Times of Middle Country

File photo by Victoria Espinoza

Suffolk County police 4th Precinct crime section officers are investigating an incident during which a man allegedly asked a juvenile to expose himself.

A 16-year-old boy was jogging in Lake Grove April 13 at around 10 a.m. when a man driving a white refrigerated box truck started following the boy and allegedly asked him to expose himself. The teen refused and the driver left.

The man was described as white, had read hair and in his mid-30s. He was missing teeth. The truck had a flower logo on the cab doors.

Anyone with information is asked to call 4th Precinct crime section at 631-854-8426 or call Crime Stoppers anonymously at 1-800-220-TIPS (8477). All calls will be kept confidential.

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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.

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.

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin speaks about the expansion of the VetsSuccess on Campus program to Suffolk and Nassau community colleges at a press conference in Selden April 4. Photo from Lee Zeldin

Students who have served and their families are receiving some transitional support.

U.S. Reps. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) and Peter King (R-Seaford) announced the expansion of the VetsSuccess on Campus program to Suffolk and Nassau County community colleges. The initiative, through the Department of Veterans Affairs, helps veterans, service members and their qualified dependents succeed in school using a coordinated delivery of on-campus benefits assistance, including referral services and peer-to-peer counseling. The program is intended to lead students to graduation and prepare them to enter the workforce in viable careers.

Services may be accessed by:

  • Service members and veterans eligible for any of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs educational programs, including Post 9/11 GI Bill and Montgomery GI Bill
  • Service members and veterans attended training through the VA’s Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment program
  • Eligible dependents of veterans who are in receipt of VA education benefits, including spouses attending school through the Post 9/11 GI Bill and eligible children

“Our nation’s servicemen and women put their lives on the line to protect us, and when they return home, they have earned nothing less than our unwavering support when transitioning back into civilian life,” Zeldin said during an announcement of the program’s expansion at Suffolk County Community College April 4. “The expansion of the VetsSuccess on Campus program means local veterans here at Suffolk and Nassau will have access to an even wider rage of tools at their disposal to help them transition into their new lives after military service.”

Suffolk County is home to the largest number of veterans in the state. SCCC serves more than 700 military-connected students annually across three campuses, and NCCC serves more than 300.

Students like retired Air Force Master Sgt. Olivia McMahon benefit from the program, and she said she’s thrilled to hear that what she was once provided remote access to will now feature a more personal connection to resources and benefits.

“As a single working parent and veteran, I cannot stress enough the importance of this program,” the SCCC student said. “It allows us to reach our educational goals and further educate our community.”

VetsSuccess on-ampus counselors provide:

  • Adjustment counseling to resolve problems interfering with completion of educational programs and entrance into employment
  • Vocational testing
  • educational and career counseling
  • Expedited VR&E services
  • Support and assistance to all veterans with VA benefits regardless of entitlement, benefit usage or enrollment status

Christopher Holder, the VetsSuccess on-campus program counselor, was at the April 4 press conference to talk to veterans about his position in the program and share firsthand experience with re-acclimating to society.

“As a veteran, as a disabled veteran, I have made the transition these students are making now,” he said. “I hope that my experience on both sides, as a veteran and as an administrator, will help these veterans make theirs.”

During the event, Zeldin and King presented SCCC Vice President of Student Affairs, Dr. Christopher Adams, with an American flag flown over the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., to commemorate the expansion of the program and to honor the veterans it serves.

“Suffolk County Community College has a long history of assisting student veterans and maximizing their benefits and achieving their educational goals,” Adams said. “They deserve it and we are honored to be able to recognize their service to our country in this way.”

VetsSuccess on Campus began as a pilot program in 2009 at the University of South Florida in Tampa and has expanded to such an extent that SCCC and Nassau are now two of 99 colleges in the nation with the program.

By David Zeitler
Above, Lila Clark-Clonts holds a baby goat at Benner’s Farm; below, her winning entry. Photo by Heidi Sutton
Above, David Zeitler can’t wait to see the show; below, his winning entry. Photo by Heidi Sutton
Happy Spring!

