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Blue Devils

Huntington’s Class of 2018 was sent off in a ceremony full of laughter, smiles and full of hope for the future.

Huntington High School held its 157th annual commencement exercises June 22 on the Blue Devil’s athletic fields as a crowd of nearly 2,000 cheered on the 340 graduates as they accepted their diplomas.

“While we have to give credit to the community that nurtured us, we also have to recognize that in some ways it shielded us from the outside world,”  Valedictorian Aidan Forbes said, who is headed to Cornell University. “It was our shell and if we are to continue to grow, we must shed it. And that process will be painful. We will leave our old friends behind, although hopefully not permanently, and be forced to find new ones. Whether you are going to college or not, we will all be faced with new, more rigorous challenges.”

The seniors were told that they will always have a home in the Huntington community and be welcome at the high school.

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.

Smithtown East's Alexandra Nicholson battles between Huntington defenders. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

There were threes all over the place Monday night, and just like the three “c’s” in Katie Seccafico’s last name, it seemed the senior was calling for them.

Huntington’s Katie Seccafico shoots. Photo by Bill Landon

Seccafico banked three triples on her way to a game-high 13 points in Huntington’s 45-37 League III win over Smithtown East Jan. 8. She had eight assists and four steals to go along with it.

“We spent a lot of time preparing for the face guard,” Seccafico said. “We had good communication on defense and that really helped us dropping back, letting everyone know where we are on the court.”

The guard scored her first 3-pointer to cap off a 17-0 Blue Devils run to open the first quarter, and added another by the halftime break. Senior Alexandra Heuwetter nailed two of her own to help Huntington to a 26-14 lead.

“At first, it’s not what we expected we thought,” Heuwetter said. “We thought they would face guard us, but they didn’t, and that gave us a lot of open shots.”

Smithtown East senior point guard Ceili Williams (13 points) also made her presence known, drawing fouls while driving to the basket and going 6-for-7 from the free-throw line.

Even with her team making shot after shot to extend the advantage, as Huntington outscored Smithtown East 13-9 in the third, sophomore forward Riva Bergman said she was impressed with her team’s defensive effort.

Huntington’s Alexandra Heuwetter scores on a layup. Photo by Bill Landon

“I think we’re ready for any challenge,” she said. “We slowed the tempo, we ran our plays and we were able to knock down shots.”

Huntington senior Nicole Leslie, who had not seen action early in the season due to injury, was at full strength in the second half and battled in the paint to lead her team with six points in the third. She finished the game with 12 rebounds.

The Bulls had their work cut out for them in the final eight minutes of play, trailing by 16, but refused to go quietly. Freshman Paige Doherty drained a three to make it a 12- point game, and Williams added her own to draw within nine points in regulation, but it was as close as Smithtown East would come.

“They’re big, they’re athletic, they’re strong, but I just told them I’m very proud of how the battled back — they didn’t hang their heads and give up at 17-0,” Smithtown East head coach Tom Vulin said. “We drew within nine points late, and if you get that next basket it’s a six or seven-point game and then you can do something.”

The seniors led the way for the Blue Devils, which move to 2-2 on the season to be even with Smithtown East, with Leslie and Heuwetter following close behind Seccafico with 11 points apiece. Huntington head coach Michael Kaplan has enjoyed seeing his team at full strength.

“Earlier in the year we had some injuries and sicknesses, so it was hard for us to practice at full strength, but we’re finally healthy,” he said. “We’re a young team considering we only have three seniors, and it helped that we shot well early on, but our three seniors really stepped up today — that really helped us.”

Kings Park’s boys basketball tournament won its fifth chamber of commerce tipoff tournament title with a win over Huntington. Photo from Chris Rube

By Jim Ferchland

Gene DeGraw was a fixture in the youth basketball scene in Kings Park, cultivating talented players and poised young men. Now in its fifth year, the Kingsmen hosted an annual tipoff tournament in memory of their former coach. Four schools — Kings Park, Huntington, Plainedge and Commack — played two games each over the two-day event Dec 1. and 2.

