Tags Posts tagged with "Babylon"


Hans Wiederkehr, a former NFL player, decided to leave his playing career behind to coach high school football at Babylon for 15 years. Photo from Hans Wiederkehr

T.J. Lynch grew up without a father. With no direction or motivation, all he knew was that he enjoyed playing football. Hans Wiederkehr, the head coach at Babylon High School at the time, struck up a relationship with Lynch like he had with many players before him. He would pick up the athlete early in the morning to make sure he was going to school, take him to the weight room and speak to him about the potential he saw.

“He was the biggest positive influence in my life,” the 1998 graduate said of Wiederkehr. “He was a very caring man, and he guided me. He showed me how to train, breathed words of encouragement and wisdom about life into me and lifted me up. He made you want to be better on the field and in the classroom. He got you excited about life.”

Hans Wiederkehr coaches from the sideline. Photo from Hans Wiederkehr

Relationships like the one Wiederkehr had with Lynch are what the soon-to-be Suffolk County Sports Hall of Fame inductee had hoped for when he decided to trade in an NFL career for a high school coaching gig back in 1988. Making a positive impact on someone’s life drew him from the gridiron to the sideline, and as a result he’ll hold a special place in Suffolk’s athletic history.

The Shoreham resident was born in Connecticut and played for East Lyme, graduating in 1981. He competed in the state championship his senior year, and after receiving multiple offers to play at the next level, decided to commit to Syracuse University on a scholarship. The 6-foot, 4-inch 322-pound offensive lineman played under defensive coordinator George O’Leary, a Central Islip native who went on to coach at his alma mater, and eventually with the San Diego Chargers and Minnesota Vikings. While leading Central Islip, O’Leary mentioned to Wiederkehr, who had a physical education degree, that if things didn’t work out with the Pittsburgh Steelers, where he was on the injured reserve list following college, that a teaching job and eventually head coaching position would be available at Babylon. While rehabbing, he spent a year as an assistant at Babylon under 20-year head coach Tom DiNuovo, which is where he caught the coaching bug. He returned the following year and took over the helm when DiNuovo retired.

“Probably the most enjoyable part of coaching is teaching a kid something that he really doesn’t think he can do, and then looking into his eyes after he completes something and say, ‘I told you so,’ that’s the biggest kick I get out of coaching,” Wiederkehr said. “You work with kids who are there because they really love the game, and I fell in love with coaching. I decided this is what I want to do.”

The head coach, who went on to enjoy a 15-year career, said he wanted to pay it forward, giving to others what coaches had given to him. When he was a sophomore in high school, his parents moved to Schenectady, but he wanted to stay in Connecticut because he saw potential in his team. Head coach Tom Smyth opened up his home to Wiederkehr and let him live with him until he graduated.

“He was the biggest positive influence in my life. … He got you excited about life.”

— T.J. Lynch

“He was a lead figure in my life next to my dad,” Wiederkehr said of Smyth. “I wouldn’t be where I am if it wasn’t for him. He got my name out there and opened up the doors for me. It’s unbelievable the pedigree of coaches that I’ve had, and all those guys have one thing in common — they preached outworking your opponent.”

While at Babylon, Wiederkehr amassed a 99-41-2 record, good for a 0.70 winning percentage. The Panthers reached the playoffs 12 times and won nine league titles under his guidance, going on to play in nine Suffolk County finals, winning five, followed by two Long Island championships. He coached alongside Rick Punzone, his defensive coordinator, and the pair of 25-year-olds led the team until Wiederkehr retired in 2002, leaving the team in the hands of
Punzone, who has now been the head coach at Babylon for 15 years.

“With his experience we had very successful teams,” said Punzone, the godfather of one of Wiederkehr’s daughters, who considers the coach a best friend of his for the last 28 years. “He’s a brother to me. He was professional, and always gave me free reign over the defense. We weren’t always the most talented but he got the most out of the kids, which is why we were always known as one of the tougher schools around. It’s because of his leadership, work ethic and organization.”

Wiederkehr left coaching to focus on his daughters, and eventually went on to coach his son in youth programs at Shoreham-Wading River.

“He stopped to watch my sisters develop,” his son Ethan Wiederkehr said. “It just shows you what type of person he is. He’s a family first type of guy. He’s not selfish, he cares about others and he’s a humble person. It’s been amazing to call him my father.”

One win shy of the coveted 100, Hans Wiederkehr left the helm of Babylon to work with youth in Shoreham-Wading River school district, including his son Ethan, above at a county awards dinner with wife Karen. Photo from Hans Wiederkehr

Punzone also noted Hans Wiederkehr’s work with and attention to detail regarding his position as president of the Suffolk County Football Coaches Association.

