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Bill Landon

Annual game against Mount Sinai memorializes the late alumna for her kindness, giving nature

By Desirée Keegan

Hundreds came out to show support for a local girl who gave to others.

In 2011, Rocky Point High School graduate Susie Facini died of a sudden heart attack. She was 19 years old. Since then, the Eagles and Mount Sinai’s baseball team have faced off each year to raise money for a scholarship in the name of a girl who was known for her immediate impact on everyone she met.

“All of them universally buy into what we’re trying to get across, and that is kindness,” said Facini’s father Peter, who tossed a ceremonial first pitch. “It takes courage to be kind sometimes — to step out of your comfort zone and reach out to somebody. And conversely, if you’re in trouble and you need help, you need to be able to ask somebody for help. It’s a difficult world and these kids give us great [hope].”

Without warning, Facini had felt her heart race, and passed out just seconds later. Despite efforts by her mother, Bernadette, a registered nurse, Facini was unable to be revived. The mother said she’s moved each and every year by how the community and the teams react to the game, especially now that most of the current student-athletes had never met her daughter.

“It comes down through the teachers, the parents; ‘Who is this girl, what does she mean to people and why?’ and they all do it proudly,” she said. “We are humbled by it every year and we’re shocked that it gets bigger and bigger. These are absolutely remarkable, nice boys. This event is really wonderful, and we’re lucky.”

Rocky Point senior pitcher and outfielder Ryan Callahan dedicated his time and efforts, taking part in the fundraiser that gathered $500 for the scholarship through food sales and raffles.

“I didn’t know her, but anyone you talk to says she was such a great person,” Callahan said. “I heard from everyone who’d known her that she was such an amazing human being, always so kind to everyone and left such a big and lasting impact on people. This is just our way to memorialize that.”

Jessica LaCascia, Facini’s longtime friend and classmate, said it’s the type of event her friend would’ve been first in line for.

“She would be dancing in the dugout like they are,” she said, pointing to the teammates that shook their hips to the music that played between each inning. “Susie was friends with everybody — there was not a stranger in her life. She was just such a bright light. Anytime she entered a room you couldn’t help but laugh; she commanded all of the attention. [I look around] and I don’t know anyone here, so I’m so thankful for all the people here coming out to celebrate what her life meant.”

Donations to the Live Like Susie Memorial Scholarship can be made in person or by mail to the high school at 90 Rocky Point-Yaphank Road, Rocky Point, NY, 11778.

Bill Landon contributed reporting

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Wolverines win crosstown rival battle in close finish

Newfield's Joe Rubenstrunk tags a Centereach runner out at second. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Back-to-back one-run innings put Newfield ahead to earn a 2-1 win over crosstown rival Centereach April 17.

Newfield pitcher Bobby Vath hurls a pitch. Photo by Bill Landon

Chandler Giovinco and Dylan Johnson both hit doubles to put Newfield on the board and tie the score in the bottom of the fourth, and Joey Rubenstrunk scored from second base off the bat of Michael Prisco on a fielder’s choice to put Newfield (8-1) ahead and earn the win in the bottom of the fifth.

“We did a good job at staying poised and focused and making the plays — whenever Newfield plays Centereach things get ratcheted up a little bit,” Newfield head coach Eric Joyner said. “That’s a good team. They came in hot, they put the ball in play and that put pressure on our defense, but [fortunately] they were able to step up and make the plays.”

Before the game even started things got off to a rocky start for Centereach, with the starting pitcher being scratched half an hour before the game as a result of an injury sustained during warmups. The ball was put in the hands of Mark Schnitzer, who went the distance. 

“I told him to focus. Stay composed and be confident — he’s a real pitcher and his mindset is, ‘I don’t care where I’m pitching, what time I’m pitching, I just want the ball,’” Centereach head coach Pete Cammarata said. “He was the best kid to go with after what happened today.”