Thanks to all the children who entered our Spring Coloring Contest! We had so many wonderful submissions making for some stiff competition. Congratulations to Lila Clark-Clonts, age 8, of Setauket and David Zeitler, age 5, of Port Jefferson! Both children received a family four pack to Theatre Three’s adorable children’s show, “The Adventures of Peter Rabbit.”

Special thanks to Theatre Three for sponsoring our contest. Be sure to look for our next contest for Mother’s Day in Arts & Lifestyles and check out the other wonderful entries in next week’s issue.

By Lila Clark-Clonts
By David Zeitler

Smithtown West's Reed Greco moves the ball across the field while Middle Country's Tom Stock chases after him. Photo by Jim Ferchland

By Jim Ferchland

In the rainy and windy conditions, junior attacker Marc Cottage and the Smithtown West Bulls dismantled
Middle Country Mad Dogs on  its home turf.

Scoring the first four goals for boys lacrosse team April 3, Cottage sparked the Bulls offense with a team-high eight points in a 15-3 victory at Newfield High School. He helps keep their season perfect so far at 4-0 and gave Middle Country its third loss of the year (1-3).

Smithtown West’s Marc Cottage shoots past a Middle Country defender. Photo by Jim Ferchland

“It felt good,” Cottage said about his performance. “I thought our offense played great in the first quarter. It was a good team win.”

The Bulls got an early first quarter advantage leading 5-1 after a Danny Caddigan goal with 3:15 left. The game was tied at one point after Cottage’s first goal in the first minute. Then, Middle Country’s Tom Stock found the back of the net 43 seconds later to tie at up at 1-1.

Not much scoring happened in the second quarter, but it was Kyle Zawadzki who scored all two of Smithtown West’s goal in the 12 minutes. His first goal gave the Bulls a 6-1 lead, assisted by Christian Lowd with 10:46 left. Middle Country’s Jacob Hyman had an unassisted goal 1 minute, 13 seconds later to cut the deficit back to four, but Zawadzki’s shot in final minute hit its mark to make it 7-2 Bulls at the half.

There was a combined 28 points scored between 12 different players for Smithtown West. The Bulls had 13 assists on 15 goals.

“Everyone was contributing,” Zawadzki said. “It wasn’t just one person, even though Cottage did have seven goals. He was just capitalizing on all the opportunities he had.”

The Bulls put the game away in the third quarter, outscoring the Mad Dogs 5-1, giving the Bulls a nine-point advantage at 12-3. Matt Caddigan scored 48 seconds into the quarter and was assisted by John Hoffman, who had four assists on the afternoon. Andrew Arce also had a goal and an assist for the Bulls. Three of Cottage’s seven goals came in the third, with one of them finding the back of the net in the final four seconds of the quarter.

Hoffman, Cole Vencak and Troy Riley all had good, unanswered goals in the fourth for the Bulls to win 15-3.

Even though he’s a junior, Cottage sees himself as a captain of the team.

“I always have seen myself as a leader,” Cottage said. “I’m pretty sure all the starters feel that way — to teach the younger kids — just to be the best and play well.”

Smithtown West’s Christian Lowd races up the field. Photo by Jim Ferchland

Stock found the net twice for the Mad Dogs and going up against Smithtown West, he wanted to do exactly just that.

“They’re a pretty good team,” Stock said oft Smithtown West. “They’re ranked pretty high. I was just trying to score some goals.”

Smithtown West played with three different goaltenders in Cameron Young, Kyle Walker and Mike Simone. Adam Hyman stayed in the entire game as the only goalkeeper for Middle Country. He had nine saves on the afternoon. He said the team will bounce back from the loss.

“We just need to work hard in practice and take this loss as a ‘W,’” Hyman said. “We just have to keep on working hard. This loss motivates the whole team to get better because no one likes to lose.”