Gene DeGraw worked with current Huntington head coach Brian Carey who coached at Kings Park and grew up with DeGraw. Photo by Jim Ferchland

King Park head coach Chris Rube met DeGraw when he was 22 years old in his first year teaching in the district. He volunteered as an assistant coach on the varsity boys basketball team, where got to know the seasoned coach. Rube remembers him as much more than a well-versed instructor.

“He was always the epitome of class,” Rube said of DeGraw. “I admired how he was a devoted husband, father and grandfather. I’m a basketball coach after a teacher,and I’m a teacher after father and a husband. His grandson Michael McSloy was on the team. I remember talking to him and really understanding how special that moment was for him. Not only was he a great coach, but a better person.”

Huntington head coach Brian Carey is a Kings Park alumnus who said he practically grew up with the former head coach. Carey said he admired how much DeGraw loved his players.

“Pop was the perfect assistant — he knew the kids,”Carey said. “He knew me; we were both Kings Park guys. No one could have been more perfect for Kings Park basketball.”

The Kingsmen won the Long Island championship title in 2007 when DeGraw was the assistant coach. Carey coached Kings Park for 10 years, from 1997 to 2006, leaving just before the Kingsmen put up their magical season.

The tournament is in memory of former Kings Park coach Gene DeGraw who coached current Kings Park varsity leader Chris Rube. Photo by Jim Ferchland

“When I got here at Kings Park, the team wasn’t doing so good,” said Carey, who has been coaching for 20 years and was inducted into the Kings Park athletics department hall of fame in 2003. “A few years before I was at Kings Park, the team won four or five games, but the players have been through a system by Gene DeGraw. He was a gentleman and he was the best at getting the kids to come together.”

The now Huntington head coach gave DeGraw the unpaid assistant coach position at Kings Park, having known and graduated from high school with DeGraw’s cousin.

The former assistant coach’s life was cut short due to a heart condition. Aside from being a coach, DeGraw was also a detective in the Suffolk County Police Department.

Bill Denniston, a four-year Kings Park athletic director who was the Shoreham-Wading River athletic director back in 2013 said although he didn’t know DeGraw, he’s heard plenty of good stories.

“From what I’ve heard, he was a well-respected coach,” Denniston said. “It’s always nice to have this tournament to kick off the season in his honor.”


Since 2013, Kings Park has an annual chamber of commerce-sponsored tipoff tournament. This year, the Kingsmen, Commack, Huntington and Plainedge competed over the two-day event.

Huntington’s Mekhi Harvey passes the ball. Photo by Jim Ferchland

Game 1

Huntington beat Commack 62-58 Dec. 1. Blue Devils senior Mehki Harvey led with 17 points, while classmate Nat Amato added 16.

Commack’s top players were
senior Nick Guaglione and junior Aidan Keenan, who scored 24 and 21 points, respectively. They were the only players in double figures for the Cougars.

Game 2

Kings Park easily outscored Plainedge 69-35. Senior Jason Hartglass and freshman Jack Garside each tallied 11 points for the Kingsmen. Senior Andrew Bianco added seven and grabbed 10 rebounds.

Game 3

Commack took down Plainedge 60-41 in the consolation match.
Game 4

Kings Park’s Andrew Bianco looks to the rim. Photo by Jim Ferchland

Kings Park edged out Huntington 57-53, winning the tournament title for the third time in five years.

Andrew Bianco, who was named tournament MVP, recorded 23 points and 12 rebounds.

“He’s just tough as nails,” Kings Park head coach Chris Rube said of Bianco.

With eight seconds left, Kings Park was up by two, 55-53, when freshman Jack Garside buried both free-throw attempts to seal the victory.

Kings Park senior guard Zach Wolf scored 15 of his 18 points in the second half. He had three three-pointers in the third quarter.

“It was hard fought,” Rube said of the win over Huntington. “Huntington is pretty talented. Beating them was an achievement.”