Centereach’s Liam Webber slides into Newfield shortstop Kyle Johnson while he makes a play. Photo by Bill Landon

Centereach right fielder Devin Demetres started the first inning with a single to right field, then stole second before third baseman Ryan Mahnke smacked the ball through the gap on a full count to send him home.

Liam Webber drew a walk for the Cougars in the top of the third, moving Demetres over to second, and shortstop Ryan DeCoursey hit a sacrifice fly to put both runners in scoring position. With two outs, Newfield’s Giovinco tracked down a deep shot to right field, diving for the ball to come up with a catch that stranded both runners.

“The wind caught that ball, but I knew I had to make that play to help my team out,” Giovinco said.

The junior right fielder’s bat spoke next when he drilled the ball deep to left for a stand-up double in the bottom of the fourth. Johnson, a freshman, protected the plate before he jumped on a pitch he blasted to right field, plating Giovinco to make it a new game, 1-all. Centereach’s Demetres continued to keep himself busy, reeling in another hit to end the inning.

Newfield shortstop Kyle Johnson, Dylan’s brother, was hit by a pitch and took first to load the bases in the bottom of the fifth. Prisco hit an infield ground ball for what was a double-play situation, but the throw to second base was bobbled, getting the ball to first just seconds after the runner as Rubenstrunk dashed for home plate.

Centereach pitcher Mark Schnitzer goes the distance despite being called on to start 20 minutes before the game. Photo by Bill Landon

“Yesterday in practice we were working on getting good leads off the bag and [then sprinting],” Rubenstrunk said. “I saw the ball in play at second, so I took off for home.”

The Cougars bats went back to work in the top of the seventh, but Newfield’s starting pitcher Bobby Vath still had some spark left in him, and the senior retired the side in order by working the corners.

Cammarata said he now knows his team can compete with anyone, saying if one or two plays went the other way, Centereach would’ve come out on top.

“You’ve got to take your hats off to the other team,” he said. “[You put it in the past] and you move on to the next day.”

Centereach hosted Newfield in the second game of the series April 18, but results were not available by press time. Newfield returns to Cougars country April 19 for the final game of the series. The first pitch is scheduled to be tossed at 4 p.m.

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Mustangs remain perfect in League VII with 15-6 victory

Mount Sinai's Jared Donnelly crushes the ball. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Jared Donnelly just keeps swinging away.

Mount Sinai starting pitcher George Rainer threw seven strikeouts in his win over Miller Place April 16. Photo by Bill Landon

The Mount Sinai senior designated hitter went 2-for-2 with a double, three RBIs and three runs scored to lead the Mustangs to a 15-6 win over neighboring Miller Place April 16. Senior first baseman Ryan Picarello was 2-for-3 with two doubles, two RBIs and two runs scored to keep Mount Sinai perfect (6-0) atop the League VII leaderboard. Senior starting pitcher George Rainer walked three and allowed three earned runs while striking out seven over six innings.

“Our lineup has gotten much better — our one through nine can hit the ball really well,” Picarello said. “We looked the other way, we hit a few holes and we had some good swings.”

Miller Place’s Nolan White and Rob Morales had hits that led to scores in the first for an early lead, but starting pitcher Tom Nealis struggled against a fierce lineup.

Picarello, Donnelly, sophomore catcher Nick Cergol, senior outfielder Ethan Angress and sophomore infielder R.J. Kehoe’s recorded hits to get on base in the second to help Mount Sinai to a 7-3 lead.

The Panthers rallied once again in the top of the third, with Morales driving in Kevin Bowrosen, but Mount Sinai sophomore outfielder Paul Gomes extinguished any chance of a comeback when he rushed to shallow center field to make a diving catch on a rapidly dropping ball.

“I got a bad jump on it — my first step was back — so I had to make it up with that dive,” Gomes said. “It stayed in my glove and I made the throw. I got lucky.”

Miller Place’s  Rob Morales reaches for the ball to hold Mount Sinai’s Ethan Angress at first. Photo by Bill Landon

It was all the Panthers offense could muster, as the Mustangs got back to work with Kehoe, Gomes, Donnelly and sophomore second baseman T.J. Werner crossing the plate in the bottom of the third for a 6-run lead, 11-5. Rainer said he felt confident on the mound with his comfortable lead.

