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Alex Sobel

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Alex Sober scored a career-high 31 points in Ward Melville’s quarterfinal loss. Photo by John Dielman

By Jim Ferchland

With their first league championship in 28 years, the Patriots’ magical season came to a close. It was a rematch for Ward Melville (17-5) against top dog Half Hollow Hills East (19-2) in the second round of the playoffs on Feb. 20. The Thunderbirds were responsible for ending the Patriots season in 2017. This year, it was the same outcome.

Senior and Quinnipiac University signee Savion Lewis racked up 40 points for Hills East. Meanwhile, senior Alex Sobel countered with a career-high 31 points for Ward Melville, but it wasn’t enough as they came up short 84-72 in the Class AA quarterfinal.

Ray Grabowski finished with 17 points in his final game with the Patriots. Photo by John Dielman

“I expected to win,” Sobel said. “I played well, but it just wasn’t enough. My career-high doesn’t even matter.”

The Patriots had difficulty taking care of the ball, turning it over 17 times, 12 of those coming in the first half.

“We knew that they would get a lot of points in transition,” Sobel said. “That’s what they did. If we didn’t turn the ball over as much, we would have won the game.”

Ward Melville head coach Alex Piccirillo, who brought his team to the postseason all three of his seasons, said it was tough to contain Lewis.

“Savion is the best player in the county,” he said. “He’s going to be voted on that. We knew he was going to get his points.”

Ward Melville Junior Ray Grabowski recorded 17 points and eight rebounds in the loss. Senior Brendan Martin finished his final game with 10 points, five assists and seven turnovers.

Junior guard Robert Soto had nine points, five rebounds and had six turnovers. Despite the loss, Grabowski said the team fought hard.

“I thought everyone played well,” Grabowski said. “I thought Sobel played a great game. It was just a very good team we were up against and there’s not much you can do.”

Ward Melville outscored Hills East in the fourth quarter, 25-22.

“It’s a playoff game in a great playoff atmosphere,” Piccirillo said. “We knew that it was going to be tough. It was either going to take a stop or a big shot to be made for it to swing our way and we just couldn’t get enough momentum to keep it in our direction.”

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Alex Sobel goes up the the rim. Photo by John Dielman

By Jim Ferchland

The big man on campus can stuff the stat sheet in a variety of ways.

Ray Grabowski drives to the basket. Photo by John Dielman

Ward Melville’s senior 6-foot, 8-inch Alex Sobel said he would be 100 percent ready for the playoffs following a quiet appearance in the Patriots’ win over Sachem East Feb. 9 – he wasn’t kidding.

Sobel came back in a big way Feb. 17 against Half Hollow Hills West, scoring 21 points, hauling in 10 rebounds and blocking six shots in a 66-50 win in the first round of the Class AA playoffs.

“I felt really good honestly,” Sobel said. “I feel healthy. Blocking shots is one of the best parts of my game. It definitely felt good to get back in my rhythm that I was in earlier in the season.”

Junior Ray Grabowski had the hot hand in the first half, putting up 16 of his 20 total points. Classmate Robert Soto finished with 11 points.

Grabowski said the crowd and his teammates got him going.

“I thought the defense was very good,” Grabowski said. “Me, Trevor [Cronin] and even Rob [Soto] — we all played very good on [Derek] Brower. Sobel was big in help defense. He had a lot of blocked shots. The momentum ­— if we keep playing this good, I think we can go as far as we want.”

Alex Sobel leaps for the ball at opening tipoff. Photo by John Dielman

Hills West’s dynamic senior backcourt of Derek Brower Jr. and Jeff Terry combined for 30 points. Brower Jr. led the Colts with 17 points, but Ward Melville’s head coach had a game plan to wear them out.

“If we chased him around and ran off screens and had to run all over to get open, eventually his legs would get tired and then his shot would go,” Alex Piccirillo said. “We tried to take away their first option.”

At halftime, the Patriots had a comfortable 43-21 lead, outscoring the Colts 18-8 in the second quarter. Even with the advantage, Piccirillo told his guys that the game wasn’t over.

“I told them there’s no time to step on the brake,” Piccirillo said. “[I wanted them to] just try to continue to move forward, run the floor and defend. Our defense will lead to any offensive opportunities that we want.”

Ward Melville’s Soto, who went a 4-for-4 from the foul line, said his strategy was to draw contact and keep attacking the rim.

“I felt pretty confident taking the ball to the bucket,” Soto said. “I didn’t really think anybody could stay with me, so I kept driving to the basket.”

Ward Melville senior guard Brendan Martin had four points, but had the ball in his hands most of the game. Piccirillo said the team wouldn’t be where it is now without their playmaker.

