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Bill Landon

Freddy Rivera and Matthew Hu face off at Mission Fencing. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

After devastation struck Puerto Rico in the form of Hurricane Maria in September, members of Puerto Rico’s national fencing team reached out to anyone willing to lend a hand.

Hearing of Team Puerto Rico’s plight, Rocky Point’s Mission Fencing Center owners Jeff and Jennie Salmon quickly opened their doors so the team could train for an upcoming international competition, and many of the fencers were more than thankful.

“As my family and a lot of my friends said it was like a blessing for this family to reach out to us and give us the opportunity [to train],” said 17-year-old épéeist Freddie Rivera, who calls Juana Díaz, Puerto Rico home. “Ever since I got the news that we had this opportunity, I wanted to meet them. They gave us their house too, and to take us to this place [Mission Fencing] — that takes a lot of effort.”

Members of Mission Fencing Center helped host members of Team Puerto Rico, on podium at back row, who had no place to train in the wake of Hurricane Maria. Photo by Bill Landon

Salmon, a Comsewogue High School graduate and varsity boys fencing coach for Ward Melville, said housing and feeding the fencers, as well as providing transportation to his 30,000-square-foot subterranean training facility on Route 25A, which he said is the largest in the country,
wasn’t as difficult as it might sound.

Mission Fencing Center owns a bus that already transports athletes from across Long Island to and from the center, and the Salmons have plenty of space in their old mission church home in Mount Sinai, from where the center got its name. He said this, along with local contributions, made accommodations for the four-week stay accommodations simple. Karina Del Mar Pagan, a 19-year-old from Carolina, Puerto Rico, said each member of her eight-person group paid for his or her plane ticket, and the Salmons took care of the rest.

“Fifteen years ago Jennie and I bought our home and ran a fencing clinic out of the extra space,” Salmon said. “We didn’t have the finances to support [Team Puerto Rico], but we live in an old church, which we still run camps out of in the summer, so we have a bunch of beds and have plenty of room. We have some pretty nice housing for them.”

The fencing community demonstrated its generosity by holding food drives and 50/50 raffles since the guests landed Dec. 11, as well as by donating hats, gloves and other cold-weather items to help the Caribbean team adjust to the temperature. The group also received home items like paper towels and laundry detergent.

“It was like a blessing for this family to reach out to us and give us the opportunity [to train].”

—Freddie Rivera

“Today we went to the laundromat and the minute one of the girls stepped outside she said, ‘Oh my God, here we go again,’” Jeff Salmon said, laughing. “The team doesn’t like the cold, but they all have coats and gloves because everyone really stepped [up]. Everyone is so excited that they’re here and the whole Long Island fencing community has been great.”

His wife heard of Team Puerto Rico’s predicament through Iris Zimmermann, who co-owns the Rochester Fencing Club, and said she immediately knew she wanted to get involved in any way she could.

“I guess I just took the bull by the horns,” Jennie Salmon said. “And now USA Fencing federation is even involved in helping them.”

Carlos Quiles, a 24-year-old Carolina, Puerto Rico, resident chaperoning his group of eight fencers, said he was connected with the Salmons after pleading to his fencing federation president that they needed a place to train after seeing his club’s flooded headquarters.

“When we saw that our club was completely destroyed, the head of our fencing federation went to a meeting to make a plan as to what we were going to do,” Quiles said, adding that the organization reached out to anyone in the United States and beyond. “That’s when Mission Fencing found us and [Jeff Salmon] told us he wanted us to come here. We couldn’t be more grateful.”

Team Puerto Rico took to the strips of Mission Fencing Center Dec. 15, where its members showed off their international flare while competing against local Long Island fencers like Ward Melville épéeist Ben Rogak.

Rivera said he was excited to challenge himself and partake in a unique experience, one that provided a first for the young athlete.

The group’s chaperone, Carlos Quiles, trains against fencing center member and Ward Melville junior Cat Cao to secure his position on the Puerto Rico national team. Photo by Bill Landon

“I’m so thankful for this opportunity,” he said while fencing inside the center as snow began to fall. “This is my third trip to the United States — [having previously visited] Mexico and Costa Rica — and this time, I’m a proud member of the junior national team. This is also the first time I’ve ever seen snow.”

Rogak said he also enjoyed competing against fencers he’s never seen before, and said that he admired their dedication. Jennie Salmon agreed.

