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Patriots shut out Smithtown in double-elimination game

By Bill Landon

Logan Doran delivered.

The Ward Melville player homered in the first inning, and drove in two runs in the second to give the No. 1 Patriots baseball team a 3-0 home win over No. 9 Smithtown East May 23, to advance to the Class AA semifinals.

Doran said he was looking for his pitch to set the tone early.

“It was a 2-0 fastball, and I was looking fastball dead red,” he said. “I saw it high and in, and just took a big swing on it. I didn’t think it was out. I was just running and then I heard my first base coach say it’s out.”

Ward Melville threatened two batters later, when Joseph Rosselli singled into shallow left, and Michael Sepe found the gap with two outs, but Smithtown East pitcher Nick Harvey fanned the last batter to strand the runners.

With two outs, Smithtown East’s Marc Barbiglia singled in the top of the second, Ward Melville catcher Tom Hudzik fired the ball to his twin brother Matt at second base to catch him on a steal attempt. The strike arrived in plenty of time for Matt Hudzik to apply the tag.

“They’re a hard-hitting team — they hit well last year and they came back and are hitting even better this year,” Tom Hudzik said. “It was Logan’s home run that got the momentum going.”

The Patriots went back to work in the bottom of the inning when Trevor Cronin singled to start things off. James Curcio followed with a fly ball to right field to put runners on the corners.

Again, Doran was the difference maker as he blasted the ball to right, plating Cronin and Curcio for a 3-0 lead.

“We played them [twice] and we knew what we were coming into,” Doran said. “We had to stay focused like we did the first two games. Just come out hot — that’s what we’ve been talking about. I think our team played great, and we just got to keep it rolling.”

The Patriots defense was just as potent as their bats, and the boys turned a double play in the top of the third for the first two outs. Later in the inning, with a runner on base, Hudzik sent another laser throw to his brother, who again waited for the runner to end the inning.

Ward Melville pitcher Max Nielson kept the Bulls at bay the rest of the way, spreading 76 pitches over the seven innings with four strikeouts and allowing just three hits in his shutout performance. It was the second playoff victory of his varsity career.

“The key to winning today was our defense,” Nielsen said. “But Logan’s base-hit knock sealed the deal.”

Ward Melville head coach Lou Petrucci also had high words of praise for Doran.

“He’s our captain ,and that’s what captains do,” he said. “That home run in the first gave us momentum.”

But he also gave other credit where due.

“Max pitched a heck of a game,” Petrucci said. “He kept their lead-off batter off base — he made quality pitches and you’ve got to give the guy credit.”

It was the third time these teams faced each other this postseason, each giving the other its first loss to send them into the double-elimination bracket.

“Bottom line is they played a little bit better than us, and they deserved to win,” Smithtown East head coach Ken Klee said of Ward Melville. “Our kids hung in there — we had a very nice season — and I’m proud of them.”

Ward Melville hosted the first of a three-game series on Wednesday against No. 4 West Islip, but results were not available by press time. The two teams will face off again on the Lions’ home turf May 25, at 4 p.m. The finals are set for May 31 at Stony Brook University, 3 p.m.

This version was updated to correctly identify the second baseman as Matt Hudzik.

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The East Bulls will battle crosstown foe Smithtown West in semis May 25

By Bill Landon

Being down early doesn’t faze the Smithtown East boys’ lacrosse team. And despite the 4-0 lead visiting Connetquot had in the opening round of the Class AA playoffs May 19, the Bulls bounced back for a 12-10 victory to advance to the semifinals.

Connor Desimone rockets a shot into Connetquot’s goal. Photo by Bill Landon

“That’s kind of been our M.O. this year — we’ve allowed our opponent to jump up on us early in games and these guys have done a good job all year staying together, [being] positive and chipping away at it,” Smithtown East head coach Jason Lambert said. “When we got down 4-0, I said, ‘hey guys, we’ve been here before, we’ve done this before — we’ll come back.’ And with our seniors and the leadership we have here, there’s never panic with this group.”

Smithtown East didn’t find the cage until two minutes into the second quarter, when senior midfielder and co-captain Luke Eschbach slammed home a solo shot. Senior Michael Latini attacked next, with 5:05 left in the first half, to cut the lead in half. Senior faceoff specialist Brian Herber won the ensuing battle at the ‘X,’ and dished the ball to classmate and co-captain Connor Desimone who buried his shot 20 seconds later to pull within one, 4-3.

