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Brooke Cergol

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Junior's 22 points leads Mustangs to sixth straight win

Mount Sinai head coach Jeff Koutsantanou meets Gabby Sartori at halfcourt after she scored her 1,000th career point a the start of thes second quarter. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Gabby Sartori shines no matter the stage.

The Mount Sinai junior and three-sport standout scored her 1,000th career point Dec. 12 in a 45-21 nonleague win over Shoreham-Wading River. She finished with a game-high 22 points, eight rebounds and six steals, and basketball isn’t even her primary sport of choice. Sartori started her athletic career playing soccer but has committed to play lacrosse at Brown University.

Brooke Cergol passes the ball. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“When it’s soccer season, I focus on soccer, when it’s basketball, basketball, and when it’s lacrosse season, it’s crunch time,” Sartori said, laughing. “But I treat them all the same. It keeps me more versatile.”

The junior’s dedication to each sport is the key to her success, according to one of her biggest fans.

“She’s often the last one to leave, staying after practice to take extra shots; always doing
the extra,” her father Jim Sartori said. “This has been going on since she was a varsity player in seventh grade. She understands nothing worth achieving is easy.”

Sartori needed five points to reach the career milestone heading into the contest against the Wildcats. She started the first quarter slowly, scoring on the back end of two free-throws at the 4:27 mark, and adding a field goal a minute later for a 5-2 Mustangs lead. She was fouled on her next drive to the basket with less than a minute left in the quarter and again scored on her second shot to pull within one point of 1,000 and put Mount Sinai up 11-2 heading into the second quarter.

Throughout the first eight minutes of the contest, she said achieving the feat was all she could think about.

“I tried not to pay attention to it, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it,” she said, adding that she looked up at her parents in the stands once during that span.

Sartori cashed in a layup to open the scoring just seconds into the next stanza, and looked up at her parents once more and smiled.

Olivia Williams battles under the board. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“It hit me once coach called timeout and I got the ball,” she said of being handed over a special Spalding to recognize the achievement. “It shows my hard work. I make sure I’m the first one shooting and the last one at practice, until they’re annoyed I’m still there.”

Her father smiled back at who he calls a “fantastic kid and special athlete.”

“It’s a proud moment,” he said of seeing his daughter’s success. “It’s plenty of hours of practice and training to get to the point that she’s at. It didn’t come easy, clearly, but by way of hard work. I told her to do whatever it takes to help the team win and stay humble.”

Although Sartori stood out with her aggressiveness on both sides of the ball, she was quick to credit her teammates for making her look good.

“The chemistry on this team is very, very good this year,” she said. “We all love each other, and it’s great to see that, especially on the court. I’m glad I can always lean on them — they have my back, and I have theirs.
Without a doubt, any one of us are always willing to give up the ball without flinching.”

Mount Sinai head coach Jeff Koutsantanou had plenty to say postgame about his star player, though he didn’t focus just on her ability to score points.

“She did a great job getting to the basket, she did a nice job incorporating everybody and defensively she had six steals and eight rebounds, so she had a great all-around game,” he said of Sartori. “She was a little under pressure because she was worried about the 1,000 points, but she really settled in.”

Holly McNair races toward the net. Photo by Desirée Keegan

The guard led a balanced attack the rest of the way, scoring six more points in the second and six in the third to help Mount Sinai to a 39-14 lead before sitting most of the fourth quarter.

Juniors Holly McNair and Margaret Kopceinski finished with eight points each, and classmate Brooke Cergol added four. All three played strong defense, stealing some passes and forcing the Wildcats to make sloppy ones that led to more turnovers.

Losing key starters Victoria Johnson and Veronica Venezia wasn’t easy for Mount Sinai, which won its first county crown last season, but Koutsantanou said the girls are filling in the holes nicely. The Mustangs have a perfect 6-0 record so far to show for it.

“I thought Holly McNair did a nice job on the boards, she played great defense, was strong rebounding,” he said. “But I thought on the whole the girls did exceptionally well and played great as a team, especially on
defense. I really loved Margaret and Holly’s effort, I thought Brooke was outstanding with her passes and her choices. As a group they all played well together, and I think that’s a compliment to them — how they look out for each other, help each other on defense. They really do a great job together.”

Mount Sinai opens league play today, Dec. 14, at Amityville at 4 p.m. Sartori said the milestone is only the start of what she hopes she and her team can achieve this season.

“We want to prove we can do it again,” she said of winning the county title. “We have to repeat history.”

By Bill Landon

Four of the five starters on Mount Sinai’s girls’ basketball team helped the soccer squad score its first Suffolk County title last fall. This winter, the Mustangs brought those winning ways from the field to the court.