Middle Country head coach Chris Siragusa said that Smithtown West is the best team they will face all year. Middle Country finished 5-9 in Division I last year, and lost 16 seniors from that squad, boasting a majority
of freshmen and sophomore this year.

“I think it’s just [about gaining] experience for our guys, because of the youth,” Siragusa said. “Stock and [Jacob] Hyman are both sophomores and they’re going to be part of the future. They were part of the team last year when their heads were spinning. I think it’s just about getting older and maturing.”

Smithtown West will look to stay undefeated when it hits the road to face Northport April 5 at 10 a.m. Middle
Country wants to retaliate after the loss with an at-home contest against Sachem North at 4 p.m.

Kids get their heads shaved at the annual St. Baldrick's event at Centereach Fire Department March 16. Photo by Doug Dickerson

By Kyle Barr

On the night before St. Patrick’s Day, hair rained down onto the floor of Centereach Fire Department. People clapped and cheered as blonde, brown and even green-dyed hair fell from amused faces before being swept away during the annual St. Baldrick’s charity event to raise money for childhood cancer research March 16.

Area local Aimee Jackson watched her teenage son Zachary get shaved, the first head of the night to go bald. It was his fourth time participating, and every year the duo has tried to raise more and more money.

“The first time he did it he was little — 5 years old — we both did it,” she said. “He’s shaving in honor of his twin brother, Kendall, who passed away just before their fifth birthday.”

Zachary Jackson has his head shaved in honor of his twin brother, Kendall, who died of cancer at age 4. Photo by Kyle Barr

The Middle Country Youth Civic Association and Centereach Fire Department joined with local sponsors to host the fourth annual event. Before the buzzer even started sounding, the team of brave bald-headed
community members raised close to $30,000. By Monday, the event had raised over $47,000, close to twice the original $25,000 goal, according to event organizer Doug Dickson. The largest donor was 12-year-old Austin Vero, who raised over $15,000 alone.

“Thank God for our barbers — with all the hair on the ground, they bring their own guys, they’re sweeping all the time,” Dickson said, laughingly.

The night was full of Irish flavor with the inclusion of FDNY Emerald Society bagpipers and Irish step dancers from Mulvihill-Lynch Studio of Irish Dance in Lake Ronkonkoma. Attendees were decked in green from head to toe, including Rob “Squid” Wilson, who was one of many prospective head-shavers to dye their hair green.

Wilson has been hosting local St. Baldrick’s events for 16 years. This year, he dressed in a bright green shamrock coat and a green tiara.

“My team is the Squid and the Squires,” Wilson said. “Each team is a bunch of clowns like us who are doing it for the right reasons.”

He and his friend Tom Duffy have been involved and shaved their heads every year since their first rodeo.

“It’s important to show kids it’s not a big deal to get their heads shaved,” Duffy said. “My big thing is I feel if [scientists] can cure cancer with kids — they can cure cancer.”

Members of the Suffolk County Police
Department shave their heads at the event. Photo by Doug Dickerson

Several staff members at the fire department joined in the shaving spirit, including Assistant Chief Joseph Feola.

“It’s a huge event — one of the bigger events we have,” Feola said. “It’s great to see all this support from the community.”

Nine barbers and hairdressers volunteered their time to shave heads, including the owner of Rockabilly Barbers of Stony Brook’s Vinnie Ferrara. He and his crew of barbers have also been involved in the event for 16 years.

“The greatest thing about it is that we’ve been doing it for so long and seen so much money raised,” Ferrara said. “It just goes to a great cause.”

“The people are so into it,” owner of Centereach-based Blondie’s Creations Inc. Mary Beth Mastando said. She and her team have been shaving heads at the event for three years.

“The community gets together, and everybody helps,” Mastando said. “They’re excited to be shaving their head, and I’m the one doing it, so that’s pretty cool.”

The Centereach St. Baldrick’s organizers are accepting donations until next year’s event. To join in the cause, visit www.stbaldricks.org/events/mypage/10953/2018.