At the 3:15 mark of the second quarter the Thunderbirds struck again, but so did a lightning bolt, which suspended the game for 30 minutes. Connetquot picked up where it left off when play resumed, to double Smithtown East’s score, 6-3.

“That half hour stop was almost a blessing in disguise,” Lambert said. “It allowed us to gather ourselves, talk to the kids and tell them exactly what we were seeing, and hear what they were seeing.”

Desimone passed to Latini, who on the cut shot the ball behind his back, catching the keeper off guard to make it a 6-4 game.

Brian Herber wins a faceoff and fires at the net. Photo by Bill Landon

“I’ve done it in practice and I’ve never tried it in a game,” Latini said. “But I always wanted to try it, and today, it went in.”

After another Herber faceoff win, Latini scooped up the flick, and senior Dominic Pizzulli drilled his shot into the netting as the Bulls trailed 6-5. The four-goal deficit early in the game had little effect on Herber or the rest of his team.

“I was a little nervous,” Herber said. “But I know this team and knew we would definitely come back — we always do.”

With 26 seconds left before the break, Desimone leaped from behind the cage dove in front to bury his shot and make it a new game.

Smithtown East goalkeeper Thomas Harkin, who had eight saves on the day, commended his opponent for the tough battle.

“They brought a lot of ball movement, they moved well inside — they are very good at doing that, but we prepared for that,” Harkin said. “We knew we had to step it up, wake up a bit. We knew the next ground ball, the next pass, the next shot, the next anything, it’s ours.”

Two minutes into the second half, Desimone gave his teammate’s words meaning when he scored his hat trick goal to give his team its first lead, 7-6.

Thomas Harkin makes one of eight saves. Photo by Bill Landon

“Our guys have a ton of heart, starting with our goalie,” Desimone said.

Smithtown East’s lead wouldn’t last long though, as the Thunderbirds scored three unanswered goals for a 9-7 advantage with 2:30 left in the third.

Senior Bobby Burns put an end to the Connetquot rally, and Herber’s faceoff win led to the game-tying goal by senior Mike Marino. Marino tied the game again minutes later, 10-10, and the Bulls’ defense stood strong in the final eight minutes, cutting off all lanes to the cage.

“[Anthony] Voelker played great on [Connetquot junior attack George Wichelns],” Herber said. “He’s a big part of Connetquot’s team and [Brian] Cosgrove was playing great off ball, which really slowed them down.”

Desimone passed to Eschbach for the game-winning goal, and Desimone put the game away soon after.

“It all starts in our cage with our goalie Thomas Harkin — he’s been great all year, and our faceoff kid Brian Herber battling giving us chances, giving us the ball, giving us the opportunity to play offense,” Lambert said. “It was a total team effort, but those two guys, they’re the backbone of our team.”

Smithtown East will face crosstown rival Smithtown West in the semifinals May 25 at 6:30 p.m.

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By Bill Landon

Tori Hussey sent Smithtown East into the next round.

Her one-out grand slam in the bottom of the fifth inning broke a 2-2 tie on the way to the No. 6 Bulls’ 7-4 Class AA first-round win over No. 11 Half Hollow Hills West May 15.

“I heard my first base coach saying ‘get out, get out’ and then after that, I heard everyone cheering and then I saw it,” Hussey said. “I knew it was a changeup, and I had to be ready for anything at that point.”

Half Hollow Hills West struck first when pitcher Jillian Weinstein smacked a two run home run over the left field fence in the top of the third. With one out and runners at the corners, the Colts threatened to extend their lead in the top of the fourth when an infield line drive sailed toward Smithtown East’s short stop, but Kyra Dalli snatched it and fired the ball to first before the runner could get back for a double play that ended the inning.

The Bulls battled back in the bottom of the fifth inning — with runners on first and third — when Samantha Swenson stepped into the batter’s box. She jumped on the first pitch and found the gap to bring home Lauren Schiraldi and make it a one-run game.

“I remember them being a good team the last time we played them — they definitely got better as the season went on and that showed,” Swenson said. “But we played our game, we got ahead of them and we won.”

Courtney Hohenberger’s bat spoke next when she ripped a single into the outfield, scoring Dalli from third to tie the game with no outs. After an out, Taylor Bigliani was up next, and showed patience at the plate. She let pitches outside the zone pass her by to draw a walk and load the bases. Hussey had a full count before slamming the ball out of the park, driving home Swenson, Hohenberger and Bigliani for a 6-2 lead.