“He’s taken our association to the next level,” he said. “I’m a coach in the association and we’ve never had as good a leadership as we’ve had under his reign.”

Joe Cipp Jr., the head coach at Bellport for the 31 years, who has collected his own 202-84-3 record and been a coaching friend of Wiederkehr’s over his entire career, said he took on being president the same way he tackled anything else in his life, giving it 100 percent.

“He puts a million hours in, just like he does with coaching, without getting paid,” Cipp said. “I could say he puts in 150 percent of the effort, but there’s no such thing. He makes the football awards dinner something special to the kids in Suffolk County. He does a tremendous job, and it speaks to the type of person he’s been his whole life. And as a coach, he was able to demand tremendous [effort] of his kids and still be well-liked. It’s the best combination you could be.”

Wiederkehr is one of 11 honorees selected for the hall of fame out of 32 nominees. According to Section XI Executive Director Tom Combs, who was a head coach at Babylon’s rival Harborfields for 13 years, his former opponent is the first to get into the hall of fame his first time being nominated.

“It says a lot about what a good man he is,” Combs said. “It’s very competitive, especially their first time on the ballot, and Hans is just a great coach and mentor to a lot of people. His teams were always very well
prepared and it usually came down to our two teams for the head of our division. There were some fierce battles. He’s a hard-nosed guy but the kids loved that discipline and direction that he provided. You could see he motivated the kids, and they loved him.”

Hans Widerkehr with former players. Photo from Hans Wiederkehr

He added that giving up reaching the monumental 100 wins once again shows how he’s always willing to put others before himself. He eventually became an assistant coach to the Shoreham-Wading River varsity team under head coach Matt Millheiser. His son Ethan was part of two undefeated seasons and three straight Long Island championships. The 6-foot, 5-inch 273-pound offensive lineman accepted a scholarship to play at Northwestern University after winning the Bob Zellner Award, presented to Suffolk’s top lineman. He has aspirations of going pro.

“I fell in love with the team aspect of it, the relationships you build with your teammates and extend your family,” Ethan Wiederkehr said. “It’s hard to pinpoint any one thing since he taught be so much, but through hard work and dedication you can accomplish almost anything. I’ve learned to push through difficult obstacles to gain success. There was ups and downs having him in the sideline, but looking back now it’s been a blessing to have him by my side. He’s developed me as a person and an athlete through our experiences together on the field.”

Ken Gray, whose multisport standout son Chris played under Wiederkehr, remembered the first time he met the coach.

“Parents want their kids to win, and he was about teaching them about not always wining at an early age and expanding the program,” said Gray, whose son started playing football at 5 years old. “Shoreham-Wading
River wasn’t a big football community, and I’d say over 10 years he did a pretty good job of developing a pretty good program. I think that’s a result of Hans’ commitment to the community and the kids.”

Babylon athletic director Michael DeJoseph, was one of several who along with Cipp, wrote letters of recommendation for Wiederkehr to be inducted. DeJoseph said he was not at all surprised when he heard the news but, like many, said he wasn’t aware he’d been selected, because the coach remains humble.

“Probably the most enjoyable part of coaching is teaching a kid something that he really doesn’t think he can do, and then looking into his eyes after he completes something and say, ‘I told you so.'”

— Hans Wiederkehr

“It’s beyond well deserved,” said DeJoseph, who was hired by Wiederkehr as a teacher and coach of the junior varsity team, and eventually worked his way up the ladder. “He really cared about the kids, and he showed me and the players blueprints for success. As impressive he is as a coach he’s probably more impressive as a father, husband and family man. He’s a community guy who cares for others.”

Former athlete Drew Peters, a 2002 graduate, also said he knows about his former coach’s devotion firsthand. He played on the varsity team all four years of high school and said he and all of Wiederkehr’s players felt like he cared about him.

“He treated you like you were one of his kids,” he said. “When you’re on a team of 30-plus kids, every one of you felt very special to him, and I think that’s what made you play even harder. He had that father-like figure to everyone on the team and we always wanted to do our best for him.”

Peters spoke of his coaches sacrifices, saying Wiederkehr would drive from Shoreham, even during the winter months, to pick up his athletes at 6 a.m. and take them to the weight room before school started. He said he’ll never forgot how the man with three children would sacrifice his own time to come to each one of his teammates houses to pick them up. He became so close with so many of the players, he even attended
several of their weddings, including Peters’.

