Sports

Annual game against Mount Sinai memorializes the late alumna for her kindness, giving nature

By Desirée Keegan

Hundreds came out to show support for a local girl who gave to others.

In 2011, Rocky Point High School graduate Susie Facini died of a sudden heart attack. She was 19 years old. Since then, the Eagles and Mount Sinai’s baseball team have faced off each year to raise money for a scholarship in the name of a girl who was known for her immediate impact on everyone she met.

“All of them universally buy into what we’re trying to get across, and that is kindness,” said Facini’s father Peter, who tossed a ceremonial first pitch. “It takes courage to be kind sometimes — to step out of your comfort zone and reach out to somebody. And conversely, if you’re in trouble and you need help, you need to be able to ask somebody for help. It’s a difficult world and these kids give us great [hope].”

Without warning, Facini had felt her heart race, and passed out just seconds later. Despite efforts by her mother, Bernadette, a registered nurse, Facini was unable to be revived. The mother said she’s moved each and every year by how the community and the teams react to the game, especially now that most of the current student-athletes had never met her daughter.

“It comes down through the teachers, the parents; ‘Who is this girl, what does she mean to people and why?’ and they all do it proudly,” she said. “We are humbled by it every year and we’re shocked that it gets bigger and bigger. These are absolutely remarkable, nice boys. This event is really wonderful, and we’re lucky.”

Rocky Point senior pitcher and outfielder Ryan Callahan dedicated his time and efforts, taking part in the fundraiser that gathered $500 for the scholarship through food sales and raffles.

“I didn’t know her, but anyone you talk to says she was such a great person,” Callahan said. “I heard from everyone who’d known her that she was such an amazing human being, always so kind to everyone and left such a big and lasting impact on people. This is just our way to memorialize that.”

Jessica LaCascia, Facini’s longtime friend and classmate, said it’s the type of event her friend would’ve been first in line for.

“She would be dancing in the dugout like they are,” she said, pointing to the teammates that shook their hips to the music that played between each inning. “Susie was friends with everybody — there was not a stranger in her life. She was just such a bright light. Anytime she entered a room you couldn’t help but laugh; she commanded all of the attention. [I look around] and I don’t know anyone here, so I’m so thankful for all the people here coming out to celebrate what her life meant.”

Donations to the Live Like Susie Memorial Scholarship can be made in person or by mail to the high school at 90 Rocky Point-Yaphank Road, Rocky Point, NY, 11778.

Bill Landon contributed reporting

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Starting pitcher slams a double, scores game-winning run to go with 11 Ks during his complete game

Starting southpaw Max Nielsen hurls a pitch. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Nothing is stopping Ward Melville’s starting pitcher Max Nielsen from winning a game.

Trading a ball for a bat, the lefty led off the bottom of the fourth with a double, knocking the ball into the outfield on a bad bounce, and two more hits eventually scored what would be the game-winning run in a 2-1 Patriots victory over Patchogue-Medford April 17.

Brady Doran gets under an infield popup. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Nielsen, who added 11 strikeouts from the mound during a complete game while allowing just three hits and one walk, said he knew he’d won the game once he crossed home plate.

“I knew that was going to be the run that’d win it for us,” the southpaw said. “Because I knew I wasn’t going to give up another run.”

The junior allowed hits in the first and second and hit a batter in the second before a Patchogue-Medford bunt loaded the bases. He struck out the following hitter but allowed the only run later in the same inning. He surrendered his only walk in the top of the fourth, but also struck out two to get back on track.

“I always try to give my team the best opportunity to win,” Nielsen said. “I wanted to get ahead with the fastball, because once I get ahead I can start going through my other pitches and making it harder on the hitters. I had a rough second inning, but my defense got me out of it.”

Logan Doran and Kyle Rafferty each went 2-for-3 with a stolen base. Doran scored the Patriots’ only other run, and his brother Brady Doran also went 2-for-3. While the brothers said Ward Melville was slow to start, the Patriots are now firing on all cylinders, feeling in their element.