Up next

Kings Park travels to Islip Dec. 7 for the first game of their regular season. Tipoff is scheduled for 5:45 p.m.

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Huntington's Eric Sands pushes through the pack. Photo by Jim Ferchland

By Jim Ferchland

A series of fortunate events led Huntington football to a homecoming victory Oct. 21.

Down the entire game, a 76-yard touchdwon toss from quarterback John Paci to Alex LaBella gave the Blue Devils their first lead of the game, 20-13, with 6:22 remaining in the fourth quarter. Then, with one minute left to play, Riverhead went for a 2-point conversion following a 3-yard touchdown run from Darnell Chandler that made it 20-19, instead of trying to tie the game with an extra-point kick. The ball was dropped by Riverhead’s Albert Daniels in the end zone on the attempt to hand Huntington the game.

Huntington’s John Paci pulls back to launch a pass. Photo by Jim Ferchland

“Winning is always something we look to do,” Huntington head coach Steve Muller said, adding he did not anticipate the game finishing in this fashion it did. “We take it game by game no matter who they are. We respect everybody. We’re trying to get into the playoffs.”

At halftime, Huntington was down 7-0 after a 40-yard touchdown pass from Christian Pace to Chandler in the second quarter. The Blue Devils offense was lifeless in the first half.

“We thought we didn’t play good Huntington football,” Muller said. “I said to my guys in the locker room that there’s really nothing to say, but we can take over this game if we want to. It’s how bad you want to be remembered for this homecoming.”

Eric Sands, a Top 25 rusher in Suffolk County, had two touchdowns in the second half. The senior said he just wants to go to work every time he steps on the gridiron.

“I’m always excited when my name is called,” he said of consistently getting the football. “I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do and stay focused.”

Sands has 611 yards on 87 carries and 11 touchdowns through seven games this season. He scored on runs of 5 yards and 2 yards in the win, and finished the game with 132 yards on 25 carries.

Paci, who completed four of eight passes for 123 yards, seemed to be the hero after heaving the big touchdown pass to LaBella for the advantage, but the junior was quick not to take all the credit.

Huntington’s Alex LaBella races toward the end zone. Photo by Jim Ferchland

“I was scared when the ball was in the air,” Paci said. “It had some arc on it, but I was so excited when LaBella caught it.”

His senior wide receiver was also sweating on the other side of the field.

“There was a lot of nervousness,” LaBella said. “I just had to keep my eye on the ball, run down the field and score.”

Luke Eidle, who had 11 tackles and an interception, also aided Huntington.

Huntington hasn’t lost a game since Sept. 23, a 20-17 loss at home against West Islip. With the win over Riverhead, the Blue Devils have won four straight and improve their record to 5-2.

“I’m always proud of my team,” Muller said. “They’re all great kids and they work real hard everyday. That’s all I could ask for.”

Huntington will go on the road to conclude the season with a game at Bay Shore, which hasn’t lost its last two games, but only scored 10 points in that duration. The game will be Oct. 28 at 2:30 p.m.

Huntington football fans come out to celebrate homecoming. Photo by Jim Ferchland

Blue Devils edge Newfield, 21-14

Huntington’s Eric Sands almost single-handedly spoiled a second straight homecoming. After the Blue Devils running back racked up four touchdowns last week in a 28-23 edging of Smithtown West, he tallied two of three Huntington scores in a 21-14 win over Newfield Oct. 14.

“We played hard physically,” Newfield head coach Nick Adler said. “But we made too many mental mistakes and the game comes down to who makes the least mistakes. Today we were not that team and we shot ourselves in the foot.”

The Wolverines got on the board early when senior running back Terrell Thomas broke away with the ball in Newfield territory and covered 64 yards on his way to the end zone. Senior Jacob Newell successfully completed the point-after kick attempt to put his team up 7-0.

Newfield quickly racked up penalties to start the second, and Huntington quarterback John Paci made the Wolverines pay for the costly errors with a 46-yard touchdown run.