“Once we got ahead I just wanted to stay ahead in the count,” he said. “We just kept tacking on runs and that helped me a lot out there. Because it was so windy, I had to make sure I commanded my fastball.”

Head coach Eric Reichenbach said although his Mustangs (7-1 overall) have five shutouts so far this year and boast multiple sluggers, he thinks his team will need to work on playing a more complete game to be able to make a deep run. Donnelly is now boasting a .462 batting average and .576 on base percentage. He’s has 12 hits, 13 RBIs and 13 runs over Mount Sinai’s eight games. Picarello has 11 hits over eight games, driving in eight runs and scoring 12. He has a .478 average and .586 on base percentage.

“We got a good lead, especially through the first few innings, but then we took our foot off the gas,” Reichenbach said. “I like what I see out of my offense — I’ve got a lot of big bats in the lineup, they’re squaring up a lot of baseballs — and we’ve got some team defense.”

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Defense helps contain Sachem East in final quarter to pull out 5-4 win

By Bill Landon

Sachem East sent shock waves through the Smithtown West boys lacrosse team, but the Bulls didn’t back down from the fight.

After the Flaming Arrows scored to draw within one in the fourth, Smithtown West took control and slowed the clock to come away with a 5-4 win during an autism awareness fundraiser game April 14. Smithtown West remains undefeated on the season outscoring opponents 100-34 through eight games.

“First of all, hats off to Sachem East they played a complete game, a great game and they tested us in every phase of play today.”

— Bob Moltisanti

“First of all, hats off to Sachem East they played a complete game, a great game and they tested us in every phase of play today,” Smithtown West head coach Bobby Moltisanti said. “Defensively we did a great job, our short stick midfielders did a great job as well, so hats off to them and to our goalie holding them to just four goals. And on offense we got the job done and got the victory.”

The Bulls struggled against Sachem East’s (3-5 overall, 3-4 League I) stout defense early, with long sticks swatting at every pass and scooping up sever loose balls, taking four direct takeaways.

Midfielder Andrew Arce scored his first of three goals off a feed from attack John Hoffman for the early lead at the 7:46 mark of the opening quarter, but as with most of the game, Sachem East answered. Just 34 seconds later, Peter Engleken’s solo shot stretched the netting to even the score.

Smithtown West showed its a threat from every position when defenseman Kevin went the distance a minute later and scored.

Again, it was Engleken that made it a new game before Hoffman, who leads his team in scoring with 21 goals and 10 assists, broke the stalemate with four minutes remaining in the half on a feed from attack Marc Cottage.

“There was nothing easy about it. They cut our lead to one and we had to play mistake free if we were going to come out with the win.”

— Andrew Arce

Smithtown West banked its first insurance goal with just under five minutes left in third quarter when Sean Byrne flicked the ball to Arce on the cut, but Sachem East’s Nick Pagnotta dumped one in from close range to once again keep things close.

Arce fired a shot from 20 yards out with 10:35 left in regulation to complete his hat trick and put the Bulls out front again by two, 5-3.

“We knew we had to go back to our basics,” said Arce, a Binghamton University-bound senior. “They were tough on defense and they came at us hard the whole game — there was nothing easy about it. They cut our lead to one and we had to play mistake free if we were going to come out with the win.”

Tyler Jordan scored the final goal for the Flaming Arrows, but Moltisanti credited defenders Kevin Ehli, Reed Greco, Dave Gonzalez and Christian Lowd for holding off Sachem East to close out the game, and Kyle Walker for his 10 saves in goal.

Smithtown West will be tested once again when the Bulls travel to Connetquot (5-2 overall, 5-1 League I) April 18 at 5 p.m.

By Bill Landon

The Patriots proved they have what it takes to go the distance.

After falling to Longwood 90-60 in the first League I matchup of the season, Ward Melville’s girls track and field team reversed the roles at an April 10 home meet against Middle Country, winning 90-60 with help from long-distance runners.