Brady Doran, Kyle Rafferty and Alex Russo leap up in celebration after the win. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“I wanted to attack the fastball, and he had a pretty good curveball,” junior second baseman Brady Doran said of Patchogue-Medford’s pitcher. “I’m comfortable, stay confident and try to attack the fastball and hit it hard. We gel; we’re a close team that really plays well together.”

Nielsen shared a similar sentiment, but said the funny feelings from the team’s uneven start are gone now.

“I can’t think of a weakness,” he said. “Our defense is great, I know all of the pitchers on staff are going to give us a great game and we hit.”

Head coach Lou Petrucci said he thought his southpaw controlled the game, and said he liked that he stayed under 100 pitches. Petrucci said the Raiders’ record didn’t fool him (2-7), because he knew he’d be facing a challenging opponent.

“Randall [Alejo] pitched a great game and we got away with a win today,” he said. “It’s a big rivalry game. We tried to have good at -bats, put good swings on the ball, we didn’t strike out much and the kids are showing great improvement. Our pitching staff is keeping the scores down, and now we’re working on getting the clutch hits, but we’re playing hard.”

The Patriots have now won five straight and are tied with Sachem East (7-2) at the No. 2 spot in League I behind Longwood (8-1). Ward Melville travels to Patchogue-Medford for Game 2 of the series. The first pitch is scheduled for 4:15 p.m.

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Wolverines win crosstown rival battle in close finish

Newfield's Joe Rubenstrunk tags a Centereach runner out at second. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Back-to-back one-run innings put Newfield ahead to earn a 2-1 win over crosstown rival Centereach April 17.

Newfield pitcher Bobby Vath hurls a pitch. Photo by Bill Landon

Chandler Giovinco and Dylan Johnson both hit doubles to put Newfield on the board and tie the score in the bottom of the fourth, and Joey Rubenstrunk scored from second base off the bat of Michael Prisco on a fielder’s choice to put Newfield (8-1) ahead and earn the win in the bottom of the fifth.

“We did a good job at staying poised and focused and making the plays — whenever Newfield plays Centereach things get ratcheted up a little bit,” Newfield head coach Eric Joyner said. “That’s a good team. They came in hot, they put the ball in play and that put pressure on our defense, but [fortunately] they were able to step up and make the plays.”

Before the game even started things got off to a rocky start for Centereach, with the starting pitcher being scratched half an hour before the game as a result of an injury sustained during warmups. The ball was put in the hands of Mark Schnitzer, who went the distance. 

“I told him to focus. Stay composed and be confident — he’s a real pitcher and his mindset is, ‘I don’t care where I’m pitching, what time I’m pitching, I just want the ball,’” Centereach head coach Pete Cammarata said. “He was the best kid to go with after what happened today.”

Centereach’s Liam Webber slides into Newfield shortstop Kyle Johnson while he makes a play. Photo by Bill Landon

Centereach right fielder Devin Demetres started the first inning with a single to right field, then stole second before third baseman Ryan Mahnke smacked the ball through the gap on a full count to send him home.

Liam Webber drew a walk for the Cougars in the top of the third, moving Demetres over to second, and shortstop Ryan DeCoursey hit a sacrifice fly to put both runners in scoring position. With two outs, Newfield’s Giovinco tracked down a deep shot to right field, diving for the ball to come up with a catch that stranded both runners.

“The wind caught that ball, but I knew I had to make that play to help my team out,” Giovinco said.

The junior right fielder’s bat spoke next when he drilled the ball deep to left for a stand-up double in the bottom of the fourth. Johnson, a freshman, protected the plate before he jumped on a pitch he blasted to right field, plating Giovinco to make it a new game, 1-all. Centereach’s Demetres continued to keep himself busy, reeling in another hit to end the inning.