“They’ve been awesome guests,” she said. “We’ve had press based on our success as high school coaches, and at some level we’re very proud of that, but that isn’t even close to our biggest success. What we’re doing here is so meaningful.”

Before returning home, the Mission Fencing Center bus will take the team to Virginia, where it will be joined by its other members from around the country to compete.

Rivera reiterated how happy he was to learn from Long Island’s established athletes, adding it’s been helpful as programs at home begin to take flight.

“In Puerto Rico we are starting to have leagues in high school — we are taking baby steps,” he said. “This is a super club, [Mission Fencing]. It’s complete with a gym, trainers, and I’m thankful for this opportunity. Jeff and Jennie like to help people, and there are not a lot of good people that open their homes like that in the world. I have to say that they have big hearts and they’re full of love.”

Smithtown East's Joe Neto scored five 3-pointers in a win over Centereach. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Smithtown East senior Joe Neto has a sweet outside shot.

The guard finished with five 3-pointers and a commanding 19 points to lead the Bulls over the visiting Centereach Cougars in a 54-36 League III opener Dec. 19.

Alex Zampieron goes up under the basket. Photo by Bill Landon

The Cougars were able to pull as close as within five points late in the fourth quarter, but a 14-9 fourth quarter sealed the deal.

“They were putting a little more pressure on me, forcing the ball out of my hands, but in the second half our spacing was great, our pace was great and everyone was moving the ball really well,” Neto said. “We found the open guy — we made a bunch of open shots and we made our layups.”

With 5:25 left in the first half, Neto hit back-to-back triples to put his team out front 21-7. Centereach called timeout, and made a defensive adjustment out of the huddle that helped the Cougars hold Smithtown East scoreless until the final second before the break, when Neto launched his second nearly half-court shot of the game for his fourth 3-pointer to that point. Smithtown East held a 10-point advantage, 24-14, heading into the locker room.

Centereach head coach Ed Miller said the guarded effort wasn’t what he expected.

“We actually just kind of woke up and started playing the defense we should have been playing,” Miller said. “We made a couple of adjustments where we should have been, positionwise, and the kids followed through on it.”

Centereach’s Chris Witherspoon leaps for a layup. Photo by Bill Landon

Three minutes into the third quarter Centereach senior Chris Witherspoon hit a field goal and a pair of treys to close the gap to six points. Smithtown East retook to the court following an immediate timeout call, and with a different offensive look. Then 6-foot, 3-inch senior Alex Zampieron got the call, grabbing low passes and battling in the paint for each point. When he didn’t score, he drew a foul and made his time at the charity stripe count. He finished with a team-high seven points in the third to Witherspoon’s eight.

“When he got the ball he was making strong moves, and finishing,” said Smithtown East head coach Keith Reyling. “It wasn’t pretty, so even if we don’t play our best game we can still be successful. Sometimes
we don’t play the game like we practiced, and we go off script a little bit and that’s when things get away from us.”

Smithtown East opened the final quarter with a 13-point lead and again Neto swished his final 3-pointer of the game. Zampieron followed Neto with nine points in the win, and junior Chris Goria tacked on six.

Witherspoon topped Centereach’s scoring chart with 16 points. Next in line was sophomore Matt Robbert with five.

Centereach hosts North Babylon today, Dec. 21, at 4 p.m.

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Undefeated Tigers boast strong swimmers, maintaining streak with no divers

Northport freshman Aiden Greenfield, won the 200-meter and 500 freestyle events, and was a member of the first-place 200 freestyle relay quartet. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Not fielding a single diver doesn’t faze the Northport boys swim team.

It hasn’t effected a single meet’s outcome yet either, as the Tigers edged previously undefeated Connetquot on the road Dec. 18, 93-90, for their fourth win of the season.

Being down 13 points before the first gun ever sounds has its challenges though, according Northport head coach Drew Modrov’s athletes though, especially when up against a strong swim team like the Thunderbirds have.

“Connetquot’s always a fierce team — we have kind of a rivalry with them — so we always know that when we come here it’s going to be a close meet,” the coach said. “It’s intense, and every point is going to matter. I’m just happy we came away with the win.”

The Greenfield brothers boasted big point totals for the Tigers.