Junior Kate Cochran led the way in the 3,000-meter run with a winning time of 11 minutes, 39.5 seconds. She was pushed by Middle Country’s Kaitlynn Drennan from the moment the gun sounded, with Drennan finishing just six seconds behind her. Things were different in the 1,500, where it was a one, two finish for Ward Melville. Freshman Emma Rathburn crossed the line first at 5:18.1, and Shannon Ryan clocked in at 5:26.3. Drennan rounded out the top three with a 5:47.6 time.

“We studied the statistics — they’re a young team, they’re rebuilding, they have some very talented sprinters, but I knew that our strong events were going to be the distance events, the throws, along with some of the field events,” Ward Melville head coach J.P. Dion said. “From what they had in the winter and from last spring, I knew that this is where we could gain most of our points.”

Ward Melville senior Allyson Gaedje won at 800 in 2:36, a pace well off her personal best but enough to take the title.

Senior captain Kiera Hughes competed in the 100 hurdles, 100 dash, 4×100 relay and long jump. A returning All-County athlete in the spring and winter, she was ranked first in the winter 55 hurdles.

“I thought I did pretty well,” she said of her performances on the afternoon. “I’m happy, but my long jump was my strongest event, and it’s a good way to get back [into a rhythm].”

Hughes finished second in the long jump behind Ward Melville sophomore Allison D’Angio, who bested the field with a 15 feet 2.5 inches leap. Middle Country freshman Jada Hodge placed third covering 12-11.75.

“Kiera helps me out a lot by working with the younger athletes, helping them,” Dion said.

Ward Melville’s Samantha Sturgess, who also ran the 4×100 and 4×800 relays, won the 400 hurdles in 68 seconds. 

“I had a season-best, but it’s not my personal best,” the senior said. “I don’t have a problem getting over the hurdles, but I have to get faster in between.”

Middle Country head coach Charles Cuzzo said he was pleased with what he saw despite how young this year’s squad is.

“We were strongest in the sprints … the kids did very, very well,” he said, noting Maritza Blanchard, Dana Cerbone and Lexie Roth are players his opponents should watch out for. “It’s early in the season, but they keep on improving.”

Dion said he also saw several bright spots on the afternoon, especially with his jumpers.

D’Angio won the triple and the long jump and notched a personal best clearing 5 feet in the high jump, according to Dion.

The coach added Lauren Moore, a freshman,  increased her personal best in the triple jump by 4 feet. She notched another personal best with a 4-inch increase in the high jump, clearing 4-8.

“That’s huge,” said Dion.

The Patriots are back in action April 19 hosting William Floyd at 4:15 p.m. Middle Country is back on the track April 14 at the Coaches Meet at Bay Shore at 9:30 a.m.

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Eagles pitcher Kevin Sambuco picks up third straight win

Hauppauge’s Ryan Mackey slides safely into second ahead of Kings Park Jayson Sanchez’s tag. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Hauppauge’s Kevin Sambuco is solid from the mound.

The starting pitcher gave up five hits and two walks and struck out four to lead Hauppauge past Kings Park, 7-2, at home April 9. The win was the third straight for Sambuco, who picked up “W”s in the first games of the Rocky Point and Westhampton Beach series. In an 11-2 victory over Westhampton to start the season, Sambuco tossed six strikeouts over five innings.

“I just make sure I feel like I’m ready to go no matter who I face 60 feet away — it’s really just confidence and trusting your pitches,” Sambuco said. “Solid defensive plays behind me in big moments helped us hold onto the lead and helped us get out cheap.”

Hauppauge (4-3) grabbed an early 4-0 lead off two runs in the first and scores in the second and third.

Sambuco said despite his win in game one against Rocky Point, losing the series gave the team motivation to make bigger moves against Kings Park.

“We played how we were supposed to play,” he said, adding he felt relaxed at the mound given the early advantage. “We scored one to two runs every inning.”