Newfield shortstop Kyle Johnson, Dylan’s brother, was hit by a pitch and took first to load the bases in the bottom of the fifth. Prisco hit an infield ground ball for what was a double-play situation, but the throw to second base was bobbled, getting the ball to first just seconds after the runner as Rubenstrunk dashed for home plate.

Centereach pitcher Mark Schnitzer goes the distance despite being called on to start 20 minutes before the game. Photo by Bill Landon

“Yesterday in practice we were working on getting good leads off the bag and [then sprinting],” Rubenstrunk said. “I saw the ball in play at second, so I took off for home.”

The Cougars bats went back to work in the top of the seventh, but Newfield’s starting pitcher Bobby Vath still had some spark left in him, and the senior retired the side in order by working the corners.

Cammarata said he now knows his team can compete with anyone, saying if one or two plays went the other way, Centereach would’ve come out on top.

“You’ve got to take your hats off to the other team,” he said. “[You put it in the past] and you move on to the next day.”

Centereach hosted Newfield in the second game of the series April 18, but results were not available by press time. Newfield returns to Cougars country April 19 for the final game of the series. The first pitch is scheduled to be tossed at 4 p.m.

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Mustangs remain perfect in League VII with 15-6 victory

Mount Sinai's Jared Donnelly crushes the ball. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Jared Donnelly just keeps swinging away.

Mount Sinai starting pitcher George Rainer threw seven strikeouts in his win over Miller Place April 16. Photo by Bill Landon

The Mount Sinai senior designated hitter went 2-for-2 with a double, three RBIs and three runs scored to lead the Mustangs to a 15-6 win over neighboring Miller Place April 16. Senior first baseman Ryan Picarello was 2-for-3 with two doubles, two RBIs and two runs scored to keep Mount Sinai perfect (6-0) atop the League VII leaderboard. Senior starting pitcher George Rainer walked three and allowed three earned runs while striking out seven over six innings.

“Our lineup has gotten much better — our one through nine can hit the ball really well,” Picarello said. “We looked the other way, we hit a few holes and we had some good swings.”

Miller Place’s Nolan White and Rob Morales had hits that led to scores in the first for an early lead, but starting pitcher Tom Nealis struggled against a fierce lineup.

Picarello, Donnelly, sophomore catcher Nick Cergol, senior outfielder Ethan Angress and sophomore infielder R.J. Kehoe’s recorded hits to get on base in the second to help Mount Sinai to a 7-3 lead.

The Panthers rallied once again in the top of the third, with Morales driving in Kevin Bowrosen, but Mount Sinai sophomore outfielder Paul Gomes extinguished any chance of a comeback when he rushed to shallow center field to make a diving catch on a rapidly dropping ball.

“I got a bad jump on it — my first step was back — so I had to make it up with that dive,” Gomes said. “It stayed in my glove and I made the throw. I got lucky.”

Miller Place’s  Rob Morales reaches for the ball to hold Mount Sinai’s Ethan Angress at first. Photo by Bill Landon

It was all the Panthers offense could muster, as the Mustangs got back to work with Kehoe, Gomes, Donnelly and sophomore second baseman T.J. Werner crossing the plate in the bottom of the third for a 6-run lead, 11-5. Rainer said he felt confident on the mound with his comfortable lead.

“Once we got ahead I just wanted to stay ahead in the count,” he said. “We just kept tacking on runs and that helped me a lot out there. Because it was so windy, I had to make sure I commanded my fastball.”

Head coach Eric Reichenbach said although his Mustangs (7-1 overall) have five shutouts so far this year and boast multiple sluggers, he thinks his team will need to work on playing a more complete game to be able to make a deep run. Donnelly is now boasting a .462 batting average and .576 on base percentage. He’s has 12 hits, 13 RBIs and 13 runs over Mount Sinai’s eight games. Picarello has 11 hits over eight games, driving in eight runs and scoring 12. He has a .478 average and .586 on base percentage.

