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Commack

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Suffolk County police 4th squad detectives are investigating a two-vehicle crash that killed a man in Commack April 17.

A man was driving a 2010 Toyota Corolla westbound on Vanderbilt Motor Parkway when his vehicle crossed into the eastbound lane and struck a 2015 Volkswagen near Shinbone Lane at approximately 12:50 p.m. The man was pronounced dead at the scene by a physician assistant from the office of the Suffolk County medical examiner. The driver of the Volkswagen, Lisa Campanella, 49, of Ronkonkoma, was transported to Stony Brook University Hospital where she was treated for serious injuries.

Both drivers were alone in their vehicles. Police are not releasing the victim’s name pending notification of next of kin.

The investigation is ongoing. Anyone with information about the crash is asked to call the 4th squad at 631-854-8452.

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Thousands of mourners, firefighters, family and friends lined the streets of Kings Park Saturday morning to say their farewells and pay final respects to U.S. airman Master Sgt. Christopher Raguso, also a New York City and Commack firefighter.

“A hero is a person who is admired for their courage, for their outstanding achievements, for their noble qualities,” said Daniel Nigro, commissioner of the Fire Department of the City of New York. “Lieutenant Christopher Raguso was a hero in every sense of the word, and the way he lived his life.”

“Lieutenant Christopher Raguso was a hero in every sense of the word, and the way he lived his life.”
— Daniel Nigro

Firefighters standing up to five and six-men deep lined Raguso’s funeral processional route from Clayton’s Funeral Home to St. Joseph’s Church in Kings Park. The church and parish hall were both filled to capacity as the funeral service for Raguso got underway March 31. Thousands more stood outside watching a jumbotron simulcast of the service from the streets and nearby houses.

Raguso was one of seven members of New York’s 106th rescue unit killed in the line-of-duty March 15 when a H-60 Pave Hawk helicopter crashed while carrying out a mission in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, an American-led mission to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria, according to the United States Department of Defense. The DOD said the cause of the crash is under investigation, but did not appear to be the result of enemy activity.

“When men like Chris pass, we are forced to reflect on our own worthiness,” said Lieutenant Christopher Gorzynski of the FDNY. “Deep down, we know we will never measure up to the bar that he has set. Chris just gave us so much more than we gave him.”

Raguso had served deployments in Iraq, Afghanistan, East Africa and more recently, two answered domestic calls to action to help victims of hurricanes Harvey and Maria. In January 2018, he started his second tour in Iraq.

“He had promised everyone this would be his last time going to war — how prophetic,” said his father, John Raguso.

“Celebrities show off, heroes show up. Chris always showed up.
— Rev. Sean Gann

The father recalled his son’s passion and devotion to serving others in a 12-minute eulogy he referred to as “the most difficult task of my life.” Raguso said his son’s caring nature was evident early in life, when at age 4 on a family trip to the Dominican Republican he took off the shirt and shorts he was wearing to give to a local boy.

“We knew early on that Chris was on a flight path all his own,” his father said.

Raguso joined the Commack Fire Department in 2000. He served as captain of Company 2 before stepping up as lieutenant of Company 4, located off Kings Park Road. Raguso was posthumously bestowed the rank of honorary fire chief based on a unanimous vote of the Commack Fire Department’s membership March 16.

“Celebrities show off, heroes show up,” said Rev. Sean Gann of St. Joseph’s Church. “Chris always showed up.”

Raguso was also a 13-year veteran of the FDNY, where he served the majority of his career with Ladder Company 113 in Brooklyn. He rose to the rank of lieutenant and was stationed with Battalion 50 in Queens at the time of his death. On six different occasions, he was cited for bravery and life-saving actions either for his individual actions or as part of a unit.

“That’s because Chris didn’t know how not to give 100 percent of himself,” Gorzynski said.

“Chris’s legacy is hallmarked by a life of service so that others may live.”
— Lee Zeldin

His fellow firefighter recalled him as a “gentle giant” who was known not only for his heroic acts but loving messages, bestowing nicknames and “goofball antics we can only tell now in stories and laughter,” according to Gorzynski.

“Chris’s legacy is hallmarked by a life of service so that others may live,” said U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) in his eulogy.