Northport senior Zach Papsco clocked in with a state-qualifying time in the 100-meter butterfly, and was first to the block in the 100 breaststroke. Photo by Bill Landon

Senior Ethan Greenfield, along with 200-meter medley relay teammates Nick Millkey and Zach Papsco and Dylan Karpf, came in first with a state-qualifying time of 1 minute, 40.25 seconds. He added to Northport’s point total with a state-qualifying times of 22.05 in the 50 freestyle and 48.73 in the 100 freestyle.

“A lot of our guys came up big — Ethan Greenfield had a couple of best times in crucial wins,” Modrov said. “It was Ethan’s personal best in the 50 free.”

Freshman Aidan Greenfield, Ethan’s younger brother, won both the 200 and 500 freestyle events, and was a member of the first-place 200 freestyle relay quartet.

“I thought that the turning point was the 500 free — we went out and finished first and third, which dropped us even,” said Karpf, the only sophomore on the 200 medley relay. “And the last relay is what I thought really cemented it for us.”

Each member of the 200 medley also shined individually.

Papsco clocked in with a state-qualifying time of 53.57 in the 100 butterfly, and was first to hit the pad in the 100 breaststroke. Millkey won the 200 individual medley, and followed it up with a victory in the 100 backstroke, also stopping the clock with his own state championship time: 54.43.

Modrov said he was particularly impressed by the performances of his underclassmen, noting Aidan Greenfield and freshman Austin Neuf’s high placements.

“At the end we had a great swim from Austin Neuf, a freshman who took second place in the 100 breaststroke, and that put us over the edge and helped us win the meet,” the coach said.

After the holiday break Northport is back in action at Ward Melville Jan. 5. The meet is currently slated to begin at 4:30 p.m.

Centeraeach ougars come close to defeating a powerhouse

By Bill Landon

Centereach epéeist Abir Das worried Ward Melville’s boys fencing squad. The junior had taken to the strip twice Dec. 12, outscoring his previous opponents 5-2 and 5-3. With Ward Melville ahead 13-11, and a must-win match on the line,  the fencer stepped up to face eighth-grader Will Lehr, who was 1-1 on the day. As he retied the match 4-4 and his visiting team’s crowd kept chanting, Das just kept counting.

“I tried to stay calm out on the strip,” he said. “I have a habit of counting numbers in my head to stay calm, get in the zone and set up my game. When [it’s loud] and everyone’s watching you, you need to learn to move out and up on your opponent. It’s like a chess game, so I tried to out-strategize him.”

Das rose to the challenge, edging his adversary 5-4 with his parry hit, but the Patriots dropped the hammer and swept the last two bouts to secure a 15-12 win to stay perfect on the season.

Ward Melville senior Jared Dorf fell in his first two bouts in epée, but came through when it mattered most — winning his final match 5-2 for the all-important 14th victory.

“Jared is our captain — he’s been on the team for a while — and I wasn’t sure if he could execute our plan to disengage [his opponent’s] parry and to be aggressive enough to hit the target,” Ward Melville head coach Jeff Salmon said. “We were screaming to find that moment and attack, [but at the same time] avoiding that parry, but the kids were having trouble just landing their points.”

Perfect on the night for the Patriots was sophomore sabreist Leo Takemaru, who swept his three matches 5-0, 5-2, 5-0. Junior epéeist Ben Rogak won both of his bouts, 5-1 and 5-2. His second win was the final bout of the evening, against Centereach senior James Moore.

“I was very nervous — we’ve had a very strong team in the past, but a lot of the other teams have up-and-coming fencers that we have to be careful of,” Rogak said. “I have confidence that we will be the strongest team throughout the season, but we have to grind it out, buckle down, and we need more
support from the bench.”

Moore finished 2-for-3, winning his first two matches 5-2 before falling to Rogak.

“I was energized, motivated,” Moore said. “I was recovering quickly and recovering forward, and I felt good. I came in here and I knew we were going to have a respectable meet.”

Foilist Frank DiCanio III swept all three of his bouts for Centereach, besting his opponents 5-0, 5-4 and 5-0.

First-year head coach Christina Piraino said she couldn’t be happier with her team’s performance against the powerhouse Patriots.

“The highlight was in foil — DiCanio won all three and Jarod Chang, he’s been working really hard in practice, and their hard work paid off today,” said Piraino, a Centereach alumna who graduated 10 years ago. “We were never able to do this well against Ward Melville, so I’m just so proud of them. This should give them more drive to work harder, and I told them that the next time we face them, we’re going to beat Ward Melville.”

Even still, Salmon said he’s most worried about Middle Country’s other fencing team: Newfield.