“We got a good lead, especially through the first few innings, but then we took our foot off the gas,” Reichenbach said. “I like what I see out of my offense — I’ve got a lot of big bats in the lineup, they’re squaring up a lot of baseballs — and we’ve got some team defense.”

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Defense helps contain Sachem East in final quarter to pull out 5-4 win

By Bill Landon

Sachem East sent shock waves through the Smithtown West boys lacrosse team, but the Bulls didn’t back down from the fight.

After the Flaming Arrows scored to draw within one in the fourth, Smithtown West took control and slowed the clock to come away with a 5-4 win during an autism awareness fundraiser game April 14. Smithtown West remains undefeated on the season outscoring opponents 100-34 through eight games.

“First of all, hats off to Sachem East they played a complete game, a great game and they tested us in every phase of play today.”

— Bob Moltisanti

“First of all, hats off to Sachem East they played a complete game, a great game and they tested us in every phase of play today,” Smithtown West head coach Bobby Moltisanti said. “Defensively we did a great job, our short stick midfielders did a great job as well, so hats off to them and to our goalie holding them to just four goals. And on offense we got the job done and got the victory.”

The Bulls struggled against Sachem East’s (3-5 overall, 3-4 League I) stout defense early, with long sticks swatting at every pass and scooping up sever loose balls, taking four direct takeaways.

Midfielder Andrew Arce scored his first of three goals off a feed from attack John Hoffman for the early lead at the 7:46 mark of the opening quarter, but as with most of the game, Sachem East answered. Just 34 seconds later, Peter Engleken’s solo shot stretched the netting to even the score.

Smithtown West showed its a threat from every position when defenseman Kevin went the distance a minute later and scored.

Again, it was Engleken that made it a new game before Hoffman, who leads his team in scoring with 21 goals and 10 assists, broke the stalemate with four minutes remaining in the half on a feed from attack Marc Cottage.

“There was nothing easy about it. They cut our lead to one and we had to play mistake free if we were going to come out with the win.”

— Andrew Arce

Smithtown West banked its first insurance goal with just under five minutes left in third quarter when Sean Byrne flicked the ball to Arce on the cut, but Sachem East’s Nick Pagnotta dumped one in from close range to once again keep things close.

Arce fired a shot from 20 yards out with 10:35 left in regulation to complete his hat trick and put the Bulls out front again by two, 5-3.

“We knew we had to go back to our basics,” said Arce, a Binghamton University-bound senior. “They were tough on defense and they came at us hard the whole game — there was nothing easy about it. They cut our lead to one and we had to play mistake free if we were going to come out with the win.”

Tyler Jordan scored the final goal for the Flaming Arrows, but Moltisanti credited defenders Kevin Ehli, Reed Greco, Dave Gonzalez and Christian Lowd for holding off Sachem East to close out the game, and Kyle Walker for his 10 saves in goal.

Smithtown West will be tested once again when the Bulls travel to Connetquot (5-2 overall, 5-1 League I) April 18 at 5 p.m.

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By Bill Landon

The rackets of Comsewogue boys tennis team’s doubles players did the talking in a 5-2 takedown of Patchogue-Medford April 13.

Tyler Petruzzi and Srikar Ananthoju eliminated their opponents 6-3, 7-5 for the first of five points in the match at first doubles.

Petruzzi, a team captain who is a consecutive All-League player, said  although he welcomed the warmer weather, the wind presented a challenge.

“We were able to push some balls really deep and that made for some easy volleys at the net.”

— Tyler Petruzzi

“It was definitely easier to push up because of the wind — that was also pushing a lot of balls back our way,” he said. “We were able to push some balls really deep and that made for some easy volleys at the net.”

Ananthoju had competed in singles in the first match of the year against Pat-Med, recently making the switch to doubles.

“I hit my first serves pretty well, but I would have to say we can play better position and we need to focus on strategy,” Ananthoju said.

