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Basketball

Miller Place traveled to Warrior nation and outscored Comsewogue, 72-52, in a nonleague matchup Dec. 10.

Miller Place junior Thomas Cirrito led his team in scoring with eight field goals, eight free throws and two triples for 30 points; Thomas Nealis, the lone senior on the squad, banked 16 along with 14 rebounds; and junior Timothy Hirdt netted 12, rebounding 12.

Atop the scoring chart for Comsewogue were Mike McGuire and Liam Gray with 13 points apiece. Both teams opened league play Dec. 12 where the Panthers hosted Wyandanch and Comsewogue took on visiting Centereach, but results were not available by press time.

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By Bill Landon

The Comsewogue Warriors stretched their legs in a 48 to 36 victory over the visiting Port Jeff Royals in a nonleague contest Dec. 6. Danielle McGuire along with teammate Lindsay Hanson topped the leaderboard for the Warriors with 12 points apiece, while Julianna Watson added three triples for nine more. Eighth-grader Lola Idir led the Royals in scoring six field goals, a triple and a free throw for 16 points while Hailey Hearney netted 10. Both teams open league season play Dec. 12 with the Royals at home against Mattituck as the Warriors hit the road to take on Centereach. Game times are 4:30 p.m. and 4 p.m., respectively.

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By Bill Landon

The Patriots drew with eight points late in the game but dropped their season opener 61-50 against visiting Bay Shore Nov. 30.

Robert Soto led his team in scoring netting 15 points along with a pair of treys. Ray Grabowski followed with 12 points, and Chris Foglia banked seven.

Ward Melville will be back in action Dec. 3 where they’ll host Centereach in another nonleague contest in a Coaches vs. Cancer matchup at home. Tip-off is scheduled for 4:15 pm.

By Bill Landon

Mount Sinai opened its nonleague season opener at home easily dispatching the visiting Royals 91-47 Nov. 29. Topping the scoring charts for the Mustangs was Nick Hurowitz with 24, Alex Rudolph netted 19 and Andrew Korakis banked 16. Leading the scoring for Port Jefferson was Bryce Lewis who notched 15 followed by teammate John Bachman with 12. The Mustangs are back in action Dec. 11 where they take on Sayville at home for their first league game; tipoff is scheduled for 5:45 p.m. The Royals retake the court in another nonleague matchup Dec. 6 where they’ll take on Smithtown Christian. Action starts at 6:00 p.m.

When it came to this year’s annual 3-on-3 basketball tournament at the Centereach Pool Complex, Brookhaven Town Councilman Kevin LaValle (R-Selden) decided to do something different. On July 21, the 2018 version of the event was transformed into the Hoops for Military Heroes.

“We always try to do something to highlight veterans and try to bring them together with other community members,” LaValle said.

Farmingville Veterans of Foreign Wars Memorial Post 400, Tordik-Diedrich-Duffield VFW Post 4927 and AMVETS Post 48 are all in the councilman’s district, and he said he thought the basketball tournament would be a good way for the veterans and young people in the area to interact.

This year’s event attracted more than 60 students in seventh to 12th grade and approximately a dozen veterans, according to LaValle. Brookhaven Town Highway Superintendent Daniel Losquadro (R) donated funds for the beverages and snacks, and members of the International Association of Approved Basketball Officials refereed the games for free. All funds raised will be donated to local veterans’ organizations.

The councilman said the event was successful, and he already has ideas for next year, including assigning a veteran as captain to each team.

“I would definitely love to continue this tradition,” LaValle said.

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

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

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

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

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

Matt Ryan, a Miller Place graduate, is a former Olympian and captain for Team USA in 1996. Photo from Matt Ryan

Miller Place native Matt Ryan keeps a phrase in his back pocket: “The harder you work, the luckier you get.”

“I knew I could control the hard work, and where it led I didn’t know,” he said. “But I knew the hard work would get me there.”

His athletic determination led him to a nine-year professional handball career, becoming Team USA’s 1996 Olympic captain and three-time U.S. Handball Player of the Year. His 225 official international matches are an American record and he’s noted as one of the greatest handball players in American history. Now, he’s part of the 2018 Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame class.

Matt Ryan, now the Executive Director
of Regional Development at Georgia Tech, shows off his Olympic jacket. Photo from Matt Ryan

“It certainly paid off,” the current executive director of regional development for Georgia Institute of Technology, said laughingly.