Zeldin, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) and his wife, Chirlane McCray, and Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) were among the host of federal, state and town elected officials who attended the ceremony but did not publicly speak.

At the end of the funeral service, four Nassau County helicopters performed a flyover in honor of Raguso which was followed by a moment of silence. Bagpipers played “America the Beautiful” as the procession headed to Calverton National Cemetery in Wading River to his interment with full military honors.

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Wake services to be held March 29 and 30 at Commack Fire Department

A U.S. Air Force carry team transfers the remains of Master Sgt. Christopher Raguso, of Commack, March 18 at Dover Air Force Base. Photo from U.S. Air Force/Tech. Sgt. Matt Davis

By Sara-Megan Walsh

Suffolk County police and Smithtown Town officials have announced several road closures in advance of the funeral services for Air National Guard Master Sgt. Christopher Raguso.

Police will close one lane of Jericho Turnpike between Valmont Avenue and Commack Road in Commack on March 29 and 30 between noon and approximately 10 p.m.

Indian Head Road will be closed between Kings Park Road and Old Dock Road March 31 from 8 a.m. to approximately 3 p.m. Church Street, portions of Old Dock Road and portions of Route 25A will also be closed.

Smithtown Town officials announced there will be road closures in Kings Park along the ceremony route. It will start at Clayton Funeral Home on Meadow Road south to Old Northport Road March 31, starting as early as 9 a.m. The funeral service is scheduled for 11 a.m. at Clayton Funeral Home, located at 25 Meadow Road in Kings Park.

Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) has asked all residents to plan accordingly and to please have patience out of respect for the Raguso family and friends. Heavy vehicle and pedestrian traffic is expected and motorists are advised to find alternate routes.

In lieu of flowers, donations are being collected online to benefit Raguso’s daughters via the FDNY Foundation.  All who wish to contribute can do so by visiting: www.fdnyfoundation.org/donate. Visitors can scroll down to the “Fund” column and click on the “Scholarship Fund to Benefit the Children of FDNY Lieutenant Christopher Raguso” from the drop-down menu.

This post will be updated with additional road closures as more information becomes available. 

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A U.S. Air Force carry team transfers the remains of Master Sgt. Christopher Raguso, of Commack, March 18 at Dover Air Force Base. Photo from U.S. Air Force/Tech. Sgt. Matt Davis

It’s a solemn week for Commack and Huntington town residents as they mourn a man who made the ultimate sacrifice for the love of his country.

The funeral services for Master Sgt. Christopher Raguso, of Commack, one of the seven U.S. airmen killed when a a HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter crashed in Iraq March 15, have been scheduled.

The wake will be held at Commack Fire Department headquarters March 29 and 30, with visitation on both days from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. The funeral service will be held March 31 at 11 a.m at St. Joseph’s Church, located at 59 Church St. in Kings Park.

Christopher Raguso. Photo from Commack Fire Department’s Facebook

Raguso served with the Commack Fire Department as lieutenant of Company 4, located off Kings Park Road. He had joined as a volunteer in 2000, according to Commack Fire Commissioner Pat Fazio, and previously served as captain of Company 2 on Elwood Road.

“He was a devoted father, devoted husband, devoted family man and a true patriot to our company,” Fazio said. “It’s unfortunate the timing and passing of his death while serving his country and fighting for the freedoms we all enjoy.”

Raguso was posthumously bestowed the rank of honorary fire chief with a unanimous vote of the Commack Fire Department’s membership March 16. He was well known in the firehouse, playing an “integral role” in training new members, according to Fazio.

“It’s not for any other reason other than he would have achieved the rank of chief, no doubt,” the commissioner said. “It was an aspiration he had — it was well known and something he would have achieved.”

Raguso was also a 13-year veteran of the New York City Fire Department, where he was currently serving as a lieutenant assigned to Battalion 50 in Queens. On six different occasions, he was cited for bravery and life-saving actions as an individual and part of a unit.

“Lt. Raguso and Fire Marshal [Christopher] Zanetis bravely wore two uniforms in their extraordinary lives of service — as New York City firefighters and as members of the United States Armed Forces,” said FDNY Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro.

Capt. Andreas O’Keeffe, 37, of Center Moriches; Capt. Christopher Zanetis, 37, of Long Island City; and Staff Sgt. Dashan Briggs, of Port Jefferson Station, were the others from the rescue wing involved in the fatal crash, according to the United State Department of Defense.