Head coach Mike Taheny said his first and second double pairings have been the core of the team.

“In order to win, my doubles teams need to sweep, and my doubles do a good job at that,” Taheny said. “My one and two I don’t think have lost yet this season, and my third doubles is a work in progress, but I think they’ll be fine.”

Senior Alan Smith partnered with sophomore Yash Diwan to win in second doubles play 6-4, 6-1.

“They tried to lob it over to us, and it was easy gets they wind would push right back on the ball,” Smith said of his Pat-Med challengers. “I thought we smashed the ball well today.”

“In order to win, my doubles teams need to sweep, and my doubles do a good job at that.”

— Mike Taheny

Diwan thought he played better in the warmer weather, but said he served lighter to stay safe in the wind.

“It was really good weather today,” Diwan said. “My and Alan’s volleys were really on point today.”

Taheny said because of the strength of other singles players in League VI, especially in Pat-Med and Middle Country, and all-around talent at Port Jeff, his team begins each match at a disadvantage.

“We are a bit overmatched at first singles,” he said. “So when we play them, we’re down 1-0 to start — that’s challenging. If we can win out with doubles, we’ll be in a good position. I’m not saying we can’t beat those teams or are going to get blown out, but it’s going to be a competitive match.”

Anthony Romano was the bright spot for the Warriors at second singles, besting his opponent 6-2, 6-3. Taheny said Romano is a solid player for him, predicting his junior will captain the team next year.

Aneish Kompally took a 6-4, 7-3 victory and Ryan Swenning a 6-0, 6-1 win in singles for Comsewogue.

Now at 3-3, the Warriors hit the road to take on Bellport April 18 at 4 p.m.

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By Desirée Keegan

Joe Panico will be taking his football talents far from Miller Place.

The senior defensive tackle has been selected to participate in the American Football Worldwide ELITE High School program, which gives well-accomplished high school football players from throughout the United States an opportunity to travel around the world to compete against the best U19 football players from other countries. This month, Panico and the AFW team will visit Italy. Panico was the only student from New York state who was selected to participate in this opportunity.

Joe Panico. Photo from Miller Place School District

“This was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up — how many players will ever get the chance to play American football in another country?” said Panico. “I’m most looking forward to bonding with new
teammates from all over the country in such a short amount of time, playing for my country and getting to see what the skill level is of the Italian team.”

To qualify for the roster, players needed to have been a starter for their high school team on offense, defense or as a specialist and have a history clear of disciplinary measures. Prior to playing against the Italian team, AFW players will also participate in educational tours of Rome, Vatican City, Tuscany, Siena, Florence, Cinque Terre, Lake Como and Milan.

“We’re extremely proud of Joe and wish him the best,” said Miller Place head football coach Greg Murphy. “This opportunity will enable him to create lifelong connections and experience a different country and  culture in person.”

“Joe has been an incredible role model within the Miller Place school district, both as an accomplished
athlete and as an engaged community member, and we are honored to support him as he pursues this wonderful opportunity,” Superintendent Marianne Cartisano said. “We wish him success at the highest level.”

“I’m most looking forward to …  playing for my country and getting to see what the skill level is of the Italian team.”

— Joe Panico

AFW is committed to providing growth experiences that impact its participants, combining the positive  values developed through American football with the education and academic experiences international travel uniquely provides. The program’s goal is to help young people channel their passion for football, propel them toward a greater understanding of the world and explore new possibilities and dreams for their future.

Team USA head coach Jim Barnes selected players based on evaluations of highlight films.

“Assembling this team that will have the opportunity and responsibility to represent the USA and American football in Italy has been a rewarding experience in and of itself,” Barnes said. “It is inspiring getting to know some incredibly ambitious young men and their supportive families who commit to make big dreams become reality. This international education and athletic tour will be a tremendous growth experience that will expand the horizons for these aspiring student-athletes. This journey will be used as a springboard that propels our AFW ELITE players to more success in college, collegiate football and in life.”