A three-sport athlete for Miller Place, his Panthers success started in basketball. He also played for the baseball team and ran cross country.

“They say it takes a village to raise a child, and that was my case in Miller Place,” said Ryan, who has two older brothers and a younger sister. “Everyone was wonderful from teachers to coaches to parents, and the bond with fellow classmates, it’s a bond like none other. It’s reinforced daily, even now through Facebook. We always supported each other.”

Being in a large family on a block with many kids pushed him to his athletic limits.

“Older friends in the neighborhood pushed me to come up to their level,” he said. “I learned a lot in that — how to overcome obstacles and battle through any circumstance. A lot of my work ethic came from that as well.”

In 1984 as a high school senior, Ryan was the New York Basketball Player of the Year. As a junior, he was second team All-Long Island and won a gold medal at the Empire State Games with the Long Island squad.

Physical education teacher and baseball coach Don Pranzo met his soon-to-be outfielder in seventh grade, and said he knew he was destined to be a great athlete.

Matt Ryan competes in the Olympics for team handball. Photo from Matt Ryan

“He was amenable to teaching,” Pranzo said. “He was a good, nice kid who listened to you and tried out what you suggested.”

Pranzo introduced handball to his students during class after former Miller Place physical education teacher and field hockey coach Judy Kopelman presented it to the other teachers. Kopelman, a 2008 Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame inductee, was selected to the U.S. national handball team from 1974-76.

Pranzo said he had one problem asking Ryan if he’d play the game — the footwork was completely opposite of basketball. In handball, an athlete runs three steps before dribbling, and after dribbling once, can take three more running steps before dribbling again, passing or leaping into the air to shoot. Ryan was willing to give it a shot, and Pranzo said the teachers concluded that if it affected his basketball game, he’d be excused from class.

“As it turns out, he played with some intensity, especially during the tournament, and he continued to play basketball and had no problem with the footwork,” Pranzo said. “He had the visual skills, the physical ability at 6-4 to go over the defense and fire the handball at the goal cage. He was very good.”

Ryan went on to play basketball in college and said he thought it would be the last time he’d play handball.

The U.S. Olympic committee doesn’t have a pipeline for nontraditional sports, where team handball would fall, and instead sends recruiters out to college campuses trying to identify elite athletes across the country. Ryan took part in NFL combine-style testing after graduating, and emerged as one of the top 30 entering training camp.

“I was fortunate enough to know a lot about handball thanks to Miller Place,” Ryan said. “I took a shine to it there, looking forward to those end-of-the-year tournaments.”

“I was blessed, given a tremendous opportunity, and I wasn’t going to squander it. I was
going to make every drop of sweat matter.”

— Matt Ryan

He immersed himself into training three or four times a day, six days a week and competed internationally.

He said representing Team USA was the experience of a lifetime.

“I was blessed, given a tremendous opportunity and I wasn’t going to squander it,” Ryan said. “I was going to make every drop of sweat matter, whether it was in the weight room, on the track, through mental preparation and visualization, or being out on the playing field. I didn’t want to have any regrets. I wanted to walk away knowing I gave it my all.”

He said while many look forward to the opening ceremony of the Olympics, he was in it for more than that.

“I couldn’t wait for competition to arise,” he said. “That was an absolute charge, not only representing my team in the opening ceremony in 1996 but leading my team into competition for the six games we played.”

Miller Place pitched into his Olympic appearance. Having to fund his own training and trip to the 1996 Atlanta games, his mother hosted a variety show fundraiser that thousands attended.

“I was just overwhelmed with the response,” he said. “I shook everyone’s hand or gave them a hug. They sent me off with their well wishes and I was completely moved by that. It’s one of those experiences I’ve taken with me through the journey — to realize my life of sport wasn’t just on the court, but I was able to make an impact in the community and on other people in a positive way.”

Matt Ryan met then-president Bill Clinton during his Olympic journey. Photo from Matt Ryan

In 2004, Ryan was honored with the Boys and Girls Clubs of America National Service to Youth Award. In 2013 he was inducted to the Miller Place Athletic Hall of Fame.

“The success Matt achieved both as a Miller Place student and as an alumnus is a testament to his hard work and drive,” Miller Place Superintendent Marianne Cartisano said. “His commitment to positive sportsmanship is emblematic of Miller Place athletics.”