Dawnwood Middle School's boys basketball and cheerleading teams. Photo from Cindy Buzaid

Seventh-grader Chris Buzaid may be the smallest kid on the basketball court at 4-10, but when it comes to drive, hustle and spirit, there’s nobody bigger.

During a midseason game against Brentwood North this past December, the 12-year-old guard for Centereach’s Dawnwood Middle School dove onto a loose ball with some physically imposing players from the other team. He ended up with the ball, and a bloody lip. But when his coach, Tim Dowler, tried to take him off the court, worried about the injury, Chris begged to be allowed to keep playing.

Dawnwood Middle School student Chris Buzaid with current New York Knicks NBA player Joakim Noah. Photo from Cindy Buzaid

“I ended up having to take Chris out for a bit, and then, when he eventually went back in, he just took the game over,” Dowler said.

Within a couple minutes Buzaid had three steals in a row and hit three jumpshots to lead Dawnwood to victory. The team of seventh- and eighth-graders would end the season in January undefeated for the first time in school history since 1974 — a feat Dowler said Chris contributed largely to.

“He just went right back out there and faced the same bigger kids, showing no fear,” the coach said. “It would be very easy for someone like him to want to play a little softer and feel a little afraid, but that isn’t him.”

Chris isn’t just a star athlete — he started playing travel basketball in fourth grade, has been on three of the best Amateur Athletic Union boys teams in the New York metropolitan area and is an accomplished cross-country runner. He is also among Dawnwood Middle School’s brightest students; he’s currently in the National Honor Society and has a 99.5 GPA, with a particular interest in science and history, and a tendency to help fellow students who may be struggling in certain subjects.

“He’s an amazing student and such a good Dawnwood citizen — Chris always does what’s right,” Dawnwood Middle School Principal Kristi Leonard said of the district’s former student of the month. “He’s definitely a natural leader and just has a great inner confidence. Chris has so many commitments in and out of school, balances clubs and sport activities while maintaining near-perfect grades.”

Chris Buzaid Photo from Cindy Buzaid

So it makes sense that Chris has been chosen as one of six finalists in a special competition presented by the Brooklyn Nets All-Star Awards recognizing junior high school basketball players within the tristate area that “demonstrate grit, determination and a desire to succeed both on the court and in the classroom.” His mother and coach nominated him in the fall and he was announced as a finalist in January, with Dowler saying he “was the perfect person to represent Dawnwood.”

Chris and the other five finalists, some from Brooklyn and Nassau County and others from Connecticut, will be attending the Brooklyn Nets Summer Basketball Clinic and a Brooklyn Nets v. Chicago Bulls NBA game in April. The finalist with the most votes will be announced during that contest, and win a $3,000 grant for their school’s athletic program.

“Chris is such a hardworking, competitive person and always tries to be the best that he can,” said mother Cindy Buzaid. “And now, I think he’s just in the competitive mode of wanting to win this for his school. He really wants to be able to say, ‘I was able to win this for Dawnwood.’ He loves his basketball coach, he loves Dawnwood and he’s really excited.”

Cindy Buzaid said she felt her son exhibited all the required traits of a stellar scholar-athlete when she put his name in the ring — grit, dedication, character, academics and teamwork. In her nomination letter to the organization, she wrote of her son’s maturity and strength through tough situations. Between the ages of 3 and 6, Chris witnessed his father, Jim Buzaid, be diagnosed with Stage 4 non-Hodgkin
lymphoma. While his father is now in remission, Chris carried a lot of those early memories with him as he grew up.

“Chris knew what cancer was before any kid should,” his mother said. “It made him a tough kid — made him grow up a little faster than others. Chris is such a fun-loving kid, but I believe the whole thing made him a more serious person and learn not to take things for granted. He was always very protective of me at that time and worried a lot about me getting sick, too.”

Jackie and Chris Buzaid. Photo from Cindy Buzaid

She said it makes sense that her son fell into basketball, as his older sister, Jackie Buzaid has spent most of her life playing the sport.