Swenson added another base hit, sending Schiraldi over to third, and Hohenberger belted the ball deep to bring home Schiraldi.

“Our defense was shaky at the end, but we stuck together, made a few great plays,” Hohenberger said. “[In the seventh inning] I just knew we had to get the outs.”

Starting pitcher Ashley DeGiorgio got into trouble, loading the bases with no outs in the top of the seventh, and sending head coach Glenn Roper to the mound. He decided to stay with his starter, who limited Half Hollow Hills West to two runs before retiring the side.

“They had their best hitter at the plate and what was going through my mind is ‘do I change the pitcher or not?’ It’s a tough decision,” Roper said. “It’s a tough spot to put a kid into that situation with bases loaded and nobody out.”

DeDiorgio struck out four in the complete game win. Swenson went 3-for-4 with a run and an RBI.

Smithtown East will hit the road May 17 to take on No. 3 Deer Park with first pitch scheduled for 4 p.m.

Shannon Brazier scores. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Undefeated Ward Melville has a target on its back, and the girls lacrosse team’s 17-4 crushing of Smithtown West May 8 only made it larger.

Hannah Lorenzen prepares to make a pass to the front of the cage. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“Everyone is out to get us,” Ward Melville head coach Kerri Kilkenny said. “I think this was probably one of our best games that we’ve played this season — connecting every pass, strong in transition, looking for each other. They were looking one step ahead. We knew where everyone was going to be and a good majority of our goals were assisted, which shows how well we’ve jelled and come together as a team.”

Senior Hannah Lorenzen scored three of the first five goals for the Patriots, who continued to win draw after draw to gain crucial time of possession against the No. 3 Bulls.

“They just passed to me and I was able to finish,” Lorenzen said. “I think the draw is a big part of it. We get possession and it leads to more opportunities to score.”

Sophomore goalkeeper Samantha Tarpey’s saves in the first half also played a large role in the team’s success.

“Making those saves keeps me going and my confidence up,” she said. “It keeps team morale high.”

As the team dominated through the final minutes of the first half, three other Patriots got on the board, and Lorenzen added her fourth goal of the game, before Smithtown West scored three straight.

Jillian Becker moves the ball through defenders. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Ward Melville sophomore Alexis Reinhardt closed out the half with the final goal to put her team up 10-3.

“We felt it was going to be a bit of a tougher matchup,” Kilkenny said. “I’m not downplaying my kids’ skills at all, because I feel when they play together they’re unstoppable. We controlled every step of this game, and I’m proud of them for that.”

With 13 players on the score sheet — Reinhardt, Shannon Berry and Shannon Brazier scoring two goals each — the chemistry between the team that put up 17 goals and 10 assists seems unmatched.

“We don’t have a few key players — our team is deep. We can all score; we can all play,” Lorenzen said. “We worked a lot on clearing and having people drive through and on our feeds off the draw. We moved the ball well in practice.”

Shannon Berry shoots. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Lorenzen is a part of six sets of sisters on the team, but to the senior, the entire team is her family.

“I think having those bonds and those connections help — we trust each other and believe in each other and the sisterly intuition is there,” she said. “But we all feel like sisters.”

Kilkenny said her team is right where it needs to be, and with its 15th straight win, she’s excited to see where the Patriots go.

“You don’t want to peak too soon, but we’re continuing that high level of play— the timing of this game is great,” she said. “We’re certainly enjoying the ride, but we keep ourselves down to Earth. They need to play each game like it could be their last.”

Lorenzen doesn’t see the season ending any time soon.

“We feel we have a little bit of an edge,” she said. “We might have a target on our back, but we can take the competition.”

Smithtown East's Michael Ruggiero hurls a pitch. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Smithtown East’s Matt Laurelli races back to the base while Newfield’s Tom DeSena waits for the ball. Photo by Bill Landon

Smithtown East’s baseball bats were cracking May 2 during a 15-0 shutout of Newfield to maintain the No. 2 spot in League III. With the win, the Bulls are three games behind Half Hollow Hills East.

Smithtown East senior starting pitcher Michael Ruggiero was as big a threat at the plate as he was from the mound. He belted the ball through  the gap to drive home sophomore Nick Harvey for the early lead in the top of the third, and senior Andrew Canino followed with a shot to right field, plating Ruggiero and junior Matt Laurelli for a 3-0 lead.