Alex Mazzone shoots above a block. Photo by John Dielman

“He’s our floor general,” Piccirillo said of Martin. “He takes care of everything for us. He gets us into our offense, he’s the first one to communicate; without him, we don’t get this far.”

In his final home game, Sobel said the result was drawn up as expected.

“In the first quarter, we were up and we never looked back,” he said. “We never really let the game get close — that’s how you want every game to go. It’s been a great four years.”

Ward Melville is set to play at Half Hollow Hills East Feb. 20 at 4:30 p.m. Hills East beat Ward Melville last year in the same round, 75-59.

“It’s the playoffs,” Piccirillo said. “Every team is good. It’s down to the final eight teams in Suffolk County. It’s going to be a battle, they have Savion Lewis, who’s the best player in the county. We know we have our hands full, but we have some pretty good players, too.”

Brendan Martin moves the ball. Photo by John Dielman

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By Jim Ferchland

The league-title winning drought is finally over for the Ward Melville Patriots.

With a 64-51 win over Sachem East Feb. 9, the boys basketball team nabbed a share of the bragging rights for the first time since 1990.

With only five players scoring, Ward Melville was efficient enough to hold down Sachem East in its final regular season game. Brentwood played Longwood the same night and lost, 53-49, leaving the Indians, Lions and Patriots all tied at 11-3 in League I play. Ward Melville had the best overall record at 16-4.

“All we talk about is putting a dot up on the wall. At times this year, we didn’t know if it was going to happen. We came together and it all kinda fell into place.”

— Alex Piccirillo

“It’s all we’ve talked about in the offseason,” Ward Melville head coach Alex Piccirillo said about winning the league title. “We’ve gone all spring, all summer, all fall; we’ve played 100 games. All we talk about is putting a dot up on the wall. At times this year, we didn’t know if it was going to happen. We came together and it all kinda fell into place.”

Senior Trevor Cronin, who averaged four to six points per game this year, finished Feb. 9 a game-high 18 points, 16 of them coming in the second half.

“If you’re going to leave him open, that’s what he’ll do to you,” Piccirillo said of Cronin. “He’s worked his tail off and got tremendously better. He just works hard and does whatever we ask him to do.”

For Cronin, who barely touched the ball two years ago as a sophomore on the junior varsity team, he wasn’t the only one reviving the game’s vitality.

“My teammates have been there for me all year,” Cronin said. “When they needed me to pick them up, I was there to pick them up today. It’s all about my teammates.”

In the collaborative effort, senior Brendan Martin poured in 16 points with a team-high four 3-pointers.  Junior Robert Soto contributed 15, and junior Ray Grabowski came through with a double-double on 11 points and 10 rebounds. Leading scorer Alex Sobel came back after missing three games with an ankle injury and scored four points.

Sobel said he felt a lot better being back on the court.

“It feels good,” Sobel said. “It wasn’t a very statistical game for me tonight, but it’s perfect because I have a week now to get ready for our next game. I expect to be 100 percent ready by the playoffs.”

Piccirillo said it was great to see Sobel back on the floor despite not putting up his usual numbers — he was averaging 16 points, 15 rebounds and almost five blocks a game this season prior to his injury.

“That’s what we want here for Ward Melville basketball — big team guys with everyone playing well together. That’s exactly what happened today.”

— Brendan Martin

“He blocks shots, he hinders guys from shooting layups,” the coach said. “He just changes the game.”

Sachem East seniors Ryan Panno and Ryan Sheehy combined for 30 points. Panno led with 18 points. Junior Ryan Kennedy had nine points off of three triples.

In a tale of two halves, the Patriots got scorching hot in the second, outscoring the Flaming Arrows 43-28 after being down 23-21 at halftime. Ward Melville went on a 12-2 run to conclude the third quarter. It was a big spark plug to finish strong.

“We started knocking down threes and getting stops,” Martin said. “Our stops led to early offense — big rebounds by Alex Sobel making blocked shots. We pushed the ball on the fast break and it got the home crowd fired up, too.”

Martin said Ward Melville strives to have every player contribute. He said he’s hoping having the team at full strength with help the Patriots get there this postseason.

“That’s what we want here for Ward Melville basketball — big team guys with everyone playing well together,” Martin said. “That’s exactly what happened today.”

Cronin enjoyed finishing the season with a league-clinching victory in front of family and friends.

“It feels great,” Cronin said of the win. “Hopefully, we can go far in the playoffs.”

No. 8-seeded Ward Melville hosts No. 9 Half Hollow Hills West Feb. 17 at 1 p.m.

This version has been updated to include who Ward Melville will be facing in the first round of playoffs.

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Robert Soto leaps up to the basket between two defenders. Photo by Jim Ferchland

By Jim Ferchland

Junior Ray Grabowski was attacking the basket at will, leading the charge for Ward Melville with 24 points.