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Commack Superintendent Donald James presented the district's 2018-19 budget draft. File photo by Greg Catalano

As Commack school officials propose nearly $300,000 in additional security measures and upgrades for next year, many parents came forward looking for the answer to one question: “What about armed guards?”

“Let’s get real — let’s make this part of the discussion,” resident Timothy Griffin said at the March 8 board of education meeting. “It makes no sense to me to not allow retired police officers that you currently have employed as security guards to carry firearms.”

Richard Schramm, director of facilities, said that Commack school district currently employs 23 security guards, most of which are assigned to specific individual buildings. A smaller number are designated as patrol guards along with two security supervisors, according to Schramm, who roam the district throughout the school day.

It makes no sense to me to not allow retired police officers that you currently have employed as security guards to carry firearms.”
— Timothy Griffin

Anastasia Vetter told board members they should be making increased security a priority over mental health monitoring.

“As much as you try to incorporate all these teachings about anxiety and how to handle children with problems, there’s always going to be one you’re not going to get,” she said. “And I don’t know if my child or someone else’s child is going to have to pay the price.”

Ian Chaikin asked why the school district is only now battening down its hatches in the event of a shooter situation.

“Parkland was tragic and the most recent but what have you been doing since the first shooting, or the second or third?” Chaikin said. “You guys gotta get on the ball.”

Another resident called for armed guards as well as locked vestibules at all eight buildings in the district, locked parking lot gates and metal detectors upon entering the school.

School administrators have built in nearly $300,000 of security upgrades to the district’s 2018-19 drafted budget. Schramm said there is $263,500 of remaining bond funds in order to install new classroom lock sets at Commack Middle School and Commack High School. The proposal also includes pulling $15,000 from the reserves to upgrade the security staff’s radios and $15,000 in the annual budget for upgrade the district’s security vehicles.

Parkland was tragic and the most recent but what have you been doing since the first shooting, or the second or third?”
— Ian Chaikin

Superintendent Donald James assured the speakers that the District Security Connector Group will be formed in upcoming weeks, consisting of Commack security personnel, teachers, administrators, board trustees, two parents for each grade level, and two community members-at-large (residents without school-aged children) in addition to the superintendent himself. This group will be charged with crafting a request-for-proposal to hire an outside agency to do a comprehensive security review of the district and consider the community’s suggestions — including whether to hire armed guards.

The funds to hire an outside security company to review the school district’s current practices and provide a list of suggestions is built into the facilities portion of the 2018-19 draft budget, according to Schramm.

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Veterans for a More Responsive Government, Quick Stop Deli & Catering provide meals for those who served

Volunteers gathered outside Quick Stop Deli and Catering in Commack before bringing St. Patricks Day meals to homeless veterans. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh.

A St. James resident and Commack business owner worked together to make sure the luck of the Irish was
delivered to homeless veterans from Huntington to Riverhead this weekend.

As many Smithtown area residents were waking to find the sun shining on St. Patrick’s Day, Robert Cornicelli, founder of the nonprofit Veterans for a More Responsive Government, gathered his friends and volunteers over cups of coffee at Quick Stop Deli & Catering in Commack.

A volunteer with St. James resident Robert Cornicelli packs meals into a car for delivery. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh.

Cornicelli, a U.S. Army veteran who retired in November 2017, organized the loading of boxes of prepacked meals in the back of a car to be delivered to disabled homeless veterans at nine United Veterans Beacon House locations throughout Suffolk County. Beacon House is a Bay Shore-based nonprofit that provides housing for homeless veterans, many of whom are disabled due to physical injuries or mental impairments related to their time in the service.

“Every Thanksgiving, I would raise money to bring Thanksgiving meals to Beacon House, then it became Thanksgiving, Christmas and Super Bowl Sunday,” Cornicelli said. “I decided I’m going to try to do this for every major holiday.”

He launched a GoFundMe campaign mid-February that quickly raised more than $1,000 towards the March 17 feast. When Cornicelli mentioned his idea to longtime friend Rudy Massa, owner of Gasoline Heaven and Quick Stop Deli & Catering, he quickly stepped in to provide food for the 107 veterans and cover the remaining costs.