“He teaches you a lot more than just the sport, he prepared us young men to go through the struggles that you’ll face in life,” he said. “My senior year we lost in the Long Island championship and it was a tough game for us, but there was a controversial penalty that I was involved in and he took me under his wing after the game and said, ‘Hey, if this is the worst thing that’s ever going to happen to you in life, losing a football game in high school, then you’re going to have a pretty good life.’ And I just remember that being something that obviously at the time was very upsetting but it’s true, it was a game that was very important to everybody, but he definitely had a way of putting things into perspective.”

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By Bill Landon

Miller Place’s football team may have fallen just short of a Long Island championship title, but the Panthers have a lot to be proud of.

Despite losing the heart and soul of its running game at the start of the season, the team propelled itself in a positive trajectory for senior Tyler Ammirato. The Panthers finished second in the Division IV standings at 7-1 behind undefeated Babylon.

Miller Place’s football program shook off the semifinal round jinx by shutting out Shoreham-Wading River to advance to the Suffolk County championship game. It was the second time the Panthers beat Shoreham this season in pursuit of the program’s first county title, which was won with a 33-25 besting of Babylon Nov. 16.

“This team had its backs against the wall from the beginning … but we just kept plugging along,” Miller Place head coach Greg Murphy said. “To get to this point, it’s a true measure of their character.”

Taking care of the running duties all season long was senior quarterback Anthony Seymour, who struck first for the Panthers in a 29-27 loss to Seaford in the Long Island finals Nov. 24 on a keeper up the middle for a 4-yard touchdown with a chance to tie the game. With the point-after kick attempt hitting off the left goalpost, the team was down by one to start scoring for the first, 7-6.

Defense had been the Panthers’ strength this year, and the group came up big with an interception in the end zone by Sebastian Cannon, but Seaford returned the favor on Miller Place’s first play from scrimmage.

Ammirato, who returned to the team midseason, scored the next points by punching into the end zone in the second quarter, and caught a pass for a 2-point conversion to end scoring for the third, which closed the gap to leave the Panthers trailing by two, 22-20 after a Seymour-to-Tom Nealis touchdown pass.

Senior wide receiver Anthony Filippetti pulled down a 22-yard strike from Seymour and went the distance in response to another Seaford touchdown, and kicker Cameron Hammer split the uprights as Miller Place remained trailing by two with 8:50 left to play. The Panthers came up with another stop, but an interception with 1:46 left in regulation sealed their fate.

“These kids have gotten a taste of what it’s like to be a part of something you preach about since August — that goal was to get to the Long Island championship,” Murphy said. “They got here, they experienced all of it and hopefully that’s the motivation for the title going forward — to know that they can do it.”

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Port Jefferson's Gina Lucero attempts to deflect a Babylon pass. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Port Jefferson’s girls soccer team came close to racking up two 6-0 losses to start the season, but Hailey Hearney had other plans against Babylon Sept. 5, breaking away with the ball with four minutes left to score the first goal for the Royals in 155 minutes of gameplay during a 6-1 loss.

Port Jefferson’s Reece Koban sends the ball into play. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“So happy, I’m thrilled,” Port Jefferson head coach Michele Aponte said of her team breaking the ice. “There’s a lot of nerves, because there’s high expectations for them. To not get on the board with Southold last week was a little disheartening, so I think it helps boost their confidence. It may only be one, but they see that score on the board.”

Eyes are on Port Jefferson after back-to-back state titles in 2015-16 and a state semifinal appearance the year prior. The Royals are a much different team than the last few seasons, with just three returning varsity players — all non-starters — from last year’s squad.

“Because they’re new to working together as a team, they need to build that trust with one another, whereas the past few years those girls have been playing together for seasons and seasons, since they were little kids,” Aponte said. “They need to talk to each other, they need to communicate. They have to learn how to trust one another, telling each other if there’s a man on them, calling that they’re open — that’s lacking right now.”

During the first half of the game against Babylon, Port Jefferson eased its way into becoming familiar with its foe.

“We didn’t come out very aggressive, but as the game went on we picked it up and got a little more comfortable,” said freshman forward and co-captain Hearney, one of the three returning members. “Pressuring the ball in the midfield is a weak point for us.”

Port Jefferson’s Morgan Bullis battles for possession. Photo by Desirée Keegan

As Babylon’s strong feet continued to send chances over Port Jefferson’s goal, the Royals continued to rack up opportunities for possession, but missed on first and second-chance looks.

By halftime, the Panthers led 4-0. After two more Babylon goals to open the second half, Hearney had her second chance at a goal, but her shot went just wide to keep the Royals scoreless.