A Centereach High School graduate, Jackie Buzaid played basketball throughout her adolescence and currently plays as a senior at Mount St. Mary’s University in Maryland.

She remembers her brother always tagging along with her for pickup games at the park and watching her play from the sidelines at school. It also didn’t take long for him to develop his own competitive spirit, she said.

“Christopher doesn’t settle for mediocrity,” Jackie Buzaid said. “I remember when we would go shoot at our local park, he would always have to make three 3-pointers before he could leave. My brother’s determination to constantly improve and excel are what make him stand out from others. But he’s also kind and generous, and has a way of making people smile.”

It’s still up in the air as to what exactly the grant money will go toward within the athletic department, but whatever it is, Chris said he just hopes it will help the school.

“I’m really happy that I might have a chance to win money for Dawnwood, because I really want my coaches and friends and all the other kids in my school to be able to have something new,” he said. “Being a good student and athlete is important to me because I get to be healthy, active, one of the top kids in my class and I really like to help others who need help.”

To vote for Chris visit the Brooklyn Nets website www.nba.com/nets/community/2017-18/allstarawards.

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Team takes Division I title in Syracus, three Middle Country girls place in Top 10 in scoring

Middle Country’s girls bowling team took home its first state title since 2013 March 11 in Syracuse. Photo from Nicole Lettich

With a difficult oil pattern on the lane, the Middle Country girls bowling team knew what it was going to take to win a state title — and it had the talent to spare.

“We knew it would be tough bowling on a more challenging pattern, but we knew spares were going to be so important,” senior Nicole Lettich said. “As most of us say, strikes win games, but spares win tournaments. We are a strong team and knew we could take on whatever was thrown at us. We just needed to focus each game and make good shots. That’s exactly what we did.”

Amanda Scarfogliero leads off for Middle Country’s girls bowling team. Photo from Amanda Scarfogliero

Lettich, noted by head coach Mandy Dominguez as the most consistent bowler on the team, averaged a 191.67 over six games.

“She did great, she’s steady,” Dominguez said of his one of four seniors.

With her team up by just 118 pins heading into a crucial Game 6, she bowled a 223 to help seal the deal and a state title March 11 in Syracuse.

“My parents tell me all the time that I bowl with a poker face and don’t let bad scores phase me,” Lettich said. “I don’t really put any added pressure on myself, I just focus on making my spares and throwing good shots. When I throw a bad shot, I shake it off and get ready for the next frame.”

Lettich, who finished Sunday ranked fourth in New York, was one of three Middle Country bowlers to rank in the Top 10 in scoring. Junior Amanda Scarfogliero (No. 7) and freshman Hannah Skalacki (No. 2) were the others.

“I’ve never had a team improve in the offseason the way that this team did,” Dominguez said. “Last year we only had one 200 bowler, and this year I had five. The girls really stepped it up, and have so much grit and determination. We had a 280-pin lead at one point in the tournament and to lose that lead is hard for any team in any sport, losing a lead late in the game. They gut it out and brought it back. It says so much about their resiliency and willingness to never give up.”

Middle Country’s girls bowling teammates were all smiles on the bus ride home after being crowned state champions. Photo from Nicole Lettich

Middle Country won a state title in 2013 and since lost three battles to East Islip and one to Sachem for a ticket upstate. This year the girls took the league title before overcoming that county hurdle with a 43-pin win, and weren’t going to let an oil pattern stop them from going all the way. Scarfogliero said the team practiced for the 41-foot Tower of Pisa Kegel pattern, asymmetric in design with a shift to the inside, in the weeks leading up to the tournament. After averaging 215 at the county tournament, Middle Country finished with a 180 average upstate, according to Dominguez, proving even with practice how difficult the sport pattern can be.