“Why not? I’m in; let’s do something,” said Massa, a U.S. Army veteran, in remembering their conversation. “We are trying to do the right thing and give back to the community a little bit.”

St. Patricks Day meals for homeless veterans made by Quick Stop Deli & Catering in Commack. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh.

On Saturday, Massa provided 107 plates of a “proper St. Patrick’s Day feast” consisting of corned beef and cabbage, Irish-style potatoes, carrots, Irish soda bread and the utensils needed to dig in.

Joining Cornicelli and Massa in delivering the meals was U.S. Marine Corp veteran Terry Devaney, a resident of one of the Beacon House locations in Huntington. He wanted to lend a hand after enjoying the Super Bowl meals set up by the St. James nonprofit in conjunction with Tommy O’Grady, owner of Miller Place’s Tuscany Gourmet Market, last month.

“It’s very gratifying to know that people are thinking about you,” Devaney said. “A lot of veterans feel they are kind of forgotten once they are discharged.”

Devaney, who served in the Vietnam War, retired from his position as a veteran service officer for Suffolk County in September 2017 suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. He said he wanted to help as the free meals provided by Cornicelli and his nonprofit go a long way towards boosting morale. 

“It may seem like a small matter to most people, but a good meal can mean a lot,” Devaney said. “To have them deliver it and say thank you for your service, it re-instills your pride in having served.” 

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Christopher Raguso posthumously awarded title of honorary chief by Commack Fire Department

A military helicopter crash in Iraq has hit close to home for both the Commack and
Elwood communities.

Commack resident Master Sgt. Christopher Raguso, 39, was among those killed in the March 15 helicopter crash. The 39-year-old was one of seven airmen on board a HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter carrying out a mission in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, an American-led mission to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria, according to the United States Department of Defense. The DOD said the cause of the crash is under investigation.

Raguso was assigned to the 106th Rescue Wing at the Francis S. Gabreski Air National Guard Base in Westhampton. His mother, Laura Raguso of East Northport, said she pleaded with him not to go on this most
recent deployment.

“I begged him not to do it,” she said at a press conference, but that Raguso responded by saying if he didn’t go and do it, who would? “As a mother, he crushed me that day.”

“I begged him not to do it.”
— Laura Raguso

Raguso was also a 13-year veteran of the Fire Department of the City of New York, where he was currently serving as a lieutenant assigned to Battalion 50 in Queens. On six different occasions, he was cited for bravery and life-saving actions either for his individual actions or as part of a unit.

“Lt. Raguso and Fire Marshal [Christopher] Zanetis bravely wore two uniforms in their extraordinary lives of service    as New York City firefighters and as members of the United States Armed Forces,” said FDNY Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro. “The hearts and prayers of the entire department are with their loved ones and with the families of their five fellow service members who lost their lives defending our country.”

But to Commack residents, Raguso was perhaps best known for his service with the Commack Fire Department as lieutenant of Company 4, located off Kings Park Road. He  joined as a volunteer in 2000, according to Commack Fire Commissioner Pat Fazio, and  previously served as captain of Company 2
located on Elwood Road.

“He was a devoted father, devoted husband, devoted family man and a true patriot to our company,” Fazio said. “It’s unfortunate the timing and passing of his death while serving his country and fighting for the freedoms we all enjoy.”

“He was a devoted father, devoted husband, devoted family man and a true patriot to our company.”
— Pat Fazio

Raguso was posthumously bestowed the rank of honorary fire chief based on a unanimous vote of the Commack Fire Department’s membership March 16. He was well known in the firehouse as he played an “integral role” in training new members, according to Fazio.

“It’s not for any other reason other than he would have achieved the rank of chief, no doubt,” the commissioner said. “It was an aspiration he had, it was well known and something he would have achieved.”

Fazio said several members of the Commack Fire Department drove to Delaware to join Raguso’s wife, Carmela, and the family at Dover Air Force Base to see Raguso remains return home March 18.

“We will forever be there for the family,” he said. “His wife and his children will forever be part of the family.”

Elwood school district also mourned Raguso’s passing; he was a 1997 graduate of John Glenn High School.

“The district extends its deepest condolences to Lt. Raguso’s family and friends,” wrote Superintendent Kenneth Bossert in a message on the district’s website. “He died a true hero serving our country, and we join the entire nation in mourning his passing.”

The Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, a Staten Island-based nonprofit in memory of New York firefighter Stephen Siller who died in the 9/11 attacks, has stepped forward to donate $100,000 toward paying off the Raguso family’s mortgage.

“He died a true hero serving our country, and we join the entire nation in mourning his passing.”
— Kenneth Bossert

“Our mission is to honor and support military personnel and first responders,” said spokeswoman Catherine Christman. “In Christopher Raguso, you have both in one person.”

Christman said the Raguso family has undergone many recent hardships as his wife, Carmela, is a recent breast cancer survivor. He is also survived by his two daughters, Eva Rose, 5, and Mila Teresa, 6. No details on his wake or funeral arrangements were available as of  this publication’s press time.

Capt. Andreas O’Keeffe, 37, of Center Moriches; Capt. Christopher Zanetis, 37, of Long Island City; and Staff Sgt. Dashan  Briggs, of Port Jefferson Station, were the others from the rescue wing involved in the fatal crash, according to the DOD. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) ordered flags on all state government buildings to be flown at half-staff in their honor March 19.

Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) similarly directed the flags on all Town of Huntington buildings flown at half-staff on Monday.

“The people in our town are deeply grateful to your loved ones for their sacrifice in the protection of our nation’s security,” Lupinacci said in a statement. “On behalf [of] the Town of Huntington, you have our deepest sympathies and our prayers will be with you and your families at this sad and tragic time.” Master Sgt. William Posch, 36, of Indialantic, Florida, and Staff Sgt. Carl Enis, 31, of Tallahassee, Florida, both assigned to the Air Force Reserve 308th Rescue Squadron, also died in the crash.

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), a current member of the U.S. Army Reserve, mourned the fallen service members in a statement.

“The people in our town are deeply grateful to your loved ones for their sacrifice in the protection of our nation’s security.”
— Chad Lupinacci

“These fallen airmen are the best of who we are,” he said. “There are no words that fully describe the profound sorrow and immense gratitude that consume our community today. There are no words to describe the emptiness this loss leaves in the heart of every Long Islander. There is, however, no shortage of ways to describe these seven service members — selfless, heroes, patriots and everything we aspire to be as a people, as a nation and as Americans.”

Commack Fire Department is encouraging those who wish to make a donation to the Raguso family to donate funds in Raguso’s name to the Silver Shield Foundation, a nonprofit that provides educational support for children and widows of firefighters killed in the line of duty. Donations can be made by visiting www.silvershieldfoundation.org/donate or mailing to: Silver Shield Foundation, 870 United Nations Plaza, 1st Floor, New York, NY 10017.

The Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation is also collecting donations from residents to continue helping pay off the Raguso family’s mortgage. Donations can be made by visiting: www.crowdrise.com/o/en/campaign/t2traguso.

A GoFundMe page has been set up to raise money to support Raguso’s daughters at www.gofundme.com/5a6lxdc. It has received more than $29,000 of its $50,000 goal as of 3:15 p.m. March 19.

In addition, the St. James Fire Department announced it will be donating the proceeds of its Pancakes with the Easter Bunny event, set for March 25 from 8 to 11 a.m., to the Tunnel to Towers foundation and Raguso family. The cost is $7 for adults, $3 for children and the fifth family member eats free.

Evidence of Long Island crimes found after Florida resident was arrested for pornographic material

Suffolk County District Attorney Tim Sini (D) announced a former Commack resident and babysitter has been extradited from Florida and charged with 27 counts of alleged sex crimes against three young children who were in his care in Suffolk County between 2009 and 2014.

Suffolk County Police Department has been working in cooperation with Florida’s state attorney’s office since 2014 to bring Benjamin Fielman, 27, back to Long Island to face criminal charges for his alleged actions. Fielman was arraigned in First District Court in Central Islip March 9. Fielman is currently serving a 10-year sentence in Florida, where he is registered as a sexual predator, after pleading guilty to felony sex crimes involving children in June 2017.

Benjamin Fielman mugshot. Photo from SCPD

“These crimes are atrocious,” Sini said. .“This individual used the trust that was given to him by families in Suffolk County to carry out these depraved acts against children, our most vulnerable population.”