“We left everything out on the field; we play really hard, we practice hard, our only concern is we’ve got to fix those mental mistakes, it kills us every game,” senior lineman Zachary Ferrari said.

With the game tied 7-7 heading into the halftime break, Newfield knew it needed to make some adjustments to come away with the homecoming win.

“All we need to do is focus better and we can’t choke like on a fourth-and-5,” Ferrari said. “We really need to improve on that in the next two weeks we are really going to see if we can get it going.”

Unfortunately, Newfield couldn’t get it going against Huntington, and Sands was too much for the Wolverines to handle. He scored on runs of 3 yards and 20 yards in the third quarter to put Huntington out front 21-7. He finished the day with 153 yards on 21 attempts.

“All these teams are good, and we’re not going to be able to overcome and win a game against a team like that when we make that many mistakes,” Adler said. “This is a great team we played, but we have to regain our focus. The season’s not over and I look forward to next week.”

Junior wide receiver Anthony Cabral scored the Wolverines’ only other touchdown late in the third on a 5-yard pass from Newfield’s sophomore quarterback Maxwell Martin.

Newfield fell to 1-5 in the Division II standings while Huntington improved to 4-2 with its third straight win. Newfield hosts North Babylon (5-1) Oct. 20 at 6 p.m. before hosting Smithtown East (1-5) Oct. 27 in the last game of the season.

“We should come out the way we practice, with more energy and more focus,” senior lineman Christopher Vidal said. “I was very confident, and I still am very confident in my team. I know we can make a comeback. It’s just all about how much we really want it.”

Jen Holden contributed reporting

By Bill Landon

After what was argued to be a questionable call, Smithtown West’s football team couldn’t catch Huntington, falling 28-23 in the Bulls’ homecoming game Oct. 7.

On Huntington’s last possession of the third quarter, the offensive line stood and the line of scrimmage to start play, but decided instead to let the clock expire. What went unnoticed at field level was Huntington’s center bending over and touching the ball before he decided to stand up and let time tick off the clock.

Up in the press box, an assistant coach radioed head coach Steve Fasciani, who told player David Gonzales to pick up the ball and run with it. The wide receiver took off for the end zone, and officials blew their whistle at the 30-yard line, but Fasciani argued it was a live ball. After a 25-minute conference which including sourcing the rulebook, the ruling on the field stood that there was no touchdown.

“I have no problem with how our guys played in the second half today; all heart. They played tough and they took the next step in my opinion.”

—Steve Fasciani

In the fourth quarter, Smithtown West quarterback Kyle Zawadzki found wide receiver Chris Crespo open over the middle, who turned it up field for the touchdown with just over three minutes left to play. Kicker Matthew Villano scored on the extra-point kick attempt to pull Smithtown West within five, but Huntington took over and let the clock unwind.

“They play power football and they’re very good at it, but our second half — with how our defense played — was a huge step for us,” Fasciani said. “I have no problem with how our guys played in the second half today; all heart. They played tough and they took the next step in my opinion.”

Running back Eric Sands led the way for the Blue Devils, and after a long run down to the 2-yard line, he sealed the deal by punching into the end zone two plays later. Senior Nat Amato split the uprights for a 7-0 lead.

The Bulls struggled with their running game, and went three-and-out on their first three possessions against a formidable Huntington defensive unit.

Utilizing the hurry-up offense, Huntington connected on three consecutive pass plays to move the chains to the 15-yard line. Sands once again made his way into the end zone, racing down the right sideline and breaking a tackle before sauntering into touchdown land. After a low snap, holder Luke Eidle was able to gather it up and Amato struck again to put his team out front 14-0 with just over two minutes left in the opening quarter.

Smithtown West made progress up the field, but the Blue Devils defense forced a turnover, and Sands got the call once more as the junior raced 19 yards for the touchdown. Amato, perfect on the day, gave Huntington a 21-0 advantage with just under 10 minutes left until halftime.