Newfield head coach Eric Joyner met with starting pitcher Ryan Wappaus on the mound, but the talk didn’t help, as Newfield loaded the bases with two outs. Junior Marc Barbiglia was up to bat next and smashed a base-clearing double to double the advantage to 6-0.

Newfield’s Mike Manzolillo makes contact. Photo by Bill Landon

“They’re a great team — they came out here and they fought hard, but we put the bat on the ball,” Barbiglia said. “We threw strikes, let them hit the ball, put the ball in play [and] we had good fielding. But our bats were on fire today.”

In the top of the fourth inning, Newfield found itself in another tough spot with a runner on base and Ruggiero up to bat. He blasted the ball over the right fielder’s head and speedily made his way around the bases for an in-the-park home run.

“He put it on the outside half [of the plate], it was a 3-1 count, so I knew a fastball was coming,” Ruggiero said. “I jumped right on it and hit it the other way. They did get me earlier in the game, but I fell back and adjusted. [Newfield is] scrappy — a good baseball team — but we were able to shut them down today.”

Newfield made its second change at the mound, but the Bulls didn’t miss a beat. Ruggiero singled to shallow right to put runners on the corner in the top of the sixth, a walk loaded the bases, and Canino drew another walk to bring home Harvey for a nine-run lead.

Smithtown East’s Marc Barbiglia makes his way to home plate. Photo by Bill Landon

“We had base runners on in the first three innings, but we just didn’t get the big hit to get some runs on the board to keep us close,” Joyner said. “They took the advantage moving base runners over and had timely hitting, and we just didn’t do that today.”

Justin Harvey, Nick’s twin brother, found the gap scoring Laurelli, and the runs piled on from there. Sophomore Will Kennedy drove in two with a stand-up double, Barbiglia smacked another RBI-single and sophomore Matt Tempone drilled a two-run double for the final runs.

“They have very good pitching, very good players,” Smithtown East head coach Ken Klee said of Newfield. “Michael Ruggiero, he’s our leader — we’ve been waiting all year to start him and he did exactly what we expected of him. It was probably our best offensive game all year, but they were on the wrong side of it today. We know they’re good, so we’ve got to be ready to play [them again] tomorrow.”

Newfield traveled to Smithtown East May 3, but results were not available by press time. Newfield will host Smithtown East May 4 at 4:30 p.m. to complete the three-game series.

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Smithtown East's Taylor Bigliani rockets the ball into the outfield. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

The Bulls were raging, and Taylor Bigliani was leading the way.

The Smithtown East softball team may have found itself behind early, but a fifth-inning rush by the Bulls, which bled into the sixth, triggered the mercy rule for a 17-5 win over West Babylon April 8.

After the Eagles ripped a solo shot home run over the fence in the opening inning, Bigliani, a first baseman, smacked a two-run double that put the Bulls out front for good.

Smithtown East’s Samantha Swenson slides safely into third base. Photo by Bill Landon

Smithtown East was swinging throughout the next two innings, but West Babylon’s defense was up to task, making play after play to hold off the threats. Smithtown East center fielder Kyra Dalli eventually drilled the ball to right center, driving in outfielder Rebecca Fields with a stand-up double as the Bulls pulled ahead 3-1.

“They had a tough defense, but we got the hits we needed today,” said Dalli, the leadoff hitter who went 5-for-5 on the day. “We were able to work through it.”

With runners at the corners, Smithtown East right fielder Samantha Swenson ripped a shot deep for a two-run double that plated Dalli and short stop Ashley DeGiorgio. Bigliani’s bat cracked next with another stand-up double that scored Swenson from second base for a 6-1 advantage.

West Babylon responded with a triple and a two-run single to close the gap, 6-3, in the top of the fifth inning, but DeGiorgio was able to apply the tag on a runner trying to steal second, to close out the inning. The Eagles would come no closer.

After Fields singled and DeGiorgio found the gap, a fly ball by Dalli dropped in to load the bases with one out.

Smithtown East’s Courtney Hohenberger throws the ball to first. Photo by Bill Landon

Swenson cracked a single to right field, scoring Field for a four-run lead, 7-3.

“West Babylon is a good team, but we were good offensively and we hit the ball when we needed to,” Swenson said. “And our coaches give us a lot of confidence.”