Fielman worked as am assistant teacher at Suffolk Y Jewish Community Center in Commack for four years (2008-2011) and as a babysitter, not related to any service or agency. During this time, the district attorney said allegedly Fielman sexually abused three unrelated boys ranging in age from 7 to 11 and was allegedly taking sexually explicit photos and videos.

Florida state authorities executed a search warrant on the suspect’s home after he was arrested in 2014, according to Sini, where they found evidence of Fielman allegedly engaging in sexual contact with minors. He was also in possession of child pornography. Authorities determined  the materials originated in Suffolk County. Florida authorities contacted the Suffolk County Police Department’s computer crimes unit, which investigated the origin of the images and videos through the files’ metadata and was able to identify the victims.

“We have serious concern that there are more victims,” District Attorney Sini said. “It’s very important that we not only take this individual off the streets so he cannot pose a danger to children moving forward, but also that we send a clear message that law enforcement from all jurisdictions is working together to bring people like this to justice.”

The district attorney’ office said it has been in touch with the community recreation center and they have been cooperating with the active investigation.

Fielman was indicted by a Suffolk County Grand Jury on May 22, 2015 on two counts of first-degree course of sexual conduct against a child; two counts of second-degree course of sexual conduct against a child; 11 counts of promoting a sexual performance by a child; 11 counts of using a child in a sexual performance; and endangering the welfare of a child. He was remanded without bail to the Suffolk County Correctional Facility in Riverhead. If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of 40 years in prison.

The district attorney said the case remains an ongoing investigation under Suffolk’s Child Abuse and Domestic Violence Bureau. Anyone with information about the defendant or potential victims are encouraged to contact law enforcement at 631-852-6279. Anonymous tips can be made through Crime Stoppers by calling 1-800-220-TIPS (8477).

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Cougars score nine 3-pointers to nab third county crown in four years

Commack's girls basketball team celebrates in county title win over Half Hollow Hills East. Photo by Jim Ferchland

By Jim Ferchland

Commack’s girls basketball team proved once again why it’s the No. 1 seed and team to beat by securing the program’s third Suffolk County championship title in four years.

Kim Shaloub shoots from outside. Photo by Jim Ferchland

The Cougars controlled the tempo with their ability to spread the floor and shoot from the perimeter, making nine 3-pointers in a 52-25 topple over No. 2 Half Hollow Hills East Feb. 27 at Farmingdale State College.

Senior captain and Commack sharpshooter Kim Shalhoub drained a team-high four threes to lead the Cougars with 14 points. She had 13 points in a Feb. 24 semifinal win over Ward Melville. She felt more comfortable taking shots from beyond the arc this time around.

“It was really good to finally hit some shots after last game,” Shalhoub said. “Nothing was really going in for me on Saturday.”

She said she was able to get open shot opportunities coming off screens, which is a vital part of the Cougars’ offense.

“A lot of our plays have to do with setting screens for each other, cutting, and a lot of fast movement,” Shalhoub said. “I think that’s really important when it comes to getting open for shots.”

Junior guard Katie Kelly contributed 13 points and knocked down two 3-pointers for Commack. It’s her third straight time making it to the county finals game. In the second half, Commack ran away with the game by outscoring the Thunderbirds 24-9 while playing smothering defense. Going into the game, Kelly was not anticipating a one-sided affair.

Amanda McMahon shoots ahead of the block. Photo by Jim Ferchland

“I expected them to come out a lot harder,” Kelly said. “I think that we just played our game. We stayed together, ultimately. We said that no matter what happens in this game, we have to stay together.”

Commack senior captain Casey Hearns orchestrated the offense. She called plays and made extra passes until her Cougars were open for shots. She added eight points, also making two 3-pointers. Her first shot from outside was a running bank shot off the glass at the end of the first quarter, which gave Commack a comfortable 21-8 advantage. To finalize a 13-0 run in the third quarter in the final minute, she tossed a shot that put Commack up by 23 points, 44-21.

“We usually depend on Katie [Kelly], but she was being covered,” Hearns said. “When she’s being covered or when the offense is a little slow, I’m obviously going to step in and help her. I think that’s what we do really well on offense. I’m always happy to assist my teammates by sharing the ball.”

Hearns said she was astonished to know her team allowed just nine points in the second half.