“We thought they were identical to us with their offense — they’ve got a lot of talented skill players — but we knew coming in we were going to have to stop [Kyle Zawadzki].”

—Steve Muller

“[Eric Sands] was a monster in the beginning of the game,” Huntington head coach Steve Muller said. “We thought they were identical to us with their offense — they’ve got a lot of talented skill players — but we knew coming in we were going to have to stop [Kyle Zawadzki].”

But the coach said he knew his team couldn’t stop him.

“He’s very, very good, an outstanding athlete,” Muller said. “Since can’t stop him, you have to bend him a little bit.”

Zawadzki made that hard to do when he dropped back to pass Crespo, crossing over the middle, who made the 36-yard touchdown catch. Crespo struck again on a handoff, punching it in for the two-point conversion to trail 21-8 with less than seven minutes left in the second.

Huntington responded when quarterback John Paci hit a hole, broke outside and raced 51 yards down the right sideline before he was forced out at the 14-yard line. Sands finished the play by breaking free of two would-be tacklers and finding the end zone for his fourth touchdown of the game. Sands said he couldn’t take all the credit for the scores.

“My line, they’re excellent,” he said. “They’re my leaders and I can’t say enough about them. They played great; I can’t do it without those guys.”

Smithtown West fumbled the ball four minutes into the third, and Smithtown West running back and linebacker Matthew Caddigan recovered it. Zawadzki scored on a keeper, taking the ball five yards for the only third-quarter score.

“I thought we played a sloppy second half,” Sands said. “But [Smithtown West is] a competitive team.”

The Bulls drop to 2-3 in the Suffolk County Division II standings while the Blue Devils improve to 3-2. Huntington hopes to spoil another homecoming when the Blue Devils travel to Newfield Oct. 14 at 2 p.m. Smithtown West will face off against crosstown rival Smithtown East the same date and time.

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Huntington's Carlos Reyes attempts to settle a pass. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

All the Huntington boys soccer team needed to do was change its offensive strategy after a scoreless first 40 minutes of play to top Copiague, 2-0, on the road Sept. 26, to remain undefeated in League III.

Huntington’s Freddie Amato grabs the ball. Photo by Bill Landon

“You know this is a really good league, and quite honestly, we’ve been lucky in some instances,” Huntington head coach John Pagano said. “We’ve had close games, one-goal games, and any game, even against a team like Copiague [that hasn’t won yet] but are well-coached, we know that we could’ve fallen.”

Copiague spent most of the first half up field, pressing but managing just two shots on goal. Huntington senior goalkeeper Nat Amato was up for the challenge, and made a pair of pedestrian saves to keep Copiague off the board.

Copiague’s goalkeeper returned the favor on the other side, stopping Freddy Amador’s shot after the senior midfielder slipped past a defender on a pass from the middle and fired a shot to the left corner.

Luis Ortiz broke the ice for the Blue Devils in the second half, scoring off a pass from the crowd in front of the Copiague cage at the 29-minute mark. The score changed the tempo of the second half, and Huntington took advantage — spreading out the offense to look for cross opportunities.

Manny Reyes heads the ball over the Copiauge goalkeeper. Photo by Bill Landon

“We pressed more in the second half,” Pagano said. “[Copiague was] laying back with an extra defender, and that made it difficult for us. Once we shifted and stretched them out a little bit it gave us a little bit more passing and running space.”

Opportunity found sophomore forward Carlos Reyes soon after, when he drove in a rebound shot for insurance just over five minutes later.

“It began with the defense and it built from there,” Reyes said of the play. “I thought he was going to cross it in from the far, post but once I saw it start to curve in and then it got past the defender, I was able to get it.”

With the win, Huntington improves to 6-0. Five of the Blue Devil’s wins were one-goal games.

“Our strikers are really fast,” Amador said. “[Copiague is] a really good team. They played really hard for every 50-50 ball, so we have to step up and play hard in every game.”

Huntington is back in action Sept. 28 when the team travels to Smithtown West (4-2) for a 4:30 p.m. game.