“I think they’re the second best team in the county, and it’s no secret they trained in the off-season,” the coach said of Newfield.“They have key players that have trained all year long, and they’re ready.”

Dorf said the boisterous Centereach crowd had an impact on his team’s performance, and they’ll learn from it for the meets ahead.

“It’s not an exciting moment when you lose any bout, but any good fencer is an amazing person to watch and we could feel their pride in that moment,” he said, pointing to Das’ win. “But when you face a good opponent, it shows us that we’re not the best all-around, and that we have room for improvement.”

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Iris Sovocchi goes for a layup. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Northport’s girls basketball team was unable to keep up its streak of close games against former League II foe Half Hollow Hills East, as the Tigers fell 59-45 to the now League III Thunderbirds on the road Dec. 11.

Even so, Northport sophomore guard Danielle Pavinelli did what she could to counter Hills East’s leading point scorer Alexa Wallace, matching her with a game-high 21 points.

Danielle Pavinelli reaches over blockers to make her shot. Photo by Bill Landon

Northport head coach Rich Castellano said the result was not indicative of how the Tigers typically play, noting junior Hannah Stockman’s early foul trouble.

“Hannah [Stockman] … she’s our biggest scorer and our top 3-point shooter, and Shelby [Maldavir], our senior captain, I don’t think she hit one 3-pointer today,” Castellano said. “I think Kerry [Dennin] and Danielle [Pavinelli] — those two carried us for several long stretches.”

Pavinelli, who is following her sister Allie, a 2014 graduate, by committing to play lacrosse at the University of Florida next year, nailed two free throws to give Northport its first lead of the game, 6-5. But it was short lived, as the foul trouble led to a collection of free points for the Thunderbirds, which led 26-11 at the end of the first quarter.

Junior guard Iris Sovocchi attempted shift momentum Northport’s way, nailing back-t-back 3-pointers to close the deficit to 12 points both times, and Pavinelli added a three of her own, but it was Kerry Dennin that was able to break through. The sophomore forward drove the lane and wouldn’t be denied the scoring opportunity, as she added a bucket that brought the Tigers within 10, 32-22, at the break.

Dennin matched a Hills East 3-pointer with one of her own to start the scoring for the third as minutes ticked off the clock, but Northport was not able to chip away at the 10-point margin. The Thunderbirds diligently drove the baseline, drawing fouls as they continued to collect points from the charity stripe.

Kerry Dennin pushes past Half Hollow Hills East defenders to take a shot. Photo by Bill Landon

“This was not a normal games for us — we didn’t shoot well tonight,” said Castellano, who was recently inducted into the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame and begins his 39th year at the helm of the Northport program. “But I give [Half Hollow Hills East] credit; they did a great job on defense against us, they worked hard and they played better. They did what they had to do to win the game.”

Behind Pavinelli was Dennin with eight points and Sovocchi added six.

“We usually have a strong three-point game, but tonight we didn’t,” the head coach said despite the Tigers matching the Thunderbirds with six 3-pointers. “Our offense stalled a little, but Kerry Dennin played a great game for us tonight.”

Northport has two more nonleague contests, against Smithtown West and Massapequa, before opening league play hosting Bay Shore Dec. 19 at 6 p.m.

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Gabrianna Lorefice moves the ball through traffic in Smithtown West's nonleague loss to Walt Whitman. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Smithtown West looked to shake off the cobwebs early this season, hosting Walt Whitman in a nonleague matchup Dec. 9, but a slow start for the Bulls left them in a deficit they could never recover from, falling 76-38.

Madison Flynn jumps to the rim. Photo by Bill Landon

Walt Whitman found its 3-point game early, hitting two in the opening minutes during a 10-0 run before Smithtown West called timeout. Down 14-0 after the break, Smithtown West junior guard Gabrianna Lorefice split her chances from the free-throw line to take the goose egg off the scoreboard with just over a minute left in the opening quarter.

With 4:28 left before the halftime break now trailing 24-9, sophomore forward Jillian Meaney hit a 3-pointer to close the gap, but the Wildcats countered with three triples of their own to take a commanding 40-16 lead into the locker room.

The Bulls held their own under the boards with aggressive rebounding that resulted in several jump balls, but struggled in transition and getting the ball to fall in the net.

“I saw some good things from players that haven’t had much playing time who have come up from junior varsity so that’s good, but defensively and transition-wise we need to do a better job,” Smithtown West head coach Katie Combs said. “I saw a lot of strength underneath the board even though [Walt Whitman] had the [height] advantage there.”