By Rich Acritelli

Legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi once said: “The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather a lack of will.”

Former Port Jefferson Station teacher and coach Tom Hespos holds the words of Lombardi near and dear to him, even reciting them to his former business class students at Comsewogue High School. A three-sport athlete, Hespos had the honor of playing for Lombardi in 1964 before being cut from the Packers’ training team.

Tom Hespos playing for C.W. Post. Photo from Rich Acritelli

Raised in North Bergen, New Jersey, the quarterback and linebacker gained local success for more than his skills on the gridiron. He played baseball and basketball and was coached in the Babe Ruth League by his father, who was also a noted semiprofessional pitcher for the Jersey Blue Sox. Hespos’ mother was known for playing competitive softball.

During his senior year at St. Joseph of the Palisades High School, he captained his football team and performed well, but didn’t see as much time behind two of northern New Jersey’s top quarterbacks. Hespos turned down the chance to toss his mean curveball for the Boston Red Sox and headed to what was then called C.W. Post on scholarship where he played football and majored in business administration.

As a freshman, Hespos blossomed to 6’2’’, 205 pounds and quickly found the Pioneers wanted to take advantage of his passing skills. He took over as starting quarterback his sophomore year and was known for his 80-yard passes downfield.

During a 1964 contest, C.W. Post upset Northeastern University, defeating them 31-10. It was in that game Hespos, then a senior, made history, becoming the first quarterback in school history to reach 400 passing yards in a single game. He completed 22 of 30 passes and threw four touchdowns in the win. By the end of his collegiate career, he also amassed more than 2,000 passing yards, also a first. That year he was selected to the All-Eastern College Athletic Conference Small College Team and the Little All-America Team. He was named the team’s Most Valuable Player in 1963 and 1964 and was captain in 1964. Hespos was the first quarterback to lead C.W. Post to a victory over arch-rival Hofstra University in 1963.

Hespos was said to inspire his team to achieve the Hofstra win, but he credited his teammates.

“They made few mistakes, accepted a team-first mentality,” he said. “I appreciated the big linemen that the coaches placed on the offensive line to adequately protect me.”

For years, Hespos held all of the quarterback records for the Pioneers, that is, until Glen Cove-native Gary
Wichard entered the picture. Wichard was a two-time All-American, professional quarterback for the Baltimore Colts and  was a famous sports agent, who was said to be the inspiration for the main character in the movie Jerry Maguire. 

“They call it coaching, but it is teaching. You do not just tell them … you show them the reasons.”

— Vince Lombardi

Following his senior season, Hespos received letters from professional American and Canadian football organizations inquiring about signing him to a free agent deal. He ended up choosing the Packers, and signed with a modest bonus before being invited to training camp.

Lombardi, a Brooklyn native and former member of the Fordham University football team coached football and basketball at St. Cecilia High School, where he also taught Latin and physics, not far from Hespos’ roots in North Bergen. The coach attended every meeting between the offensive coaches and the quarterbacks, and Hespos recalled the stature of this respected teacher, noting he was “demanding,” and that he expected all his players to “produce.”  

“He had an agile memory that knew everything about every player that was on the field,” Hespos said.

The Port Jefferson Station teacher threw passes next to future Hall of Famer Bart Starr. One of seven quarterbacks invited to train, he was ultimately cut behind Starr’s backup Zeke Bratkowski.

After he left Green Bay, Hespos played for a minor league football organization within the Atlantic Coast League. He was signed by the Jersey City Jets, which had former players that also had professional experience in United States and Canada.