Centereach's Eric Russo hurls a pitch from the mound. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Behind solid pitching and timely hitting, the Centereach baseball team was able to hold off Huntington, 6-4, at home April 10, despite back and forth lead changes.

Centereach’s Ryan Mahnke grabs the ball to apply the tag to Huntington’s Steven Napurano. Photo by Bill Landon

Trailing by a run, Centereach third baseman Ryan Mahnke slammed a base-clearing, stand-up double to left center that plated teammates Nick Corsaro and Steve Krauth for a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the first inning.

The Blue Devils countered in the top of the second when Justin Italiano drilled the ball through the gap, and Will Vollack sprinted home to tie the game.

In the next inning, Vollack’s bat cracked again when he sent the ball to right center, scoring Steven Napurano from second, as Huntington retook the lead. With two outs, the Blue Devils looked to stretch their lead with runners at the corners, but the batter was caught looking to end the inning.

After another Mahnke double, first baseman Sean McGuinnes sent the ball into the air, which was carried by the wind to help send Mahnke across home plate to retie the game, 3-3.

“Both teams played hard,” McGuinnes said. “I thought Huntington would be [tough] after their win against West Islip, but we did well today.”

Centereach looked to break the game open, and with an infield hit by Robert Maina that loaded the bases with one out, it seemed as if it could be done. If Luke Eidle, Huntington’s starting pitcher, felt the pressure, he didn’t show it. He retired the Cougars’ next two batters to get out of the jam.

Centereach’s Sean McGuinnes makes contact. Photo by Bill Landon

Huntington right fielder Ethan Copp smacked a pitch deep to right center next, to score. Italiano scored from second base to again take the lead, 4-3, in the top of the fourth.

“They had the timely hits, and we didn’t,” Huntington head coach William Harris said. “We left a lot of runners on base, so it’s a tough loss for us today. It’s a lost opportunity. They had some good pitching today, and that kept them in the game.”

Centereach went back to work countering when Corsaro doubled to start things off. Krauth’s bat spoke next, as the left fielder hit the ball deep, just dropping in to plate Corsaro to retie the game. Despite a Huntington conference on the mound, Mahnke ripped his third stand-up double of the afternoon, driving in Corsaro as Centereach edged ahead 5-4.

“Our team pulled out the win,” Mahnke said. “We hit the ball timely with two outs, and [starting pitcher] Eric Russo did his job and that gave us a chance to win.”

Huntington’s Ethan Copp swings for the fences. Photo by Bill Landon

Centereach designated hitter Brian Honka singled into the gap next to bring Mahnke home for a 6-4 advantage.

Again, Eidle loaded the bases when he walked Maina, but the Blue Devils’ defense rose to the challenge, as all three Cougars were stranded to end the inning.

Centereach’s Ed Bassett relieved Russo, and Huntington fell into new-pitcher jitters, as the Blue Devils laid off the pitcher, which proved costly as he threw strike after strike. Forced to make contact, and with a runner on third, the Blue Devils threatened, but the Cougars’ defense was more than ready.

“Today they came to play — they can hit from No. 1 to No. 9 — they put the bat on the ball,” Centereach head coach Michael Herrschaft said of Huntington. “Eric [Russo] did a gutsy job for us is how I would describe it. Then, Eddie [Bassett] coming in and closing us out throwing strikes — that was big for us — not walking anyone and letting us make a play. He did what he’s supposed to do and that was awesome.”

Centereach traveled to Huntington April 12 for the second game of a three-game series, but results were not available by press time. The two will face off at Centereach again April 15 at 3 p.m.

The 4x400-relay team of Mark Rafuse, Lawrence Leake, Kyree Johnson and Anthony Joseph (on far right) took gold at the Suffolk County state qualifier meet (Jonathan Smith and Brian Pierre have also competed on the relay team). Photo from Huntington school district

When Huntington head coach Ron Wilson and his winter boys’ track and field team stepped into the Suffolk County state qualifier meet at Suffolk County Community College in Brentwood, they had one thing on their mind: redemption.