“They stepped it up in the first half for sure, and in the second half they started getting a little tired,” she said. “I also have quite a few injured girls, so I’m hoping we can get through this season without having too many more injuries. But I think they did alright considering Babylon is our toughest competition.”

Some areas for the team to focus on in the weeks ahead — besides communication and trust — are conditioning, passing and just getting used to the nuances of playing at the varsity level, according to the head coach.

“A lot of the time we’re not looking as to who we’re passing to and they’re either incomplete or we’re passing to the other team,” Aponte said. “We’re getting used to the space, most of these girls were on the junior varsity team last year so they’re not used to playing on a bigger field, but they’re a young group, so we have time. The bar is set pretty high, but we have plenty of time to mold them, to work with them and get them to be that top-notch playing team that I think they can be.”

Port Jefferson’s Lena McFarland dribbles downfield. Photo by Desirée Keegan

The team is strongest on defense. Sophomore and co-captain Gina Lucero, a returner, and Reece Koban have been solid on the back line, deflecting the ball and pressuring to regain possession for Port Jeff.

“They are machines the two of them,” Aponte said. “They don’t back down to anything and I’m glad we have them back there because so far the defense is the section that needs to step up right now, just because of the competition we played.”

She said the pair has been consistent and key to keeping opponents out of the box.

“I feel bad because they’re doing so well I’m not subbing them out, and they’re probably exhausted and need a break, but I’m just a little nervous to pull them out right now,” the coach said, laughing. “They stepped up last week in our first game, and they did it again today.”

Hearney finally found the back of the net with 4:04 left to play. She said she is looking forward to seeing the team grows from here.

“Now that we have one goal, hopefully we can progress and win a game,” she said. “Since there’s only three returning players it’s kind of hard, because we learned a lot from the former seniors, and we’re just trying to share that knowledge. Hopefully this is a rebuilding year and we can work back up to what we once had.”

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By Bill Landon

On the back of senior Chris Gray, who rushed for 341 yards with four touchdowns for Shoreham-Wading River’s football team, the Wildcats brought home their third consecutive county championship, with a 36-21 win over Babylon Nov. 19.

“I’ve just gotta thank my linemen, they got me to the second level,” Gray said. “I was able to shake off some defensemen. I was just doing my job.”

The running back helped his team seal the deal when he followed blocks from senior tight end Ethan Wiederkehr and senior tackle Dean Stalzer into the second, before spinning around a Babylon defensive back to score a 15-yard touchdown with 7:26 left to play in the game.

His fourth touchdown gave Shoreham-Wading River a 13-point lead before a crowd of more than 2,600 at Stony Brook University’s LaValle Stadium.

The two-time defending Long Island champion Wildcats (9-2) move on to face Seaford (11-0) for the Long Island title at LaValle Stadium Nov. 27 at 4:30 p.m.

“This was a long, hard-fought year. We had a lot of ups and downs.”

—Matt Millheiser

Gray said there was some extra motivation for the team to take home the win after Babylon snapped Shoreham-Wading River’s 25-game win streak.

“That one’s been hanging over our heads,” Gray said.

He got the game started when he found the end zone on a 32-yard run six minutes into the Division IV matchup against previously undefeated Babylon. Junior kicker Tyler McAuley’s extra point was good.

Babylon answered with a 65-yard kickoff return to Shoreham-Wading River’s 28-yard line, and scored a touchdown on the next play. Babylon quarterback Scott Sasso threw a strike to wide receiver Shaun Kaminski in stride with just over four minutes remaining in the opening quarter. The extra-point attempt failed, leaving the Wildcats up 7-6.

Shoreham-Wading River senior quarterback Kevin Cutinella, on a keeper, ran the ball in from 11 yards out for the Wildcats’ next score, and with McAuley’s foot, the team edged ahead 14-6.

But the lead didn’t last long. Babylon’s Kaminski stretched out into the end zone next with a one-handed catch, and a hurry-up offense helped the Panthers complete a 2-point conversion that tied the game heading into halftime.

“This was a long, hard-fought year,” Shoreham-Wading River head coach Matt Millheiser said. “We had a lot of ups and downs with Babylon breaking the streak earlier in the year. Two weeks later we lose to Elwood-John Glenn, and to be honest, the guys were down.”

But the team used that loss as motivation to make a statement when it counted most.

Despite Babylon opening the second half with a 51-yard kickoff return, taking the ball to the Wildcats’ 39-yard line, the team fumbled the ball on the second play from scrimmage, and Shoreham-Wading River recovered it.