Ray Grabowski reaches for the rim. Photo by Jim Ferchland

His counterparts Brendan Martin and Robert Soto each contributed 13 points in a comfortable 67-46 road win over Sachem North Feb. 6. The Patriots advance to 10-3 in League I while Sachem North falls to the very bottom of League I at 1-12. Ward Melville and Longwood sit in the No. 2 spot, one win behind Brentwood (11-2) in first place.

“League I is an absolute jungle,” Ward Melville head coach Alex Piccirillo said. “Any time you can go on the road and win, it’s amazing. We work hard. We planned for this. That’s what we do.”

Grabowski said he felt pretty good with his offensive game. He made three 3-pointers and six field goals. He also made seven trips to the foul line.

“I was hitting shots when I was open,” Grabowski said. “I realized right away that I was bigger than every single one of those kids and took them to the hoop every single time.”

At the end of the first half, Ward Melville was up 24-18. The Patriots poured it in from outside the perimeter in the second half, knocking down seven 3-pointers. They outscored the Flaming arrows 43-28 in the final 16 minutes.

“We were able to push the ball more and gets the shots that we wanted,” Piccirillo said, noting his team eventually found the pace of play it’s accustomed to. “We did a much better job in the second half.”

Brendan Martin calls a play as he moves the ball into Sachem North territory. Photo by Jim Ferchland

Without 6-foot, 9-inch leading scorer Alex Sobel, out with an ankle injury since Jan. 26, the team hasn’t seemed to miss a beat, going 2-1 in the last three games.

“We just play the same way,” Piccirillo said. “It’s a team game. We continue to do what we do. We’re going to rebound, defend, box out and we’re going be physical.”

Ward Melville’s point guard Martin only scored two points in the first half, but found his sweet spot in the second, also knocking down three triples.

“My teammates and my coaches told me to keep on shooting it,” Martin said. “I came out and made three in a row, so it felt pretty good.”

Even with the team in good standing without Sobel, Martin said he hopes to be competing alongside his comrade again this season.

“Sobel is a Top 5 player in the county,” he said. “We miss him a lot, and hopefully we’ll have him back before the playoffs.”

Sachem North junior Bradley Anacreon lead the Flaming arrows with 15 points. He was the only player in double figures.

Ward Melville is scheduled to play at home against Sachem East Feb. 9 at 6:15 p.m.

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Alex Sobel fights through traffic and scores. Photo by Desirée Keegan

The big man on campus puts up big numbers.

Ward Melville’s 6-foot 7-inch senior center Alex Sobel posted a double-double with a team-high 22 points and 24 rebounds in the Patriots’ third straight win — an 80-58 home decision over Sachem North Jan. 31.

Although offense comes naturally for the towering center, he also showed off his defensive skills against Sachem. Besides grabbing rebounds, he contributed six big blocks to keep the Patriots ahead, despite a slow start to the game.

Dom Pryor knocks down a field goal. Photo by Desirée Keegan

After a layup by senior Dom Pryor to open the scoring, Sobel banked the next five points for his team. He scored nine and Pryor scored six of his 12 points in the game in the first eight minutes.

At the end of the first quarter, Ward Melville had a 17-12 advantage but watched that lead diminish when the Flaming Arrows outscored the Patriots 15-12 in the second, limiting Sobel to just one point. Junior Brendan Martin led Ward Melville that quarter with six points on two three-pointers.

But by the end of the third quarter, Ward Melville found its rhythm, and with help from five players, edged ahead 56-39. Sophomore Ray Grabowski led the team with 10 points, opening the quarter with a field goal and a three-pointer, and added another of each with back-to-back shots with four minutes left.

“We all played our hearts out and came out with the win we wanted,” said senior Matt Hudzik, who finished with 14 points. “Some shots weren’t falling my way. Ray Grabowski stepped up big and made a couple of really good shots.”

Martin added two more three-pointers in the quarter.

“We didn’t want the other team to slow us down,” Ward Melville head coach Alex Piccirillo said he told his team at halftime. “We dictate the pace and tempo, and once we got it going back in our direction, we made a few layups, got out fast and we were good to go.”

The Patriots spread the wealth in the final quarter, with seven players chipping in points.

“We shoot the ball pretty well,” Piccirillo said. “If our big guys are good, they go, if not, we kick it out and get good looks at threes.”

Two of the team’s nine trifectas were scored in the fourth quarter.

Matt Hudzik swishes a free-throw attempt. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“This is a good group of guys, they can all score, they can all defend, so I’m feeling pretty positive about it,” Piccirillo said.

Hudzik said despite the offense, he’d like to see more from the Patriots on the defensive side.