After a passed ball on a full count, Smithtown East took a five run-lead. With the bases still loaded and now two outs, Bigliani stepped into the batter’s box. She jumped on a pitch and hit a rocket to straight away center, over the fielder’s head for a bases clearing double and an 11-3 advantage.

“We never gave up, we kept hitting the ball so hard and we had a lot of energy throughout the entire game,” Bigliani said. “I didn’t expect this. I thought we’d be in a very close game, but we jumped on them right away and I’m proud of my team for that.”

West Babylon threatened in the top of the sixth when the team loaded the bases with two outs. On a Smithtown East fielding error, two runners made their way home, but Smithtown East pitcher Marina Amicizia shut the door with the final strikeout of the game.

“We don’t usually play them, so they were kind of a mystery for us,” Amicizia said. “Our team came out there strong and we were ready for anything. We were able to score runs when we had runners in scoring position, so we were very clutch out there.”

Smithtown East, again doing its best work with two outs, got another opportunity in the bottom of the sixth after West Babylon turned a double play. The Bulls’ bats never missed a beat, and after a Savannah Coffelt double, Dalli drove one through the right field gap to plate Coffelt for a 12-5 lead.

Smithtown East’s Ashley DeGiorgio dives for the out. Photo by Bill Landon

“We treat every team the same — we didn’t come in here cocky, but we hit the ball well, we adjusted well,” Coffelt said. “[West Babylon’s pitcher] was a little slower than other pitchers, and we’re not used to that, so I think we adjusted to that nicely.”

Swenson hit the ball over the center fielder’s head, scoring Dalli, and catcher Courtney Hohenberger found the gap to score Swenson for a 14-5 advantage. Again, Bigliani stepped into the batter’s box and belted the ball deep for a stand-up double that scored Hohenberger. Bigliani finished with seven RBIs on the day. Smithtown East third basemen Tori Hussey was up next, and her single drove in Bigliani, before Andrea Lichas knocked the ball through the gap to bring home Hussey for the run that triggered the mercy rule.

“We have a lot of girls that can really hit — they have very fast bats, so we needed to be patient and let the ball get to us because their pitcher wasn’t overpowering,” Smithtown East head coach Glenn Roper said. “My infield played really well, my pitcher did a really good job keeping them off balance, so I’m happy with how we played all around. We got timely hitting when we needed it, we made the plays when we had to and just tried to keep it simple and let the game come to us.”

Ward Melville's Kerry McKeever moves into Smithtown East's zone. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Ward Melville jumped out to a five-goal lead early in the first half, and even after the Smithtown East girls’ lacrosse team battled back to trail by two, the Patriots fired back, securing a 17-11 victory to remain undefeated in Division I April 4.

Junior midfielder Shannon Brazier and teammate Kerry McKeever rattled off two early goals, while senior attack Kaitlin Thornton added one of her own for a 5-0 lead just six minutes in.

Smithtown East’s Isabella Costa maintains possession. Photo by Bill Landon

Smithtown East sophomore attack Isabella Costa broke the ice for the Bulls when her shot found its mark for an unassisted goal seven minutes later.

Ward Melville head coach Kerri Kilkenny said her team had to press the entire game — knowing it had to after escaping the last matchup with a one-goal win.

With 12 minutes left in the first half, McKeever notched her hat trick goal for a 6-1 advantage.

“When we play together like we did at the beginning, we can close it out with a win, but we couldn’t be complacent,” McKeever said. “We worked together, we found the open cutter on transition; having turnovers on the ride starts the attack, so those were really big [because] it got us the ball back on offense.”

Costa teamed up with senior co-captain and attack Julia Smith, as each trailed two goals to trail 7-5 with just over nine minutes before the break.

The Bulls went a man down with four minutes left, but Ward Melville did too less than a minute later to even the teams. The loss didn’t affect the Patriots though, as Brazier scored her third goal, senior attack Kassidy Rogers-Healion buried her penalty shot and junior attack Kerri Thornton dished one off to sophomore Alexis Reinhardt, who put the team out front 10-5.

“Smithtown is definitely a great team — we play well together and we have a really deep bench, so there’s no deviation when we put subs in,” Brazier said. “We’ve all played together since we were young, so we mesh really well together.”

Ward Melville’s Shannon Brazier shoots the ball past Smithtown East goalkeeper Patricia Werker. Photo by Bill Landon

Smithtown East senior co-captain Shannon Kavanagh’s stick spoke next, when a foul shot hit the back of the cage in the opening minute of the second half. But again, the Patriots didn’t let the scoring last for long, and went on another tare, scoring four consecutive goals before Costa countered, to cut the deficit to 14-7.