Like at C.W. Post, Hespos was a key member of his squad and helped it win a league championship.  After injuring his shoulder for a second time, Hespos was forced to put his football career behind him. By 1969, he began working at John F. Kennedy High School on Jane Boulevard in Port Jefferson Station. Well before this school received the name Comsewogue Warriors, Hespos coached the Spartans in football, baseball and basketball. In the early 1970s, he was hired to coach football in Sea Cliff for North Shore High School. While this was a long distance from his regular job, this position allowed Hespos the opportunity to coach with his teammates from C.W. Post, who he’d also formed with in a doo-wop group called Spider and the Webs. The group performed in the same venues that also featured The Times and The Duprees. In 1965, they sang at the World’s Fair in Flushing Meadow. Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller recognized the spirit of the group with a certificate.

During Hespos’ three years with North Shore, he helped lead the team to three league titles and a county championship.

Tom Hespos wearing his old Spiders & Webs T-shirt. Photo from Rich Acritelli

In 1975, Hespos began coaching Comsewogue’s varsity baseball team, which instantly became one of the most competitive teams in the county. By 1982, his program reached the pinnacle of excellence with a 27-4 record and winning the state title. Over seven years, Hespos’ teams, which won five league titles, a county title ad Long Island crown before the state nod, regularly won more than 80 percent of its games.

Following the state win, Hespos left coaching to begin Greenway Lawn Sprinklers, which serviced homes from Port Jefferson Station to Montauk and Orient Point.

Hespos’ athletic prowess was further awarded when he was inducted into six halls of fame, including the Hudson County, New Jersey and C.W. Post athletic halls of fame. His 1982 baseball team is also recognized on the Comsewogue Wall of Honor.

“They call it coaching, but it is teaching,” Hespos said recalling the words of Lombardi. “You do not just tell them … you show them the reasons.”

He said even before meeting his acclaimed Packers coach he was moved to become a teacher from some of his former ones.

“I will always remember the coaches and the mentors I had back then,” he said. “The coaches I had at St. Joseph challenged me, motivated me and inspired me.”

Hespos moved to Wading River before heading down to Port St. Lucie, Florida, where he still lives. He is a father of two and grandfather of six, and enjoys fishing, playing golf and watching the New York Mets at their minor league baseball complex.

Rich Acritelli is a social studies teacher at Rocky Point High School and an adjunct professor of American history at Suffolk County Community College.

By Bill Landon

The Patriots proved they have what it takes to go the distance.

After falling to Longwood 90-60 in the first League I matchup of the season, Ward Melville’s girls track and field team reversed the roles at an April 10 home meet against Middle Country, winning 90-60 with help from long-distance runners.

Junior Kate Cochran led the way in the 3,000-meter run with a winning time of 11 minutes, 39.5 seconds. She was pushed by Middle Country’s Kaitlynn Drennan from the moment the gun sounded, with Drennan finishing just six seconds behind her. Things were different in the 1,500, where it was a one, two finish for Ward Melville. Freshman Emma Rathburn crossed the line first at 5:18.1, and Shannon Ryan clocked in at 5:26.3. Drennan rounded out the top three with a 5:47.6 time.

“We studied the statistics — they’re a young team, they’re rebuilding, they have some very talented sprinters, but I knew that our strong events were going to be the distance events, the throws, along with some of the field events,” Ward Melville head coach J.P. Dion said. “From what they had in the winter and from last spring, I knew that this is where we could gain most of our points.”

Ward Melville senior Allyson Gaedje won at 800 in 2:36, a pace well off her personal best but enough to take the title.

Senior captain Kiera Hughes competed in the 100 hurdles, 100 dash, 4×100 relay and long jump. A returning All-County athlete in the spring and winter, she was ranked first in the winter 55 hurdles.

“I thought I did pretty well,” she said of her performances on the afternoon. “I’m happy, but my long jump was my strongest event, and it’s a good way to get back [into a rhythm].”

Hughes finished second in the long jump behind Ward Melville sophomore Allison D’Angio, who bested the field with a 15 feet 2.5 inches leap. Middle Country freshman Jada Hodge placed third covering 12-11.75.

“Kiera helps me out a lot by working with the younger athletes, helping them,” Dion said.