“It was a whole new atmosphere,” said Scarfogliero, who leads off for her team. “It took us by surprise, but we worked together as a team so the oil pattern wasn’t as hard. We helped each other and with the oil pattern being so hard I didn’t even think I was going to make it up there [in scoring], but that wasn’t even a priority for me. I wanted to put my team in the best position to win states.”

For Skalacki, her freshman status shouldn’t be misunderstood. The three-year varsity team member bowled a 193.83 average, just about three pins under first. As the team’s anchor, she said there’s a lot of pressure when her team needs extra points at the end of each game, but she thrives under it.

Middle Country’s girls bowling team hoists up the state championship banner. Photo from Middle Country school district

“If we need a certain amount of pins to win, I have to get them, but I love the attention and the competition,” said Skalacki, who was strongest in the first three games, bowling a tournament-high 226 for Game 1. “It’s heart-dropping, and I love knowing I play a big part in helping the team come out with a win.”

She said after finally topping East Islip, she knew Middle Country had a lot to prove, and the team wasn’t going to settle for anything less than a perfect finish.

“We had the biggest motivation to win,” she said. “Now people know Middle Country and know how good we are. We wanted to prove people wrong — to show we have what it takes — and we did it.”

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Bowling right up twins’ alley

Bowling is how the Lettich twins roll.

The duo each competed for a state title last weekend in Syracuse, and clean swept their senior season with gold medals in their respective tournaments.

“It’s honestly breathtaking to make it this far and win it all,” Nicole Lettich said, noting that she was on the 2013 state championship winning team, but didn’t yet have the skills to be invited to compete. “Going to the state tournament with my brother who I’ve been so close with was probably the most amazing thing I could have done in my senior year.”

Middle Country twins Nicole and Thomas Lettich took home state gold. Photo from Nicole Lettich

The twins’ mother bowled in high school, and found they had their own itch to compete after competing in a league in second grade.

“Bowling is such an underrated sport in high school, and to finally win it all proves to schools that bowling shouldn’t be brushed under the carpet, but actually acknowledged more because it is a very difficult sport,” she said. “A lot of people don’t see it that way.”

Middle Country finished with a grand total 5,332 pins, nearly 200 ahead of second-place finisher Orchard Park (5,157). Her brother Thomas Lettich competed on the Section XI boys All-Star team. He’d averaged 224 during the regular season, and said even though he’d won his team’s MVP awards, and was named an All-Star, All-County and All-League bowler, he was most confident competing because of the last month’s worth of practicing six day a week.

“I have grown so much over the years, improving my physical and mental game,” he said. “Since I am a lefty and had an advantage and disadvantage since I’m the only one on the left side. The lanes were brand new, so I knew it was going to be difficult, but being chosen to compete on this team with a group of boys that I was very close with and were fun to bowl with was a goal of mine.”

He said it was a unique experience competing alongside his sister.

“When I am bowling bad she supports me and helps me, and when she’s bowling bad I support her and help her,” Thomas Lettich said. “She unfortunately didn’t have the ability to watch me, but I was able to cheer her on in her match and it was exciting to have the chance to be together. We had great accomplishments and it’s a great way to go out.”

The 2017 TBR News Media People of the Year were honored at the Three Village Inn in Stony Brook March 11. The 2017 honorees are Margo Arceri, Christine Austen, Building Bridges, Champions for the Autistic (Priscilla Arena, Joe Camarda, Pete Costa, Stephanie Mendelson and Tristan Whitworth), Nicole Christian, Frank and Kelli Cutinella, Ed Darcey, Debbie Engelhardt, Joseph Higgins, Charles Lefkowitz, Joseph and Maddie Mastriano, Reboli Center, Frank Rivera, Joseph Rizzo, Jack Soldano, Suffolk County Police Department’s 6th Precinct officers, John Turner, Tuscany Gourmet Market and James Vosswinkel.

TBR News Media would like to thank Stony Brook University, the Three Village Inn, Dan Lafitte and the Lessing Family for sponsoring the reception, the Setauket Frame Shop for framing the award certificates, and Beverly Tyler for being our event photographer.

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