“We were a little quiet on defense, and we need to get pumped up, get each other going,” he said. “We need to come out with more intensity, but we fought back when we needed to. We know our potential, we just need to play to it.”

Ward Melville’s basketball team has improved substantially over the last several years, and Piccirillo said he’s happy to see more kids buying into the program.

“I think five years ago we decided that we’re going to go all year round, we were going to get the younger guys involved and build the program,” he said. “We don’t take a month off, and they’ve bought into it. We have a nice group of kids, we put the athletes around them and they’re growing.”

Sobel said it’s nice to be a part of the program.

“It’s been great seeing our program grow,” he said. “We fought through adversity and this is the best team I’ve ever been a part of and we’re at our peak. We’re going to take this as far as we can.”

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Ward Melville's Dom Pryor reaches for the rim. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Ward Melville led from the opening tipoff, and despite a late push by Commack’s boys’ basketball team, which pulled within nine points late in the third quarter, the Patriots maintained the advantage and won 57-41. With the win, the Patriots remain tied atop the League I leaderboard.

The Patriots came out fast, and quickly jumped out to a 13-4 lead midway through the first quarter, prompting a Commack timeout. Ward Melville’s defense swarmed, looking as if there was an extra man on the court. The shot clock worked against the Cougars, which struggled to let the ball loose in time.

Ward Melville senior Noah Kepes had the hot hand early, scoring three three-pointers in the opening quarter, and classmate Dom Pryor pitched in two field goals and a three-pointer of his own, to help the Patriots to a 20-6 lead at the end of eight minutes.

Kepes said his team’s focus is always defense first.

Ward Melville’s Alex Sobel scores. Photo by Bill Landon

“We’re just hungry on defense,” he said. “Everyday in practice we work on these drills — whoever’s on the floor first is going to get the ball first, so it’s that kind of the mentality. When they began to make their push coach told us they were going to do that, and how you react to that push is who’s going to come out with the win.”

Commack countered with four unanswered points, but again the shot clock expired, turning the ball over to the Patriots.

With just over three minutes left in the half, Commack senior Christian Volatile fell. Injured on the play, he sat out the remainder of the game.

Commack sophomore Aiden Keenan went the free-throw line shooting two and banked both points, but the Patriots answered back and then some, when senior Matt Hudzik drained a three, as Ward Melville edged ahead 25-14 by halftime.

The Patriots’ defense remained unrelenting. The Cougars still couldn’t get the ball to the rim, and turned the ball over as the 35-second shot clock expired.

Ward Melville head coach Alex Piccirillo said he likes what he saw.

“On the defensive end we communicated well, we rotated well, we switched on screens; so we did everything we needed to do on that end,” Piccirillo said. “We struggled offensively from time to time, every team will go on a scoring run, it’s how we weather it and how we stop it that’s important.”

The fouls began to eat up the final minutes of the third quarter, and momentum shifted Commack’s way.

Keenan sank four field goals and a pair of free throws, and with help from senior Ryan Donohue, who added four points, the Cougars pulled within nine, 37-28.

“Ward Melville’s a good team and they’ve got a lot of guys who can knock down the outside shot, so we tried to plan for that, but unfortunately, we left some guys open in the first half,” Commack head coach Peter Smith said. “We adjusted nicely in the second quarter. We did OK in the third, but their defense is very good.”

It would be as close a Commack would come.

Commack’s Aiden Keenan dribbles the ball up the court. Photo by Bill Landon

At 6 feet, 7 inches, the big man for the Patriots, junior Alex Sobel, battled in the paint muscling his way to the rim, scoring three times. Sobel went to the charity stripe three times too, and never missed.

“We knew they’re a good team, especially the last two years,” Sobel said of Commack. “We came out strong and held a little gap. We got a little worried when they got close in third quarter, but we picked it up and closed the game out strong.”

Hudzik hit a field goal, Pryor swished a three-pointer and sophomore Ray Grabowski banked a field goal along with a free-throw point to close out the scoring for the Patriots.

With the win, Ward Melville improves to 9-2 overall and 5-0 in league play, sharing the top spot with Brentwood.

Sobel topped the scoreboard for the Ward Melville with 20 points and Kepes tacked on 15. Keenan led the scoring for Commack with 12 points and Donohue finished with nine.

With the loss, Commack drops to 5-5 overall and 1-4 in the league.

“We’ll put this game behind us quickly,” Smith said. “We have practice tomorrow and we have to rebound. We need to get a home win against Pat-Med.”

Commack hosts Patchogue-Medford Jan. 12 at 5:45 p.m. Ward Melville will travel to William Floyd Jan. 13. Tipoff is scheduled for 4:30 p.m.

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