sport I’d like to play beyond high school.”

He never gave up on either sport, spending three days training for football and the other three for baseball. He said winters were intense, spending time indoors at batting cages while also gearing up for the fall football season, working with trainers like Jay Fulco, Mike Bouranis, Mike Feldman, James Brady and Jay Fiedler.

Buda this month became the first Suffolk County athlete to play in both the Rawlings Blue Chip Prospects Grand Slam Challenge and Empire Challenge football game, with Wantagh’s Ryan Sliwak achieved the feat in 2011. Buda said he had no idea the history he’d made at the time he was selected.

Gavin Buda makes a catch between two Rocky Point football players during Harborfields’ homecoming spoiling win. File photo by Bill Landon

“From a young age you could tell the kid was super athletic — he stood out among his peers, and from there, he put in a ton of hard work to really hone that and continue to stay ahead of the pack,” said Harborfields baseball coach Casey Sturm, who coached Buda since he was in seventh grade. “He was a special player, and what really stood out at the end of his tenure wasn’t even so much what he did at the plate but his defense in the outfield and ability to pitch were huge.”

In Suffolk County’s 5-4 loss to Nassau June 8 at St. Joseph’s College, Buda tossed a baseball for what might be the last time. The pitcher and outfielder took over on the mound in the bottom of the fifth and retired the side in order.

“To end my high school baseball career being selected to play alongside players that were drafted to the MLB or heading off to colleges like Vanderbilt to play baseball is just awesome,” Buda said, although he joked if he let up a homerun he might not have been as happy. “To get on the mound and face those guys one last time was a great way to go out, and luckily, I did pretty good.”

A week later, he’d put down his glove and bat to strap on some football equipment.

In the Empire Challenge game, he made a 30-yard reception during a play he wasn’t even slated to be a part of. Knowing Northport quarterback Ryan Walsh, he said during the call in the huddle he told Walsh he could beat out the kid that was guarding him deep. Walsh trusted him, and Buda delivered. A step ahead of the defender, he said there was no way he was letting the ball drop.

Gavin Buda rips the ball deep into the outfield during the Blue Chip Prospects Grand Slam Challenge. File photo by Bill Landon

His two-year head coach Rocco Colucci said for him personally the moment was fitting. Being a teacher at Northport he’d coached Walsh on the junior varsity level.

“This is why I coach football,” he said. “To see these guys grow and excel.”

He said too it was a privilege to watch Buda excel the way he did.

“Right off the bat I knew he was going to be a playmaker,” Colucci said. “His hard work showed. He was always looking to get better. He was very coachable — anything I told him to do, he’d do it. And because of that, [when other teams] put their best defensive players on him,  he’d still make the catch. He likes that type of best-on-best competitiveness in football, and there’s a lot of areas in football where he excels.”

Buda will be taking his talents to Hobart and William Smith Colleges to join the football team, but said he’ll never forget where he came from.

“Harborfields is a great school, but for some reason we are always under the radar in athletics — it’s a smaller school so I guess that’s why,” he said, adding that while other top athletes chose St. Anthony’s or Chaminade, he never questioned becoming a Tornado. “There were some great players that came through Harborfields before me, and there’ll be more after me. I just hope that I did my part to help put Harborfields sports on the map. The experience these last two weeks of playing in both all-star games is something I will carry with me forever.”

This version was updated June 20 at 12:43 a.m. to indicate that Gavin Buda is the first Suffolk County athlete to be chosen for both all-star games, not Long Island. 

By Bill Landon

After a New York City 30-yard Hail Mary touchdown pass, the team went for a two-point conversion to outright win its third straight Empire Challenge football game under Hofstra University’s Friday night lights, but Long Island’s James Lyons, of Sayville, batted away the two-point conversion pass in a 28-27 thriller.

Up to that point Westhampton running back Dylan Laube has been the center of all things Long Island offense June 15, powering his way to three touchdowns — accumulating 151 all-purpose yards. He was voted most outstanding player of the game.

He opened Long Island’s scoring running off left tackle on the opening play of the second quarter and punching into the end zone to help tie the game 7-all.

Miller Place’s Tyler Ammirato, Long Island’s defensive captain, called signals on the field in an attempt to contain an explosive NYC offensive attack. His plan ended up in a Long Island defensive stop to take over on downs, and Laube was back to work on offense. Farmingdale’s Bryan DeFelice made the extra-point kick following Laube’s second touchdown to put Long Island out front 14-7 with three minutes left in the third.

“It’s an awesome experience — you read the paper every week and you see all these guy’s names and to finally meet them and get to play with them,” Ammirato said. “I thought, ‘Our defensive stand right here will be the turning point of this game — we’ve got to get a stop right here,’ but our offense is [also very] talented, they’ll punch it in.”

After NYC retied the game, Harborfields wide receiver Gavin Buda ran a sideline route and grabbed a 39-yard pass from Northport quarterback Ryan Walsh to put Long Island in excellent field position.

Buda, the only athlete in history to be chosen for both the Empire Challenge and the Blue Chip Prospects Grand Slam Challenge baseball game earlier this month, said it was a fitting way to conclude his high school career.

“It’s sad, but this is one of the greatest games I’ve ever played in my life,” Buda said. “To meet all of these great superstars that I’ve played against and I’ve seen on the field, and to be friends with them now and to be their teammates, is just amazing experience that I’m going to remember for the rest of my life.”

Laube finished what Buda started for a 21-14 advantage to end the scoring for the third. A rare NYC miscue helped Westhampton’s Nola Quinlan pick off a pass and nearly return it for a touchdown before being forced out of bounds with 32 seconds left in the quarter. NYC’s defense was able to make a stop that forced Long Island to try for a 36-yard field goal attempt, which was blocked.

With just over eight minutes left NYC made it a new game 21-all, but Long Island let time tick off the clock on a long drive to three consecutive first downs before Oceanside wide receiver Derek Cruz’s old-school flea-flicker jump ball. Cruz faked continuing his run and tossed the ball back to quarterback Tommy Heuer, who waited for Massapequa wide receiver Owen Glascoe to break free.

Heuer hit Glascoe in the end zone for a 34-yard touchdown pass and DeFelice added his fourth extra-point kick for a 28-21 lead with 41 seconds left, which ended up being the game-winning point.

Ward Melville linebacker Zach Hobbes, who was instrumental in the Patriots’ rout of West Geneseein the state lacrosse championship the weekend prior, was euphoric taking part in his final football game.

“I can’t think of a better way to end my senior year,” Hobbes said. “Winning a state championship and then to play in front of 9,000 people for the last game of my varsity football career, and to get a win like that, it’s an unbelievable experience.”

With time running out NYC went hurry-up offense and hit three consecutive pass plays down the sideline, getting out of bounds each time to stop the clock and save what precious seconds remained. With five seconds left,  NYC quarterback Mike Nicosia threw the Hail Mary to the left corner of the end zone, where he found Titus Leo, who made the catch as time expired.

“That was a crazy experience — that’s just how I expected the game to go,” Buda said. “I knew both teams would put up a fight and right when we scored that last touchdown I knew you could not count them out. We had to make a defensive stop, but they drove down; they’re a great team. Our defense came up with a humongous stop and that sealed the deal.”

Shoreham-Wading River’s Tyler McAuley was unable to play in the 23rd annual Empire Challenge football game. Ward Melville outside linebacker Thomas Kutchma and running back Nicholas Messina; Miller Place defensive end Matthew McNulty; and Northport quarterback Ryan Walsh were other area athletes that took part in the senior all-star game.

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