Gray got the call, bounced off would-be tacklers, broke free down the right sideline and went 40 yards for a touchdown on his team’s first possession of the third quarter, to give the Wildcats the lead.

Babylon got the ball deep in its own territory, and went to work in the air, but senior wingback Joe Miller stepped in front of Sasso’s pass for an interception and 13-yard return. Gray scored on a 10-yard run to extend the lead, 28-14.

“It’s unbelievable — it’s just a blessing to be in this situation …We came out here with something to prove.

—Ethan Wiederkehr

“Chris Gray has phenomenal athletic ability with a great sense of where he is on the field and he’s got the heart of a lion,” Millheiser said. “He carried us in some of those moments in the middle of the season when were down. As we got better, Kevin Cutinella stepped up and was a second threat for us, which took a little pressure off Chris and I can’t say enough about the two of them.”

Babylon showed why it was the No.1-seeded team this postseason when Kaminski jetted down the right sideline, caught a pass in stride and ran the ball into the end zone untouched. With the point after, Babylon trailed 28-21 heading into the final quarter.

After a sustained drive, Gray completed his spin move leading to the touchdown, and with McAuley’s extra-point attempt missing, the Wildcats maintained a 34-21 lead.

Gray, a threat on both sides of the ball, jumped in front of a Babylon pass play as an outside linebacker for the pick, and the Wildcats went back on offense with 4:23 left in regulation.

Shoreham Wading River marched the ball downfield to Babylon’s 8-yard line for a first and goal, but turned the ball over on downs. On the ensuing play from scrimmage, Sasso dropped back to pass, but was overwhelmed by a Wildcats blitz. He was tackled in his own end zone by senior fullback Chris Sheehan for a safety to fall behind 36-21.

“It’s unbelievable — it’s just a blessing to be in this situation,” Wiederkehr said of the win. “We came out here with something to prove … we knew we were going to get their best fight, so it’s just awesome to get the ‘W.’”

Immediately following the safety, Babylon kicked off with 48 seconds on the clock, and Shoreham-Wading River held on as the clock wound down.

“It’s different every time we win, but this one was more surreal because it’s my senior year,” Cutinella said. “It was a crazy experience to come out here for the third time. We’re all grateful for it, and proud of what we’ve done all season.”

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By Bill Landon

It was a catfight between undefeated teams.

The battle of Panthers teams wasn’t decided until the final 40 seconds of the game, and despite Miller Place junior running back Tyler Ammirato leading the way for his football team during its homecoming matchup Oct. 1 against Babylon — scoring all four touchdowns for his team — anything can happen on the gridiron. With 40 seconds left on the clock, a Miller Place fourth-down pass was broken up, Babylon gained possession and took two knees to seal the deal, 29-25.

In his first start at quarterback, junior Anthony Seymour looked like he had been at the helm all season long. He took over under center to replace injured senior Christian McPartland, who broke his arm during the Panthers’ 54-0 blanking of McGann-Mercy Sept. 23.

Ammirato took charge with the ground-and-pound offense, and struck first when he punched through Babylon’s defensive line and bounced outside, traveling 41 yards for the touchdown. With the extra-point kick by senior Eric Cisneros good, the Panthers found themselves ahead 7-0 two minutes in.

Miller Place followed the touchdown by squandering several opportunities to score, like when on a bad snap, Babylon coughed up the ball and junior defensive lineman Joe Panico recovered the ball on the 31-yard line. Or on its’ next possession, when Miller Place was forced to punt and the Babylon punt returner called for a fair catch but bobbled the ball and the Panthers recovered on the Babylon 26-yard line.

“We left some plays on the field, so we’re going to learn from it. We’ll look at film and we’ll get better, and we’ll move on.”

—Greg Murphy

“We left some plays on the field, so we’re going to learn from it,” Miller Place’s first-year head coach Greg Murphy said. “We’ll look at film and we’ll get better, and we’ll move on. Our backup quarterback was tested today, and Anthony [Seymour] stepped it up and he played well today.”

Babylon marched down the field on its next possession. And as the team continued to move the chains, timeout was called with five seconds left in the first half, with the ball at Miller Place’s 3-yard line. Looking to even the score, Babylon plowed up the middle on a handoff, but junior defensive end Alex Herbst plugged the hole to send Babylon into the halftime break scoreless.

As a result of a sustained drive six minutes into the third quarter, Babylon found the end zone on a 5-yard pass to even the score 7-7.

On the ensuing kickoff, Ammirato went coast to coast on a 75-yard kickoff return to put his team out front 13-7 with 6:05 left on the clock. The point-after attempt failed.