Ryan said he struggled through his Miller Place hall of fame acceptance speech because his father had just had a heart attack and wasn’t able to attend. He said he’d hoped his dad would be around if he were to be inducted into the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame. He will be attending the induction ceremony May 10 at 7:30 p.m. at Watermill Caterers in Smithtown.

“My father drove me everywhere — completely gave of himself, and now being the parent of a 12-year-old who plays sports, I know how difficult it is when he did that with me, and had three other kids involved in sports,” Ryan said. “The opportunity for him to be there and embrace this recognition with me, which is an extension of him and my mom, it’s completely overpowering.”

Almost as moving as the induction honor itself.

“This whole thing is humbling, quite frankly,” Ryan said. “I never set out for successes. I just put the work and effort in, the focus and drive, and let the chips fall where they may. To be part of this 2018 class, mentioned in the breadth of so many Long Island greats, it’s pretty remarkable.”

Black Team wins Battle of the Educators for third straight year

By Bill Landon

Third time was also a charm for Mount Sinai Middle School’s faculty.

Brandon Loomis, a 6-7 physical education teacher and four-year starter in Mount Sinai School District’s faculty game, ignited the crowd with dunk after dunk to help lead his Black Team to a 73-72 win over Mount Sinai High School staff March. 2.

“[I do it for] all of these kids here that cheer us on,” Loomis said. “We hype it up in the elementary school — they get so excited.”

There was time for one last play after the Gray Team scored on a free-throw to break a 71-71 tie, and the middle school team made it count. Elementary school principal Rob Catlin brought the ball down the court and passed to fifth-grade teacher Melissa Drewisis at the baseline, who found nothing but net as the buzzer sounded to win the game, and with it, bragging rights for another year.

High school team captain and floor general Matt Dyroff said the nor’easter howling outside made him think about postponing the Battle of the Educators, and was glad he didn’t.

“We contemplated whether to call it off, but we said, ‘Let’s go with it,’” Dyroff said. “We crossed our fingers, and it worked out well — it’s a great crowd. The excitement that it brings to the kids … it’s always all about the kids.”

The game is organized and sponsored by Mount Sinai Booster Club, and funds raised from ticket sales, concessions and the halftime shooting contest go toward six $1,000 athletic scholarships awarded in June. Booster club President Diane Tabile said if money is needed to fund other projects or events throughout the district, the club is more than happy to share the wealth. Tabile said she loves how the faculty game is different from anything else her club partakes in throughout the year.

“The kids come out and watch their favorite teacher, especially the younger kids, they idolize these teachers,” Tabile said. “I appreciate the faculty coming out giving up their own time so the kids can come and watch, it’s just a great night. If there’s a program maybe they’re lacking funds for, or if a student may need a little help financially, we’re always willing to help out and we’re lucky that we can.”

Tabile’s daughter Alexa, a senior varsity cheerleader who worked the souvenir and snack stand, said the event gave herself and her classmates a unique perspective of their teachers.

“It’s fun to see the teachers,” she said. “You always see them on such a composed level, but to see them differently — letting their hair down — is fun.”

Cougars are second Class AA team to make it to four straight county finals

Casey Hearns makes her way through Ward Melville's defense. Photo by John Dielman
Amanda McMahon leaps up to the rim. Photo by John Dielman

By Jim Ferchland

Commack’s Katie Kelly, Amanda McMahon and Kim Shalhoub were too much for Ward Melville to contain.

The Cougars trio combined for 43 points in their team’s 60-45 victory over the Patriots in the Class AA semifinals Feb. 24 at Suffolk County Community in Selden. Commack is the second team in Class AA to go to four straight county finals since Sachem East did it from 2008-11.

“We know we’ve always been rivals,” said McMahon, who with Kelly each recorded a team-high 15 points. “We know we always have to bring our game. It feels really great to get a win because we prepared for this so much. The intensity really picked up as the game progressed.”

The packed house was there to not only watch the two teams duke it out, but see Ward Melville head coach Samantha Prahalis face off once again against her alma mater. Commack beat Ward Melville back on Jan. 3, 75-59. Prahalis was ejected that game in the fourth quarter after arguing with officials. On Saturday, Prahalis picked up a technical with 3:45 left in the fourth quarter, which gave Commack momentum to finish the job.

“It’s not necessarily about Ward Melville-Commack,” Prahalis said. “It’s the semifinals. A lot is on the line.”