Rebecca Farrell shoots from 3-point range. Photo by Bill Landon

Senior guard Lauren Soriano opened the second half with a 3-pointer, and Meaney hit her second triple of the game but again Walt Whitman countered to keep the edge.

The Bulls found themselves down by 34 points midway through the final quarter, a hole too deep to climb out of. Lorefice led her team in scoring with eight points, sophomore Madison Flynn followed with seven and Meaney tacked on six.

Smithtown West has one more nonleague game, a Dec. 13 home game against Northport at 6 p.m., before beginning league play Dec. 19 in a home opener at 4 p.m.

“What’s helpful is that we’re able to fix our offensive mistakes, but today we felt a tremendous amount of pressure,” Combs said. “For next week we’re looking to get our first win and carry that momentum into our first league game and then build from there.”

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Port Jeff Royals set the bar high this wrestling season

Vin Miceli controls his opponent during the Huntington Holiday Tournament Dec. 2. Photo by Bill Landon
Matt Murphy breaks free from his challenger during the Huntington Holiday Tournament Dec. 2. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

For Port Jefferson senior Vin Miceli, grabbing gold was a nice way to kick off the individual season. The 132-pounder placed first at the 47th annual Huntington Holiday Tournament Dec. 2, and was also voted Most Outstanding Wrestler by all of the coaches in attendance.

Miceli, who has committed to wrestle for Division I Bloomsburg University next year, said there’s no secret to competing at the level he does. He said the sacrifices he makes pay off on the mat.

“It takes a lot of hard work — there’s no stopping and there’s no offseason for me — I’m always in the wrestling room,” said Miceli, who will start the season competing in the 126-pound weight class, hoping to transition to 120 by midseason. “I have my brother and good friends to train with, so it’s nonstop. I have about 90 matches in the offseason.”

Despite its size, Port Jefferson has a rich tradition of cultivating wrestling talent year in and year out, and according to first-year assistant coach Jesse Meaney, the sport is unique in several ways.

“Wrestling isn’t like other sports where you need 100 kids coming out to have a successful team — the work that they put in is the success they will come away with,” Meaney said. “And repetition is the key. You have to drill things 1,000 times in order for it to become muscle memory, so at the end of the week, the kids have drilled things to where they’re technically perfect.”

Port Jefferson faced off against the best of Huntington, Kings Park, Farmingdale, Patchogue-Medford, Comsewogue and Grand Street Campus (Brooklyn).

Brendan Rogers attempts to turn his opponent onto his back during the Huntington Holiday Tournament Dec. 2. Photo by Bill Landon

Junior Rick D’Elia placed second at 113 pounds, as did senior Joe Evangelista at 152 pounds.

Meaney reiterated that being a large school with a larger talent pool isn’t the same type of advantage it is in other sports.

“Wrestling isn’t a sport that discriminates, if you have kids that are willing to put in the work and that are willing to listen to the coaches, you can have a successful program,” he said.

Junior Brendan Rogers placed third at 120 pounds, as did classmate Ryan Robertson and sophomore Jack Neiderberger at 138 and 195 pounds. Placing fourth were seniors Joe Longo and Chris Lepore and junior Harry Cona in 152, 182 and 220 pounds, respectively.

When asked what his goals were for his senior season, Miceli didn’t hesitate.

“I’m a senior on a mission — my goal is to win states,” Miceli said. “That’s been my goal since I’ve joined the team.”

The Royals compete in two more invitationals — Harborfields’ Steven J. Mally Memorial and their own Bob Armstrong Cup — before opening the league season on the road against Mattituck Dec. 21.

Thanksgiving Turkey Trot races benefit Hauppauge-based nonprofit Christmas Magic

By Bill Landon

Thanks to Mount Sinai community members displaced children are once again getting what’s on their Christmas lists this year.

The school district’s Students Against Destructive Decisions club members teamed up with Strong Island Running Club and more than 36 local businesses and families for the 7th annual Mount Sinai Turkey Trot 5K and Fun Run to benefit Hauppauge-based nonprofit Christmas Magic.

According to running club founder John McHugh, the organization receives letters from children who write to Santa from area homeless shelters.

“Many were originally displaced back in 2008 as a result of the housing market crash,” McHugh said. “We get those letters, and with the proceeds of today’s race, we’ll go shopping next week and buy presents for the kids and host a dinner for them and their families.”