Smithtown East head coach Ann Naughton critiqued her team’s performance, saying it was below average.

“It’s obviously disappointing, and we’re going to have to learn from it,” she said. “Ward Melville came out and they wanted it more than we did. I always respect them — they’re a really good team so I’m not surprised by them at all.”

With just over nine minutes left, Ward Melville ran the clock before senior attack Hannah Lorenzen scored on a hand off for her fourth goal of the game.

“We know that they’re a good team, so we had to get on their hands when they were shooting so they couldn’t get off a great shot,” Lorenzen said. “And that helps our goalie [Samantha Tarpey], who was a big part of our win today.”

Tarpey had eight saves on the afternoon.

Smithtown East wouldn’t go quietly though, and with time running out found the net four more times.

“They always have potential — they’ve given us a run for our money in the past and I just told the girls don’t allow those quick goals to rattle you,” Kilkenny said. “Sometimes they get a couple of quick ones on you and the team will deflate, but the girls stayed on their game.”

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Greg Giordano moves the ball around a Bay Shore opponent. Photo by Desirée Keegan

By Desirée Keegan

Smithtown West will have a long offseason to swallow another early, albeit familiar playoff loss.

After finishing last season in the Suffolk County boys’ basketball Class AA semifinals, the Bulls were hoping to take it a step further.

Michael Gannon hurriedly looks to make a pass. Photo by Desirée Keegan

The team wanted a county title, but Bay Shore had other ideas in mind. Both years, as the No. 4 seed, Smithtown West found itself up against the top dog. Last year, the Bulls had trouble controlling a tough Brentwood team, losing 61-49. This time around, the team may have fallen behind early, but picked it back up to make it a close contest, falling this time in a close 66-59 battle Feb. 25 at Stony Brook University.

“We’ve been going for a long time,” Smithtown West head coach Mike Agostino said. “It’s more than just a season, it’s a 12-month commitment. Losing here, to this team, is nothing to be ashamed of. It’s just unfortunate that they were a little bit better today.”

The Bulls, who went undefeated in League III to claim their second straight conference title, fell behind 20-10 at the end of the first, despite senior Gordon Shouler swishing two 3-pointers in the opening quarter. By halftime, the deficit grew slightly, with the Marauders holding a 36-24 advantage.

Chris Crespo shoots from the free-throw line. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“They were hitting their shots and we weren’t,” junior Michael Gannon said. “They started off hitting three after three and jump shot after jump shot. And after the first quarter their shots weren’t really falling but at that point they had a good lead.”

Junior Chris Crespo took matters into his own hands to get the Bulls back in the game. He banked two shots from beyond the arc, a field goal and a free throw in the third quarter. Senior Kyle LaGuardia added two buckets to help the Bulls close the gap to 50-43 after eight minutes.

“Bay Shore was a tough team — no doubt about it,” Crespo said. “Very aggressive, and a good matchup for us I thought. What changed was we were getting stops defensively, and those stops turned to baskets, which gave us a huge momentum push.”

Senior Greg Giordano had the hot hand in the fourth, swishing two foul shots and scoring on a jumper before a field goal brought his team within four points, 55-51, its closest score since the first, and as close as the Bulls would come for the remainder of the game.

“The game was unlike any game I’ve ever played before,” Giordano said. “Especially at the end when the game was out of reach with a few seconds left, it just hit me that this is the last game I will play in a Smithtown West uniform, and that was just such an emotional feeling.”

Kyle LaGuardia makes a leaping cross-court pass catch. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Although the senior standout will be moving on after this year, he said he’s honored to be a part of some big Bulls moments.

“I have grown up right next to Smithtown West, and when I was in elementary school, I went to all the booster camps, would see the older guys and hoped that one day I could be like them,” he said. “It has been a dream come true to not only play for Smithtown West, but to be able to cement our team’s legacy with two numbers on the banner. I wouldn’t trade my playing experience for anything.”

Despite graduating nine major contributors, Smithtown West’s two scoring leaders in the loss, Crespo and Gannon, will return next season. Crespo finished with a team-high 18 points with four 3-pointers, and Gannon was close behind with 15.