Kings Park (3-3) was held scoreless through three innings, but cut the lead in half in the fourth.

After a base hit by center fielder AJ Fenton, the senior stole second and was brought home with junior second baseman Jayson Sanchez’s sacrifice fly to right field. With one out, third basemen Joe Tardino worked the count and drew the walk looking to keep the Kingsmen alive. The junior took second base on a passed ball at home plate and senior left fielder Rich Kim ripped the ball through a gap to score Tardino, but that was as close as Kings Park would come.

“We’ll need more energy,” Sanchez said. “We were dead from the first inning. But it’s one game, we need to shake this off.”

Kings Park starting pitcher Derek Shreve found himself in trouble in the bottom of the fourth inning with runners in scoring position. He came close to loading the bases, but threw strikes over the plate when he had to. The junior pitched himself out of the jam, stranding both runners on base.

Kings Park threatened in the top of the fifth after catcher Garrett Bower led off with a single. With one out, junior first baseman Paul Gugliuzzo was patient at the plate and drew a walk that sent Sambuco into the dugout. But Hauppauge’s error-free defense sent the next two batters back where they came from to end the inning.

Kings Park helped Hauppauge extend its lead on a wild pitch in the bottom of the inning, and the Eagles tacked on two more insurance runs in the sixth.

Hauppauge’s Brett Boller and Ryan Mackey each had two hits, and Mackey and Jeremy Contreras each had two RBIs.

“We really can’t dwell on the past — we can’t do anything about this one — this game is over,” said Kim, adding he too thought his team lacked intensity. “We’ve got to work hard in practice tomorrow and focus on the next one.”

The two teams face off in Game 2 April 11 at Kings Park at 4 p.m. and wrap up the series April 12 at Hauppauge at 4 p.m.

Desirée Keegan contributed reporting

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Chris Buehler hurls a heater. File photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon & Desirée Keegan

There are a few more Ward Melville pitchers following in the footsteps of alumni Steven Matz, Anthony Kay and Ben Brown.

Senior Chris Buehler and junior Max Nielsen are being added to Lou Petrucci’s pitching prospect pack after strong first starts to the season.

Max Nielson fires from the mound. Photo by Bill Landon

Buehler notched six strikeouts over four hitless innings in the Patriots’ 5-0 season-opening win over William Floyd Colonials March 26. Ethan Farino went two innings and Drake Eggleston pitched one in the combined one-hit shutout.

“We’re just a bunch of guys that are all one big family — we’re all brothers,” said Buehler, a lefty who’s committed to Long Island University’s Brooklyn campus. “We’ve been working hard in the offseason. I think we’ll be pretty good this year.”

Nielsen secured his first “W” of the year in Ward Melville’s 6-1 home victory against Patchogue-Medford Raiders the next day.

“We just have to get the bats going this season, we’ve got to hit the ball because there’s a lot of great teams in our division,” said University of Connecticut-bound Nielsen. “Pat-Med always gives us a great series.”

Nielsen’s got the pitching and the hitting taken care of. The junior lefty had a two-run single in the top of the sixth inning to give Ward Melville a 3-0 lead over William Floyd. Senior shortstop Logan Doran had an RBI-single in the seventh inning of that game. He and his brother Brady hit doubles in the win against Patchogue-Medford.

“We’re ready,” said Logan Doran, who noted it was a bit challenging getting ready for the season indoors. “Our pitching is still dominant across the Island, but our hitting has stepped up. [We’re starting] the season with the mindset that anybody can beat us, taking nothing for granted.”

Logan Doran celebrates scoring a run. File photo by Bill Landon

Senior center fielder Trevor Cronin said his team will continue to capitalize on two of its strengths.

“We have a size advantage,” the captain said. “But our pitching [is great], especially with guys that work this hard.”

Buehler said the Patriots have a target on their back, but said his team feeds off of that.

“We just have to limit the mistakes — limit the errors — limit [our] strikeouts and we have to score runs,” Buehler said. “Our biggest challenge this year is putting some runs together, but if we play small ball, I think we can win some games.”