Although neither team scored for the remainder of the stanza, Babylon showed why it hasn’t lost a game this season, They marched down the field again to open the final quarter with a 7-yard touchdown run to give the team its first lead of the game, 14-13.

Miller Place found itself in a fourth-and-1 position, and went for it. To no surprise, Ammirato got the call, bounced outside and jetted into the end zone untouched. Although a 2-point conversion attempt failed, Miller Place was back in front, 19-14.

“[Tyler Ammirato] is a warrior — he’s the heart and soul of this team,” Murphy said. “This was a hard-hitting game, and we knew it would be. Babylon’s a good team with numerous Long Island championships — they’ve been there, they have the swag; so we knew we had to play a perfect game.”

“We played well in key moments — we flustered a little bit [in others], but we’ll be back.”

—Tyler Ammirato

With 7:54 left in regulation Babylon grabbed a 36-yard screen pass for the score. With a successful 2-point conversion, Babylon retook the lead, 22-19.

Miller Place leaned on its premier running back, and Ammirato took the team to the Babylon 8-yard line on a handoff with just over four minutes left in the contest. Ammirato finished the job by punching into the end zone on a 3-yard run for his fourth touchdown of the afternoon. The team lined up for the two-point play, but were stopped again.The Panthers lead 25-22.

On the following possession, Babylon pounded the ball up the center of the field when the quarterback connected with his running back on a swing pass, and the receiver found an opening down the sideline following the 62-yard pass completion, and scored with three minutes left. With the extra-point kick, Babylon regained the advantage,29-25.

The clock was working against Miller Place, so when Seymour spotted senior wide receiver Kevin Gersbeck sprinting down the right sideline, he made sure to hit his mark. Seymour hit Gersbeck in stride, and the Panthers were in business at the 28-yard line with 1:16 left.

Four plays later, on fourth down with 40 seconds left in regulation, Seymour attempted to pass the ball over the middle to Cisneros, but Babylon’s defense broke up the play.

“They were a very tough team, but we knew that coming in,” Ammirato said. “We played well in key moments — we flustered a little bit [in others], but we’ll be back.”

Babylon took over on down, and took two knees to hold on and win the game.

“I think not being able to transition coming out of halftime ate up the majority of the clock, and that was a big difference,” Murphy said. “[Babylon] put one in coming out of the half, but our kids responded well. It was just a great high school football game.”

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Port Jefferson's Courtney Lewis, who scored a double-double off a game-high 32 points and 10 rebounds, goes up for a layup in the Royals' 55-31 win over Southold/Greenport on Jan. 25 to extend their winning streak to six games. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Behind Courtney Lewis’ double-double Monday night, the Port Jefferson girls’ basketball team kept the ball rolling with a 55-31 victory over Southold/Greenport to extend the Royals’ winning streak to six games.

Port Jefferson's Courtney Lewis reaches up to the board. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Port Jefferson’s Courtney Lewis reaches up to the board. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Lewis recorded 32 points, 10 rebounds and six assits.

“They’re starting to come together,” Port Jefferson head coach Ed Duddy said. “We started off slow in the beginning … [but] now I think everyone knows their role.”

Port Jefferson had trouble getting shots to fall until Lewis’ field goal at the 5:17 mark, which started the junior forward and guard’s 10-point tear in the first quarter.

“She’s a great captain,” junior point guard Jillian Colucci said of Lewis. “She boosts us all up and she’s so talented. Her scoring gets us all going and gets us working hard.”

Southold remained in the game by scoring seven points to Lewis’ 10, but Port Jefferson sophomore guard Annabelle Soucy nailed a three-pointer with 30.6 seconds left to extend the Royals’ lead.

Lewis tacked on a three-point play to start the second stanza and then added four more points while Colucci tacked on a three-pointer to put Port Jefferson up 23-20 at halftime.

But the Royals were just getting warmed up.

Port Jefferson's Annabelle Soucy drives to the basket. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Port Jefferson’s Annabelle Soucy drives to the basket. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“Our coach’s halftime speech motivated us to come out stronger in the second half,” Lewis said. “I think our teamwork and team chemistry was great. We had a lot of assists and connected our passes a lot, and our fast breaks were great today.”

Those fast breaks and assists helped the Royals jump out to a 43-25 lead by the end of the third, with Lewis scoring 11 of the team’s 20 points and Colucci adding six.