Winning has become a tradition at Mount Sinai. The Mustangs went nearly undefeated in League VI play, going on a 17-game streak before a 44-33 loss to Shoreham-Wading River. Despite that, Mount Sinai was able to grab a piece of the league title for the first time in school history. Then, the road to the Class A finals began.

The Mustangs crushed Bayport-Blue Point 91-48 before outscoring Sayville 68-54. The No. 1 seed ultimately found itself up against a familiar foe in No. 2 Harborfields. The two schools had also faced off as the top-seeded teams during the Suffolk soccer finals, and, in front of a near-capacity crowd of 500 at Riverhead High School Feb. 24, Mount Sinai pulled away with another crucial win, 54-42, for its second county crown of the school year.

“Our defense was the key in getting stops and rebounding, and turning those into points.”

—Veronica Venezia

For seniors Victoria Johnson and Veronica Venezia, the win was a long time coming personally and for the program.

“It feels amazing to be Suffolk County champions — Veronica and I have been on the team since eighth grade, so we started a long time ago,” said Johnson, who scored 11 of her 16 points in the second half. “Back then we didn’t win many games, and here we are — it’s a dream come true.”

Sophomore Gabriella Sartori had the hot hand in the first quarter, scoring 10 of her team-high 18 points. First, she swished a free throw to successfully complete a three-point play, and hit a shot from beyond the arc soon after to help her team double its opponent’s score with an 18-9 lead at the end of eight minutes. She also added six rebounds and two assists in the win.

“From the beginning of the season I just wanted to play at this level,” she said. “I’ve been with this group since the seventh grade and to reach this point and watch this team grow is just amazing.”

Behind 31-19 heading into the locker room, Harborfields head coach Glenn Lavey said the 12-point deficit put his team in unfamiliar territory.

“Spotting them a lead like that is not our style — we’re kind of a running football team if you will — we’re not a spread offense,” he said. “We had some breakdowns in the first eeight minutes of the game and we didn’t execute some things we needed to early.”

“I’ve been with this group since the seventh grade and to reach this point and watch this team grow is just amazing.”

—Gabriella Sartori

Despite the lead, Mount Sinai head coach Michael Pappalardo said he warned his team that the Tornadoes weren’t going to run out of steam that easily.

“Harborfields, they’re aggressive,” he said. “We told the girls this is going to be close. You don’t think that team is going to let you walk out of here giving you the championship.”

Harborfields senior Grace Zagaja scored on a putback, and teammate Kate Tardo hit a long-distance shot in the third, but Mount Sinai’s defense swarmed.

With 10 seconds left in the quarter, Johnson went to the line and sank both to make it a 10-point game, but Harborfields senior Falyn Dwyer came through with a buzzer-beating triple that helped her team cut the deficit to 40-33.

With just over four minutes left in regulation, Venezia came up with another putback (she finished with a double-double on 12 points and 15 rebounds) to re-extend the Mustangs’ lead, 45-36.

“They’re definitely a challenge — they always have been the past years we’ve played them,” Venezia said of Harborfields. “But our defense was the key in getting stops and rebounding, and turning those into points.”

Tardo, who tied with Dwyer for eight points, drained her second triple of the contest to make it a six-point game. Two minutes later, eighth-grader Madison Brady (seven points) picked off an in-bounds pass, went straight to the rim for the score and made it a four-point game, 45-41, with 3:10 left to play.

After Harborfields missed its final five shots from the field, Johnson went 7-for-8 from the free-throw line in the final 31 seconds to put the win in the record book.

“It is ironic to win back-to-back titles against Harborfields — they’re a great team, but we worked really hard to be here.”

—Brooke Cergol

“We always talk about it in practice in every game — everyone’s going to have their ups and downs,” Johnson said. “You’ve got to be prepared for both. We had to fight our way through adversity to get here.”

Also on the championship-winning soccer team besides Johnson, Sartori and junior Olivia Williams, was sophomore Brooke Cergol, who rounded out the scoring with eight points.

“It feels amazing — especially after soccer,” she said. “It is ironic to win back-to-back titles against Harborfields — they’re a great team, but we worked really hard to be here. It was crazy, it was a really tense situation, but we pulled together.”

Mount Sinai moves on to face Mattituck for the Small School champion title at Suffolk County Community College Brentwood Feb. 28 at 5 p.m. The winner will face off against the Class AA qualifier for the Section XI title. That game will be played at Suffolk’s Selden campus March 5 at 5 p.m.

Regardless of the outcome of those games, Mount Sinai has the opportunity for another first, when the Mustangs take on the Section VIII Class A champion March 11 at SUNY Old Westbury at noon for the Long Island title.