He said he sees Sachem East being one of Ward Melville’s biggest threats. After hosting Longwood April 2 at 10 a.m. and Brentwood April 3 at 2 p.m., the Patriots will be put to the test. They’ll face the Flaming Arrows on the road April 5 at 10 a.m.

“I think they’ve done a great job in their offseason workouts, especially this winter,” Petrucci said. “When the kids look up to Steven Matz, Anthony Kay and [most recently, Ben Brown] — they’ve all been an inspiration to all of us — the pitching staff has taken on a whole new dimension here at Ward Melville.”

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By Bill Landon

All you could hear Tuesday in Mount Sinai was the sounds of bats cracking.

The baseball team continued to rally inning after inning en route to a 13-0 win over Amityville March 27. The Mustangs blanked Amityville 14-0 the day prior.

Leading the way for Mount Sinai was designated hitter Jared Donnelly, going 3-for-3 with a double, two runs and four RBIs. Even though his team possesses a potent combination of strength from every angle of the field, he thinks there’s more work to be done at the plate.

“We’re going to have to be more consistent at the plate — we swung at some bad pitches,” he said. “Everyone’s a little out in front. We need to stay focused, under control and try to drive the ball the other way, but our bats have come alive.”

First to get Mount Sinai on the board was right fielder Ethan Angress, who went 1-for-2 with three RBIs. He led the Mustangs in their first game with four runs scored and five RBIs after going 3-for-4.

He set the tone March 27 when he drilled his first ball to right center to drive in a pair of runs in the top of the first. Donnelly was hit by a pitch that plated catcher Nick Cergol in the second, and after an Amityville conference on the mound Angress sent one outfield that drove home center fielder Paul Gomes for a 4-0 lead.

“I’ve been liking the defense and our pitching,” Angress said, but noted there will be more challenging opponents ahead. “Shoreham-Wading River and Bayport-Blue Point will be a challenge, but our next test is going to be Miller Place in three weeks, and we’ll need to be ready.”

Amityville was fortunate that more damage wasn’t done as the Mustangs stranded three at the end of the second. The Warriors once again struggled to get the ball in play top of the third as pitcher Ryan Shanian retired the side in order.

Mount Sinai coach Eric Reichenbach said it meant nothing to outscore his opponent 27-0 in the first two games of the early season.

“We’ve got to learn to get ahead in the count, pound the zone offensively — we’ve got to have better pitch selection [because] we’re not facing the better part of our schedule right now,” the head coach said. “If we have an offensive display like we did yesterday and today, we’re going to struggle down the road, so we need to stand back on the baseball and hit the ball the other way.”

Mount Sinai hosted East Hampton March 28, but results were not available by press time. The Mustangs play host to Amityville one last time April 6 at 10 a.m. before returning to face East Hampton on the road April 9 at 4:30 p.m.

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Senior first baseman Joe Mancini swings away during an indoor practice. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Comsewogue baseball boasts fresh arms at the mound and will lean on its first baseman and shortstop to keep the Warriors contesting this season, but head coach Joe Caltagirone is liking the commitment he’s seeing across the board.

Senior outfielder Nick Falcon drills the ball during practice. Photo by Bill Landon

“They want to get better,” he said, noting Comsewogue’s 5-13 2017 record. “These kids know they’ve got work to do, but they’re committed to it. They work hard even though we’re in the gym most of the time with this weather. It’s their work ethic.”

First baseman Joe Mancini has emerged as the senior to look to.

“He keeps the other guys in check,” Caltagirone said. “[He has] very good leadership qualities.”

He batted over .300 last season, and according to Caltagirone is one of the hardest workers on the team, demanding a lot from himself and expecting the same from his teammates.

“We’re more a team this year,” the Springfield College-bound senior said. “Last year was tough — we lost a lot of games later in the season. We’ll have to be better at our situational hitting and our pitching in certain circumstances, but our fielding is really solid this year.”