Ward Melville’s Samantha Sturgess, who also ran the 4×100 and 4×800 relays, won the 400 hurdles in 68 seconds. 

“I had a season-best, but it’s not my personal best,” the senior said. “I don’t have a problem getting over the hurdles, but I have to get faster in between.”

Middle Country head coach Charles Cuzzo said he was pleased with what he saw despite how young this year’s squad is.

“We were strongest in the sprints … the kids did very, very well,” he said, noting Maritza Blanchard, Dana Cerbone and Lexie Roth are players his opponents should watch out for. “It’s early in the season, but they keep on improving.”

Dion said he also saw several bright spots on the afternoon, especially with his jumpers.

D’Angio won the triple and the long jump and notched a personal best clearing 5 feet in the high jump, according to Dion.

The coach added Lauren Moore, a freshman,  increased her personal best in the triple jump by 4 feet. She notched another personal best with a 4-inch increase in the high jump, clearing 4-8.

“That’s huge,” said Dion.

The Patriots are back in action April 19 hosting William Floyd at 4:15 p.m. Middle Country is back on the track April 14 at the Coaches Meet at Bay Shore at 9:30 a.m.

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Pete LaSalla rushes through Eastport-South Manor’s defense before rocketing a shot that finds the netting in a loss to the Sharks April 9. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Rocky Point came from behind in the first half, but was victimized by a comeback late in an 8-7 home loss to
Eastport-South Manor April 9.

Up 7-3 heading into the fourth, the Sharks scored five unanswered goals and won the final faceoff with 1:34 left to seal the deal.

Zach Gill carries the ball across the field
despite longstick midfielders’ attempts to hold him back. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“I think we did a good job early on offensively, but as the game went on we had many unnecessary attempts to force goals when we should have killed off time,” said Rocky Point’s Pete LaSalla, who finished with four goals and an assist. “As a team we need to continue to grow and be able to close out games and not let teams come back.”

The senior sparked the Eagles’ response in the first quarter when he scored from the right side 30 yards out unassisted with about a minute left to cut the Sharks’ 2-0 lead in half. Classmate Zach Gill knotted things up less than two minutes into the second to make it a new game, and by the 2:39 mark LaSalla scored his second and third goals for a 4-2 lead. He wrapped up his points in the first half with a dish to Gill for a goal that put Rocky Point up 5-2 heading into the break.

“Through the first three quarters I️ thought we played great as a team, we really put everything together and were playing as a whole,” said sophomore goalkeeper Tyler Kotarski.

Up 6-3, Rocky Point went a man down after a late hit and fended off shot after shot with the first-year varsity starter making multiple stops between the pipes.

“We had great goaltending from Tyler Kotarski,” LaSalla said. “When we went a man down I was happy that our defense stepped up and didn’t let up a goal.”

Tyler Kotarski prepares to put the ball in play after making one of his 12 saves. Photo by Desirée Keegan

The goalie said he was just trying to do his job.

“I was just trying to save every ball that came at me,” Kotarski said. “We killed both of the penalties with only four guys on the field — it felt great to get that defensive stop. During times like that I️ try not to pay attention to the scoreboard and act as every shot could be a game-winning goal.”

LaSalla scored in the final minutes of the third. Also taking faceoffs all evening, he won possession twice in the final quarter, but the Sharks found a way to steal it back, each time scoring to close the gap until the game was knotted at 7-7.

“We just need to keep the momentum going through all four quarters and finish strong,” Kotarski said. “Lacrosse is one of those sports where you can score multiple goals in a short amount of time, and that’s exactly what Petey [LaSalla] did and that’s exactly what they did in return. It’s been a real honor playing on varsity and watching our team improve as a whole. We’ll bounce back from this.”

Rocky Point looked to redeem itself with a game at Mattituck April 11, but results were not available by press time. Rocky Point returns home to take on neighboring Mount Sinai April 13 at 4:30 p.m.

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