In the final quarter, the Royals limited Southold to just two points by the 2:22 mark, while scoring eight more of their own. Southold added a field goal and two free throws in the final minutes, but Lewis added two free throws of her own to finish 9-for-10 from the charity stripe on the evening, and Soucy completed the scoring with a layup.

Colucci finished with 11 points and eight rebounds to help Port Jefferson to a 7-1 record in League VII.

“It’s Courtney, it’s Jillian, it’s a little bit of everybody,” Duddy said. “Jillian had a terrific game today. She did everything a point guard has to do with great passes and great defense and assists, but Annabelle and Jackie Brown have been playing very well, too. They’re all part of the team, but I think they all feed off of Courtney, and when she gets double- or triple-teamed she can kick it out to her teammates and they get easy layups.”

Port Jefferson's Jillian Colucci crosses the ball into Southold/Greenport's zone. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Port Jefferson’s Jillian Colucci crosses the ball into Southold/Greenport’s zone. Photo by Desirée Keegan

As the team moves forward with only one loss in its conference, Colucci said the Royals have their sights on the top spot in the league, where Mattituck currently sits at 10-1.

But the point guard said she’s confident in her team’s ability after the Royals edged out Mattituck, 53-52, back on Jan. 11.

“That was a really good booster for us,” Colucci said. “But since we’re a core group of juniors that have been playing together for so long, the teamwork that we’ve developed helps us most.”

Lewis said the team had a rough first half the season, starting it off with losses to Comsewogue, Mount Sinai and Pierson/Bridgehampton, but has come together to propel the Royals to their winning streak.

“This is my favorite sport and my favorite team,” Lewis said. “They’re all so great and we all help each other do better. We had a rough first half of the season but we picked it up and we took off. We don’t want to lose another game. We want to finish the season on a streak.”

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Port Jefferson junior forward and co-captain Jillian Colucci shoots and scores through a crowd of Babylon defenders. Photo by Desirée Keegan

By Desirée Keegan

After dropping the first two non-league games of the season, the Port Jefferson girls’ soccer team is back on track after topping Babylon Monday, 4-1, to continue a three-game League VII winning streak.

“Coming from being Class B and beating them in the Suffolk County Championship last year and now dropping down to Class C, it is definitely a big win for us today,” head coach Allyson Wolff said. “In the beginning of the season we played some tough opponents in Ward Melville and Center Moriches and we felt like the girls weren’t talking or communicating, so we worked on that and our passing in practice, keeping it simple and playing to feet — not just trying to kick the ball — so I feel we definitely stepped it up for this game.”

Port Jefferson sophomore midfielder Hailey Reale feels pressure from a Babylon defender as she maintains possession of the ball. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Port Jefferson sophomore midfielder Hailey Reale feels pressure from a Babylon defender as she maintains possession of the ball. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Port Jefferson sophomore goalkeeper Brianna Scarda made several big saves to keep the score 0-0, and the Royals had some chances at a goal early on, but Babylon’s defense came up with the stops.

Although opening the second half still in a stalemate, the Royals were quick to make up for lost time after speaking with Wolff at halftime.

“At halftime I told them that they weren’t playing our game,” Wolff said. “Babylon was beating us to the ball and stepping in front of us, and I told them that if we were going to let them do this, then we’re not going to win. I told them that they have to want it and it has to come from their heart, and told them that the other team looked like it wanted it more than they did, and I think that got them angry and sparked something.”

Port Jefferson junior midfielder and forward Clare O'Connor sends the ball into play during the Royals' 4-1 win over Babylon on Sept. 21. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Port Jefferson junior midfielder and forward Clare O’Connor sends the ball into play during the Royals’ 4-1 win over Babylon on Sept. 21. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Less than four minutes in, junior forward Jillian Colucci beat out the Babylon goalkeeper, who came out of the box to try and make a save, and shot the ball into the right side of an empty net off an assist from junior midfielder and forward Clare O’Connor, for the 1-0 lead.

“I knew I was going to get the pass, so I started running and felt the defense on my back, but I was able to touch it past the goalie and did whatever I could do to continue to touch it into the net,” she said.

At the 29:48 mark, after O’Connor sent the ball into play, Colucci attempted a goal through a swarm of defenders, and junior midfielder and forward Brittany Fazin put out her foot to stop the rebound and sent the ball into the right corner for a 2-0 advantage.

Off another assist from O’Connor, who crossed the ball into the box after a foul call, Colucci scored her second goal with a straight shot up the middle through traffic and past the keeper. She followed it up with her hat trick goal when, again, the Babylon goalkeeper came out of the box, leaving the net empty.