The head coach agreed, noting his younger student-athletes’ strengths lie in hitting and fielding.

Pitching proves to have the shallowest depth for the Warriors, who graduated four of five starting pitchers, with the fifth sitting out this season with an elbow injury.

Junior shortstop Nick Lopez practices his left-handed swing. Photo by Bill Landon

“We have eight seniors on the roster,” Caltagirone said. “But they didn’t get a lot of innings last year.”

Junior shortstop Nick Lopez, whose coach said boasted a solid glove as a sophomore, impressing him early with a compact left-handed swing, also said the situational hitting needs to improve.

“Last season we left a lot of runners on base,” he said. “We could’ve gotten the lead early, but couldn’t get the runners in and two or three of those games were close.”

Even with the majority of practices being indoors, Caltagirone said he expects his team to be competitive, even after a loss in the first game of the season to Half Hollow Hills West, 18-5 March 26. The head coach said games against Hills West and Eastport-South Manor will be the most challenging for the Warriors this year.

Comsewogue moved up to League V this season. The Warriors’ March 27 game on the road at Deer Park was postponed to April 6. Comsewogue plays host to Eastport-South Manor April 2 at 10 a.m.

Freshman midfield Jack Krisch. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

With a new head coach comes a new goal for the Huntington boys lacrosse team: take two more wins.

Senior attack Colby Martin. Photo by Bill Landon

Last year, the Blue Devils finished with a 6-10 record, with three of those losses coming from one-goal games. The last time Huntington made the postseason was 2013, losing to Miller Place by a single score in the first round. If the team can win just two more games than last season, the Blue Devils will end the five-year playoff drought.

“We need more structure — more discipline by implementing a system that guys buy into and that works, that makes the guys like lacrosse,” head coach Julian Watts said. “We’re changing the culture, not the tradition, but changing the way we prepare them for games, making sure they’re confident, putting them in the right spots, and hopefully, they can execute.”

Leading the charge will be senior goalkeeper Sam Bergman, a three-year starter who began every game between the pipes last year.

“There so much more room for growth,” the coach said. “And we’ll continue to grow — there’s no limit to how good we can get. We’ve got to continue to push each other, maintaining that chemistry on and off the field. It’ll come down to us playing to the very last minute of [every] game.”

According to Watts, who played at St. Anthony’s before competing for Hofstra University, this season is about more than athleticism and stick skills.

Junior midfielder Jordan McCoy. Photo by Bill Landon

“[I want a system that] makes them want to come to practice,” he said. “But along with structure and discipline, there are consequences. We have great coaches instilling a good work ethic along with hard work and paying attention to details. [If they] don’t cut corners that will bring success both on the field and off it — it’s all of the little things that count.”

He said he sees the younger athletes pushing the older ones to show them what they’re made of, and the elders setting the standard for how practice should go. They’re all bringing the energy, according to Watts, including senior defensive midfielder Mike Abbondandelo and sophomore Jack Stewart, who will lead the team with Bergman.

“We lost three games last year by one goal, and in each it came down to miscommunication on the field,” Stewart said. “But this year, we’ve got great team chemistry and a much better vibe. We’re all on the same page.”

Senior midfielder Mikey Abbondandelo. Photo by Bill Landon

Even though there’s more of a mental focus, Watts said the riding and clearing need to become second nature for his team so that it’s poised under pressure and in control, as to not make wild or out-of-bounds throw.

“We just want them to make the high-percentage passes,” said the coach. “If we can do that efficiently and consistently, that’s a recipe for success.”

Senior defender Anthony McDonald said his team’s roster is deeper this year than it has been in the past, and with a high number of returning players he said he’s excited to see where the Blue Devils can take themselves this season.

“I think we have a lot more experience on the field this year,” McDonald said. “Practice has been good, and we’re only getting better. We’re working hard, we’re pushing each other, and I see a lot of camaraderie and chemistry out there.”

Huntington will scrimmage once more before opening the season with a nonleague game at Kings Park  March 24. The first faceoff is scheduled for noon.

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