Katie Kelly drives to the basket. Photo by Jim Ferchland

“I had no idea. That’s awesome,” Hearns said. “We played defense really well in the second half. I’m so proud with how we played.”

Denis Conroy, Commack’s 12-year head coach, missed a large portion of the season due to medical reasons. Assistant coach Russ Tietjen, Harborfields’ former head coach, has led the team most of the year, but Conroy said he could not be happier to add another county title notch to his belt.

“It’s the pride of my life to be their coach,” Conroy said. “They are just tremendous kids. You can’t say enough about what they did. It means a lot to play as well as we did against a team that good. We have managed to develop a strong continuity in our program and I’m very proud of that.”

The Cougars await the winner of the Nassau Class AA final between Massapequa and Baldwin. Commack will play the winner in the Long Island championship/ Southeast Regional semifinal March 8. The game is currently slated to begin at 7:30 p.m. at Suffolk County Community College in Brentwood.

Cougars are second Class AA team to make it to four straight county finals

Casey Hearns makes her way through Ward Melville's defense. Photo by John Dielman
Amanda McMahon leaps up to the rim. Photo by John Dielman

By Jim Ferchland

Commack’s Katie Kelly, Amanda McMahon and Kim Shalhoub were too much for Ward Melville to contain.

The Cougars trio combined for 43 points in their team’s 60-45 victory over the Patriots in the Class AA semifinals Feb. 24 at Suffolk County Community in Selden. Commack is the second team in Class AA to go to four straight county finals since Sachem East did it from 2008-11.

“We know we’ve always been rivals,” said McMahon, who with Kelly each recorded a team-high 15 points. “We know we always have to bring our game. It feels really great to get a win because we prepared for this so much. The intensity really picked up as the game progressed.”

The packed house was there to not only watch the two teams duke it out, but see Ward Melville head coach Samantha Prahalis face off once again against her alma mater. Commack beat Ward Melville back on Jan. 3, 75-59. Prahalis was ejected that game in the fourth quarter after arguing with officials. On Saturday, Prahalis picked up a technical with 3:45 left in the fourth quarter, which gave Commack momentum to finish the job.

“It’s not necessarily about Ward Melville-Commack,” Prahalis said. “It’s the semifinals. A lot is on the line.”

Katie Kelly reaches powers into Ward Melville’s zone. Photo by John Dielman

Ward Melville junior Lauren Hansen was back healthy after missing six weeks with a hand injury. She finished with 18 points, making four 3-pointers after recording 39 during the first matchup. Junior Bre Cohn finished with 13 points.

“It was difficult,” Hansen said. “I was missing a lot of shots. It was kind of frustrating but it felt good to be back out there.”

Commack senior captain Casey Hearns defended Hansen the entire game. She said guarding her was a huge challenge.

“She is an outstanding player,” Hearns said of Hansen. “It’s definitely hard to guard her. Each time we play her, she has the ability to turn it on in a game like that and take it over. I just focused on staying in front. I knew there were times she was going to pull up and I couldn’t really do anything about it.”

Kim Shaloub passed the ball. Photo by John Dielman

Despite a slow first quarter, the Cougars were up 26-24 at halftime and outscored the Patriots 34-21 in the second half. Commack senior guard and captain Shalhoub (13 points) said her team is more a second-half team.

“I feel like every game we play better in the second half,” Shalhoub said. “It’s really important at the end of the game once you tire the other team out to keep on pushing. It really makes the ending better when you finish strong.”

Prahalis said Ward Melville had a chance to win after Commack went on a 13-0 run to push its advantage, but let the game slip away.

“We kinda had them, and then little things here and there — one or two things leads to three or four,” Prahalis said. “I’m proud of my girls for sticking in there and working hard. We’ll be back here next year.”

Hearns is proud of her team going to yet another county final. Commack will face off against Half Hollow Hills East at Farmingdale State College Feb. 27 at 5 p.m.

“We are used to this,” Hearns said. “This is our fourth one in a row. We lose kids every year and we are still able to get back here. That’s something I’m so proud of and I’m really happy to be a part of this team — from the first girl on the court to the last one on the bench.”

Commack’s bench erupts during a 13-0 Cougars run in the fourth quarter. Photo by John Dielman

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