“The game was intense, and it always is against Babylon,” Colucci said. “Since we’re only playing them once this season we knew we had to step up and play them as hard as we could and keep our record strong against them.”

Port Jefferson junior midfielder and forward Brittany Fazin kicks the ball behind her to keep the pressure in Babylon's zone. Colucci would grab the pass and score on the play, and the Royals went on to beat the Panthers, 4-1, on Sept. 21. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Port Jefferson junior midfielder and forward Brittany Fazin kicks the ball behind her to keep the pressure in Babylon’s zone. Colucci would grab the pass and score on the play, and the Royals went on to beat the Panthers, 4-1, on Sept. 21. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Scarda made a save, her last of 18 on the afternoon, exactly three minutes after the Royals’ final goal to preserve the clean sheet for the time being, but after a goalie change, senior Noelle Zimmermann gave up a goal with 5:07 left to play, to bring the final score to 4-1.

“We really, really earned it,” Scarda said of the win. “All the nerves that we had — being scared about the game, we took and converted into our skill and our playing. We got our heads in the zone every chance we got and we trained very, very hard leading up to this game.”

What helped the Royals was that the team was playing to feet instead of chasing the ball in the air like they did in the first half.

“We don’t have good control of it [in the air], and when they play things to feet it’s pretty, it’s beautiful and it makes things happen,” assistant coach Michele Aponte said. “They’re a stronger group of girls together, especially getting to the level they got to last year. They want it.”

Port Jefferson travels to McGann-Mercy Friday, for a 4:30 p.m. game. The Royals have topped the Monarchs all six times they faced their opponent in the last three seasons.

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Freshman midfielder Thomas Mark evades the Panthers. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Despite a 14-4 loss at the hands of Babylon on a rainy Tuesday, the Port Jefferson boys’ lacrosse team is looking on the bright side.

“I think a young team like this, not ever experiencing the competition at the varsity level, especially a team that is the reigning county champions, it’s an uphill battle every single time,” Port Jefferson head coach Taylor Forstell said. “It was quite a learning experience. They competed until the last whistle and that’s all I could ask of them.”

A young team, the Royals are looking to improve day by day, to prove that they can hang with — and one day rule over — the other varsity teams.

Junior attack Spencer Woolley passes the ball. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Junior attack Spencer Woolley passes the ball. Photo by Desirée Keegan

To get to that level, junior attack and co-captain Taylor Chiarelli said the team has been doing a lot of running during practice, something the team likes to call “lacrosse country,” while also working on stick skills and ball movement to learn the basics.

“We just need more practice, more movement and more calling out,” he said after the loss. “We didn’t win the game, but it’s all right. We tried our hardest and that’s all that matters.”

Forstell said competitiveness is one thing his athletes don’t lack, adding that although the score of the game may not show it, his Royals never gave up on a play and pressured Babylon until the last whistle.

The Panthers started off with eight unanswered goals until Port Jefferson junior attack Marco Scarda received the ball off of a pass and, from about 20 yards out, sent a straight shot past the goalkeeper to put his team on the scoreboard.

Babylon scored once more in the first, three times in the second and once in the third to take a 13-1 advantage into the final quarter.

“I feel like we kind of lost the game before we got out here, mentally,” said junior goalkeeper and co-captain Connor Fitterer, who made six saves on the evening. “We knew they were going to be a tough team. There’s a lack of experience for a lot of these players. Some of them picked up the stick for the first time last year or this year, so it’s been difficult, but it’s been fun.”

The Royals had something to smile about when Scarda scored again with 10:44 remaining in the game, off a pass across the field that he whipped into the back of the cage.

Sophomore midfielder Chandler Sciara looks downfield to make a play. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Sophomore midfielder Chandler Sciara looks downfield to make a play. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Babylon scored again but Port Jefferson sophomore midfielder Chandler Sciara countered with a goal of his own.

With five seconds remaining, Port Jefferson freshman midfielder Thomas Mark passed the ball from the far left side to sophomore attack Brian Mark, his older brother, who was in front of the goal and managed to lob the ball in overhead to bring the final score to 14-4.

With the loss, Port Jefferson moves to 1-2 overall and 1-1 in League IV, having lost the first game of the season to Bellport, 16-3, but bouncing back with a 16-6 win over Southampton/Ross in its second matchup.

“We definitely could’ve pressured harder, we definitely could’ve been playing a little tougher against them — we didn’t come out with as much fire as they did — but next week’s a new week and we’ll see them again,” junior midfielder and co-captain Max Scandale said. “We just need a little bit of practice, a little bit of time and we’ll definitely get there.”