Katie Kelly reaches powers into Ward Melville’s zone. Photo by John Dielman

Ward Melville junior Lauren Hansen was back healthy after missing six weeks with a hand injury. She finished with 18 points, making four 3-pointers after recording 39 during the first matchup. Junior Bre Cohn finished with 13 points.

“It was difficult,” Hansen said. “I was missing a lot of shots. It was kind of frustrating but it felt good to be back out there.”

Commack senior captain Casey Hearns defended Hansen the entire game. She said guarding her was a huge challenge.

“She is an outstanding player,” Hearns said of Hansen. “It’s definitely hard to guard her. Each time we play her, she has the ability to turn it on in a game like that and take it over. I just focused on staying in front. I knew there were times she was going to pull up and I couldn’t really do anything about it.”

Kim Shaloub passed the ball. Photo by John Dielman

Despite a slow first quarter, the Cougars were up 26-24 at halftime and outscored the Patriots 34-21 in the second half. Commack senior guard and captain Shalhoub (13 points) said her team is more a second-half team.

“I feel like every game we play better in the second half,” Shalhoub said. “It’s really important at the end of the game once you tire the other team out to keep on pushing. It really makes the ending better when you finish strong.”

Prahalis said Ward Melville had a chance to win after Commack went on a 13-0 run to push its advantage, but let the game slip away.

“We kinda had them, and then little things here and there — one or two things leads to three or four,” Prahalis said. “I’m proud of my girls for sticking in there and working hard. We’ll be back here next year.”

Hearns is proud of her team going to yet another county final. Commack will face off against Half Hollow Hills East at Farmingdale State College Feb. 27 at 5 p.m.

“We are used to this,” Hearns said. “This is our fourth one in a row. We lose kids every year and we are still able to get back here. That’s something I’m so proud of and I’m really happy to be a part of this team — from the first girl on the court to the last one on the bench.”

Commack’s bench erupts during a 13-0 Cougars run in the fourth quarter. Photo by John Dielman

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Mustangs fall short of back-to-back county titles with loss to Hauppauge

Brooke Cergol never counted her team out. With her Mount Sinai girls basketball team down from opening tipoff, the junior continued to let shots fly, scoring five of her team-high 13 points in the first half to try to keep her Mustangs in it. She went 3-for-4 from the free-throw line to end the first half, turning a 15-9 deficit into a one-possession game, but Mount Sinai couldn’t come any closer. The Mustangs’ undefeated season came to an end in a 51-40 Class A county final loss to No. 6 Hauppauge Feb. 23 at Farmingdale State College.

“Hitting those three free throws to get us back into the game felt amazing — it gave us hope, and we started playing more like how we usually play,” Cergol said. “Our strategy going in was to have a strong defensive position, get out on shooters and rebound. We tried to stay with that game plan as much as possible — sometimes it didn’t work the way we wanted to, but we definitely gave it everything we had.”

Cergol broke up another Hauppauge scoring streak to start the third and cut the deficit to 10, but the Eagles were soon at it again. Junior Gabby Sartori (11 points) was next to break up a scoring spurt, hitting her second 3-pointer of the game and two free throws. She continued to try drawing fouls while driving the lane, but was denied the opportunity in most cases. Lone senior starter Olivia Williams (eight points) capped off the eight minutes with a 3-point play to give her No.1-seeded team another shot in the arm.

“We knew we were still in it,” Cergol said. “We never got down on ourselves, and knew we just needed to play in the moment. We all pushed ourselves. Obviously, the game did not turn out the way we wanted, but each player left everything on the court, and that’s what I love about this team.”

Cergol scored on a layup and Sartori on an offensive rebound to trim Hauppauge’s lead to four, 32-28, but the Mustangs fell behind the rest of the way.

“I think the game was a good challenge for us,” Williams said, noting the loss of Margaret Kopcienski to injury in the third had a direct impact on the team. “I don’t think going down early got in our heads because we had been in similar situations before, but it took a while for us to get into the swing of things.”

Mount Sinai comes short of completing back-to-back county title-winning seasons, claiming the program’s first last year, but finished the regular season undefeated for the first time in school history. Williams is thankful for the opportunity to be a part of momentous seasons.

“Being out on the court as a senior was surreal to me because I have been a part of this program for so long,” she said. “I was motivated to give it my all every game knowing it was my last season, and being on this journey with my team has been an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything. Being a Mustang has taught me so much about not only athletics, but the importance of having good character and leadership. I’ve had the chance to develop great relationships with my teammates and coaches over the years and have made memories that I will cherish forever.”

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