Kyree Johnson crosses the finish line in the 4×400-meter relay. Photo from Huntington school district

And that’s exactly what they felt when they went home.

In the last couple weeks, the Blue Devils had experienced their fair share of shortcomings, notably during its Armory Track Invitational Feb. 3, when senior Shane McGuire, a leg of the team’s 4×400-meter relay, tore his hamstring. The next day, at the large school county championship, the Blue Devils’ top sprinter Kyree Johnson felt a tweak in his own hamstring before competing in the long jump and, at the request of Wilson, sat out of competing altogether.

The team ended up losing the county championship 52-51. Had Johnson jumped that day, they would’ve won, the coach said, but it wasn’t worth the risk.

It was that tight loss that hurt them most, dropping from first to fourth in local published polls — only fueling the fire that would light up the track in Brentwood Feb. 13.

“Before we started, I said to the boys, ‘alright fellas, everyone thinks we’re not as good as we used to be, but we need to go out here and prove them wrong,’” Wilson said. “At the meet, we let everything take care of itself and when we finally started running, I was like ‘redemption at last.’”

That redemption came in the form of collaborative speed and agility.

Smithtown West’s Michael Grabowski with his first-place plaque. Photo by Kevin Redding

Johnson, whose week of resting paid off, placed first in both the 55-meter dash, with a personal best time of 6.41 seconds, and 300 dash, with a meet-record time of 34.8, qualifying him to compete in the state championships March 4 at Ocean Breeze Athletic Complex on Staten Island.

“After I won the 55-meter dash and saw my time of 6.41, that made me realize that I’m not hurt anymore,” Johnson said. “I just relaxed and stayed calm, and looked at it like every other meet … because if I didn’t, I’d start making myself nervous, so I just kept thinking ‘it’s just another regular meet.’”

Running the anchor leg, he also helped the Blue Devils take home gold in the 4×400 relay in a time of 3 minutes, 32.15 seconds, along with teammates Lawrence Leake, a senior, Mark Rafuse, an eighth-grader, and Anthony Joseph, a senior. The Huntington teammates will be joining Johnson at the state championship March 4.

Leake, who, according to Wilson, is one of the toughest and hardest working young men he’s ever coached, also placed first in a competition of his own. He took gold in the 600 run and broke the meet record with a time of 1:21.70. The record was previously held by Brentwood’s Greg Santiago, who finished in 1:21.99 in 2000.

Smithtown East’s Daniel Claxton leaps over the bar during a previous competiton. File photo from Daniel Claxton

“During the race, I figured everyone else was going to get out pretty hard the first two laps to make sure I wasn’t going to catch them, so I just stayed close and in striking distance until the last lap and put the pedal to the metal and let it go,” Leake said. “It feels pretty good to have a record beat all by myself.”

Smithtown West senior and state qualifier Michael Grabowski had a similar strategy on his dash to first place in the 3,200 run, which he finished in 9:29.19. Competing against  Jack Ryan of Westhampton Beach and Jonathan Lauer of Sachem North, Grabowski knew he had to play it smart by feeling the race out for the first five laps, and push it for the final sixth.

“I was comfortable with my pace and stuck with Lauer, until Ryan made a move and went past him with about 300 meters to go, and opened the race up,” he said. “As soon as Ryan went past Lauer, I followed Ryan and waited until the last lap and kicked. Once I started my kick, there was no going back and he didn’t really have a chance.”

Marius Sidlauskas of Smithtown East placed third in boys’ 1,600 with a time of 4:29.40; Daniel Claxton of Smithtown East placed first in boys’ high jump with a jump of 6 feet, 10 inches; Elijah Claiborne, Isaiah Claiborne, Tyler Dollhausen and Dan O’Connor of Northport placed first in boys’ 4×800 relay in 8:09.76; and Ryann Gaffney of Huntington placed fourth in girls’ 55 hurdles with a time of 8.75.

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