“It was a testament to these guys, because we pulled within four at one point, and they kept battling — I’m proud of them,” Agostino said. “This wasn’t our goal, but I’m not disappointed in them at all. We wanted better results, but it wasn’t because of a lack of effort. They’re gladiators, and they fought tooth and nail to their last breath.”

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Chris Crespo moves the ball along the sideline. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Yes, you can call it a comeback.

Everything the Smithtown West boys’ basketball team had worked for led to this moment. The Bulls were faced with adversity for what seemed to be the first time all season, but they wanted to be one of just two teams to make it back to the Final 4 for a second consecutive year. Up against another league leader Feb. 21, head coach Mike Agostino said he might not have had the right game plan.

Gerg Giordano muscles his way to the basket. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“They were really well-coached, well-prepared,” he said of No. 5-seeded and League IV leader Deer Park. “We might not have had it right, but we found a way to survive.”

No. 4 Smithtown West fell behind, and fast, losing the lead at the two-minute mark of the first quarter, and didn’t’ regain it until the fourth. In the end, junior Chris Crespo’s eight fourth-quarter points, junior Michael Gannon’s six and senior Greg Giordano’s five gave the Bulls its 50-47 come-from-behind win.

“Inside their heart and what they’re made of, it’s bigger than coaching,” Agostino said. “These kids have character, and they’re not afraid of the big moment. They’re going to go out and challenge anyone and every time they play it’s a full effort.”

On paper, it may look like Smithtown West had an easy road, going undefeated in League III and coming into the Class AA quarterfinals with a 20-1 record.

Giordano and senior Nick Ferolito gave the team a 4-0 lead after both teams went scoreless for most of the first three minutes. At the six-minute mark, a Deer Park field goal and 3-pointer put the team out front 9-5.

By halftime, the Bulls’ four-point deficit grew to six, 23-17, but the team was in as deep as an eight-point hole when a technical following a field goal gave Deer Park three more chances to grab points. The team hit two of three free throws for a 15-7 advantage with 7:20 left in the second.

Kyle LaGuardia leaps to the rim. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“We were down the whole game, we were fighting back the whole time, but we all had each other’s backs,” said Giordano, who scored a game-high 22 points. “Coach kept telling us to stick to our game plan, eventually our shots were going to fall, and they did. We played good defense and that kept us in the game.”

Smithtown West chipped away at the lead with four different players lighting up the scoreboard, but Deer Park continued to have an answer. With 1:39 left in the third, another 3-pointer put Deer Park ahead 30-23, but a Giordano 3-pointer, Kyle LaGuardia layup and a floater by Giordano closed the gap, 32-30, at the end of the eight minutes.

Crespo opened the fourth quarter with a game-tying bucket, and the crowd erupted.

“It feels great not just for the team, but the community, too,” he said. “A lot of them are backing us here.”

The game would then be decided largely at the free-throw line.

Gannon made two at the 5:56 mark to give his team its first lead since the game’s opening minutes. Deer Park quickly tied the game, but Crespo came through again. He scored eight of his 11 points in the final stanza and also finished with seven assists.

“It was a hard-fought battle,” Crespo said. “Despite being down we always feel confident. We don’t feel rushed. We’re not frustrated or out of our element. We know that if we play within ourselves we know we’ll get good results.”

ichael Gannon prepares to make a pass. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Giordano added two free throws for a four-point lead with 35.9 seconds, 46-42, and Deer Park called timeout after timeout to try to find plays to score. All the team could muster was one free throw, and the Bulls were back to the line to add to its lead. Again, Gannon sank both of his opportunities with 12.5 seconds left in regulation to give the Bulls more breathing room.

“I’ve taken 1,000 free throws in my life, so hitting a few, I felt confident about knocking them down,” he said. He scored all six of his points in the third quarter, all from the charity stripe. He closed out the game making two more with 4.8 seconds on the clock.

“When you sit down in the beginning of the season, you know Stony Brook is at the end of a long road,” Agostino said. “Now, to finally get there, it’s really exciting.”

The Bulls will take on the No. 1 seed in the semifinals for the second straight year. They’ll face Bay Shore at Stony Brook University Feb. 25 at 2:30 p.m.

Giordano said for now he’s soaking in the moment. He said the team is excited to get back to where they lost last year.

“It was surreal — this is the last game on my Smithtown West home court and it was amazing to see all the guys come together and be able to make some big plays at the end to come out with the win,” he said. “It shows with the group of guys we have — we’re all so tight, so close, we all work in practice each day — how much we can pick each other up in times like these.”

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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