The races brought out more than 350 entrants, and Mount Sinai student-athletes swept the top five 5K spots. First across the finish line was Mount Sinai junior Sean Higgins, who is a member of the school’s varsity track and field and cross country teams. He clocked in at a personal best 17 minutes, 26:31.

“I practice at 7 a.m. every day,” the 17-year-old said. “I run for a living.”

Second across the finish line was teammate Ryan Wilson, who tripped the timer at 17:55.88. Mount Sinai runner Jackson Law finished in third with a time of 18:23.38, and was followed by his twin brother Christian who covered the distance in 18:24.97.

The first female finisher was Mount Sinai senior Noreen Guilfoyle, who finished in 18:35. It was her third consecutive first-place finish among females in the event.

“It’s a beautiful morning,” she said.

The event had the best turnout of any year so far, with event proceeds totaling just over $7,500, according to McHugh. After dinner, which will be held at Mount Sinai High School Dec. 6 at 5 p.m., there will be a visit from Santa where the kids will receive their gifts and sing Christmas carols.

“These people all have hearts of gold,” McHugh said. “It is our privilege to help make the holidays special for those children and families in need across Long Island.”

For more information about the collaboration, visit www.strongislandrunningclub.com or call 631-806-4649.

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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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The defensive end's big stop, catches lead Panthers

By Bill Landon

Miller Place’s Panthers made a stand.

The football team’s defense rose to the occasion when the Suffolk County championship title was on the line in a 25-25 game with just under two minutes left to play.

As No. 1-seeded Babylon barreled toward the end zone at Stony Brook University Nov. 16, No. 2 Miller Place’s defense forced a turnover on fourth-and-8 at their 34-yard line, and Anthony Seymour scored a touchdown on the ensuing possession to put the Division IV game away, 33-25. The win clinched Miller Place’s first football title since the championships began in 1992.

At the heart of it all was 5-foot, 3-inch senior Anthony Filippetti, who made the stop to force the turnover and followed it up by getting behind the secondary for a 27-yard reception to the Babylon 6 to set up the final score. The catch came after Seymour was sacked for a 7-yard loss.

To cap the championship-winning drive, Seymour faked a handoff to Tyler Ammirato heading over right tackle, and bolted off left tackle for a 3-yard rush into the end zone that snapped a 25-all tie with 21 seconds left.

“After we stopped them on downs I looked at Anthony [Seymour] and said, ‘If we don’t get in the end zone I’m never talking to you again,’” Ammirato said jokingly. “But he did, and we got the win. It’s the best feeling in the world.”

The county title-winning drive started with 1:45 left. Ammirato, a Seymour-to-Tom Nealis connection and Filippetti helped the Panthers drive 66 yards in seven plays.

“With our playmaker — Nealis — it’s comforting to know that you have a kid like that,” Miller Place head coach Greg Murphy said. “It makes you feel that you’re never really out of it. He’s been doing that all year long.”

Filippetti scored the first Miller Place touchdown of the evening on a 54-yard run on the second play from scrimmage and Cameron Hammer’s kick tied it at 7 with 7:43 left in the first quarter.

Babylon capped the first with another touchdown, but the point-after attempt failed, making the lead 13-7 heading into the second.

Seymour and Nealis were at it again to open the second, with Nealis catching a 34-yard pass from his field general. The teams were tied again when the Panthers’ point-after attempt also went wayward.

Nealis hauled in a 54-yard pass and run soon after, being forced out at the 2-yard line to set up Ammirato’s first of two touchdowns. The kicks failed on both and the scores were separated by a Babylon touchdown.

“In the beginning of the game we ran the ball trying to establish the ground game to eat up the clock,” Murphy said. “We needed that a little bit trying to get Tyler [Ammirato] going.”

Matt McNulty charged the Babylon holder after its final score and pulled off the block, which shifted momentum back Miller Place’s way.

“It was just a big moment — I had to pick up my teammates, I just had to do what I could,” the defensive end said. “I was hyped — I wanted that ball back and a chance to make a play and that’s what happened. We knew that the toughest defense was going to win today and making a stop like that in a championship game is what it’s all about.”

Miller Place (10-1) will meet Seaford (9-2) Nov. 24 at noon at Hofstra University’s James M. Shuart Stadium in its first appearance in the Long Island Class IV championship game.

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