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Mount Sinai's girls' basketball team remains undefeated with a win over now previously undefeated Shoreham-Wading River. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Victoria Johnson vindicated her team.

Mount Sinia’s Victoria Johnson scores. Photo by Bill Landon

For those that thought the Mount Sinai girls’ basketball team may not be able to top visiting Shoreham-Wading River heading into overtime, the senior showed why Mount Sinai is becoming a powerhouse across all sports, helping win the battle of undefeated teams. The Mustangs outscored the Wildcats 61-55 Jan. 17, with Johnson scoring a game-high 21 points.

Mount Sinai’s defense also stole the show. The Mustangs’ press overwhelmed the Wildcats, helping the team break out to an early 11-2 lead, and stretching the advantage to 25-16 by the halftime break. The goal, according to Mount Sinai head coach Michael Pappalardo, was to defend Shoreham-Wading River senior Mackenzie Zajac.

“Our game plan was to try to hold Zajac to 10 points or less, which is a tall order,” he said. “Brooke [Cergol] played lights out tonight — she was amazing on defense from start to finish. She held Zajac to just seven points.”

On the opposite end of the court, Shoreham-Wading River head coach Adam Lievre wasn’t pleased with how his team defended its end of the court.

“Our press in the first half didn’t work out very well, and we haven’t played a competitive game in a few weeks,” he said. “The level of competition took a major step up tonight, and we didn’t come out at tipoff ready to handle it, which put us in a hole.”

Mount Sinai’s Gabby Sartori defends against Shoreham-Wading River’s Mackenzie Zajac. Photo by Bill Landon

The Wildcats’ second half would be unlike the first though, learning from their mistakes. Senior Sam Higgins shifted the momentum of the game with a 3-pointer, followed several unanswered points, which was capped by a Maria Smith basket that made it a one-point game.

After a Shoreham-Wading River field goal, Johnson answered with a long distance three, but the Wildcats countered with a pair of Mikayla Dwyer free throws and a Higgins field goal to make it a two-point game.

Despite being held to seven points, Zajac made her points count, and on a field goal gave the Wildcats their first lead of the game, 41-10. But the Wildcats’ lead was short lived. Mount Sinai sophomore Holly McNair came off the bench and found the rim to retake the lead with 4:32 left in the final quarter.

“Gabby [Sartori] stepped up big to hit an amazing shot when we needed it most to put us up by two,” Pappalardo said. “[Veronica] Venezia played awesome in the post, scoring and rebounding along with Holly McNair who really helped us off the bench.”

Swapping points on both sides of the court with time running out, Dwyer stole the ball and broke to the basket to tie the game at 51-51 with 21 seconds left in regulation.

“They came out very strong in that second half — they were aggressive, they were trapping and we didn’t expect them to do that,” Venezia said of Shoreham-Wading River. “Our defense was strong today and we’re very excited. This is our best year so far.”

Mount Sinai’s Veronica Venezia battles in the paint. Photo by Bill Landon

Each team traded points to retie the game at 55-55 with 1:48 left in the first four-minute overtime session, but the Mustangs inched away. Sartori’s shot found its mark, followed by a Johnson field goal and pair of free throws by junior Olivia Williams to put the game away.

“Olivia was all over the place,” Pappalardo said, “rebounding and diving for loose balls showing outstanding hustle.”

Venezia followed Johnson in scoring with 14 points and Sartori tacked on 12. Dwyer lead the Wildcats with 12 points and Higgins banked 11.

With the win, the Mustangs are 11-0 overall and atop the League VI leaderboard at 7-0.

Sartori said both the undefeated matchup and her team’s success so far this season puts the Mustangs in uncharted territory.

“It was our first overtime — we had to talk to each other, and we were ready for this one,” she said. “We knew how much we wanted this, and getting this win, we’re very optimistic for the rest of the season.”

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Garden City hasn’t allowed a goal in 460 minutes of postseason play.

Despite Mount Sinai’s best efforts — like Caiya Schuster’s 11 saves in goal — one small miscue sealed the deal for the Mustangs, with an early Trojans goal that gave the team a 1-0 win Nov. 4 for the Class A Long Island championship title.

After consecutive scoreless 110-minute games leading to penalty-kick victories, Garden City received a contribution from an unlikely source in the first half.

With Schuster drawn out of the box, sophomore Gracie McManus corralled a loose ball and scored with 16:12 remaining in the half for a well-timed first varsity goal.

Garden City (12-4-2) dominated the pace throughout the first half, keeping Casey Schmitt — who scored five goals in the previous two games — contained.

Mount Sinai, which won the Class A title as the No. 4 seed, finished the season 12-4-2.