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Connor Desimone

Smithtown East lax player scores three goals, SWR's Chris Gray adds two

Smithtown East's Connor DeSimone hoists up his Under Armour All-America MVP trophy. He scored three goals and added two asssits in North's win. Photo from Connor DeSimone

By Desirée Keegan

In a game that was likely to feature a potent offense — with 44 of the country’s best rising college men’s lacrosse freshmen on the field — it was Smithtown East’s own Connor DeSimone that led the way.

He tallied a hat trick and two assists, and was among 11 scorers that were part of an aggressive North attack that beat South, 18-16, in the Under Armour All-America senior boys all-star game at Towson University July 1. The victory snapped the South’s six-game win streak.

Smithtown East’s Connor DeSimone looks for an open lane. Photo from Connor DeSimone

“My teammates were just looking for me the entire time,” DeSimone said. “They definitely did most of the work, and I give them a lot of credit.”

North went on a 9-1 run in the first half to go into halftime up by six, and the Johns Hopkins University commit helped pace that burst. After  North withstood a man-down situation four minutes into the second quarter, DeSimone picked up a turnover deep in his own offensive end and pushed it into the goal to tie the score at 6-6.

Soon after, DeSimone gave North its lead off an assist from attackman Tehoka Nanticoke, who will play next season at the University at Albany. Then, DeSimone widened the advantage to two when he fed midfielder Matt Licciardi, a Cornell University commit, for a score.

“I was just in the right place at the right time,” DeSimone said. “Competing against the best in the country was something special. Being there was such a great experience.”

Navy commit Nate Buller later powered through the zone with a defender guarding close to his shoulder for an overhead score, but South, which opened the second-quarter scoring in less than a minute, didn’t register another point for the remainder of the half.

Shoreham-Wading River’s Chris Gray races into South’s zone with the ball. Photo from Chris Gray

Instead, DeSimone completed his hat trick and four of  North’s 10 first-half scorers added points.

Shoreham-Wading River’s Chris Gray and teammate Jackson Reid followed DeSimone with one apiece in the span of about a minute.

After Gray found the back of the net, the entire North team congregated in South’s defensive territory, even the bench players, and played duck-duck-goose with the Boston University-bound attackman. It was one of the multiple elaborate celebrations North rolled out during the win.

“It was on the fly,” Gray said of the celebration. “My teammates did a great job all game passing me the ball and every time I shot the ball I tried to use the best angle I had, wether it was a regular shot or a backhand shot. The celebrations play a big part in the UA game because its all about having fun.”

The attackman said he also liked practicing and competing with, and against the top talents in the nation.

“Practice was awesome because everyone was so talented drills were very fast paced and the ball rarely hit the floor, which was very cool to see,” Gray said. “During the game I felt our team did really well sharing the ball and hustling. Everyone was giving it 110 percent and looking for the open man, which made the game so much fun.”

DeSimone made the underclassmen rosters as a sophomore and a junior. The midfielder capped off his high school career being selected as a senior and bringing home the MVP trophy tied for a game-high five points.

Shoreham-Wading River’s Chris Gray plays duck-duck-gooose with his teammates following a goal. Photo from Chris Gray

“It was a life-changing, incredible experience,” he said. “It’s a little taste of what college lacrosse will be like and I just loved being out there. There’s no better way to end my high school career.”

The stands were packed with people from all over the country, including every underclassmen group competing during the weekend. Seeing the younger fans there brought back memories for DeSimone, who was in the stands in 2011 when his older brother was on the team.

“Growing up you look at the kids in the senior game, and say, ‘I wanna be that guy,’” DeSimone said. “We’re the best players from our class, from our schools, so seeing a bunch of kids there and knowing I was once in the same shoes, it’s inspiring.”

He said being so passionate about the sport, earning the selection, competing and contributing during the winning game was a humbling experience.

“This event is the best event I’ve ever been at, and knowing I got selected to play with the best players in the country, it means the hard work has finally paid off,” DeSimone said. “Hopefully it’s just the start.”

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Shoreham-Wading River’s boys’ lacrosse team finally met its match.

The Wildcats were tamed by a potent Cold Spring Harbor offense June 3, falling 16-7 in the Class C Long Island championship title game.

“It’s a hard pill to swallow,” Shoreham-Wading River head coach Mike Taylor said. “To go 16-3 and win the Suffolk County championship is tough enough. Unfortunately, we met a juggernaut in Cold Spring Harbor. They played excellent.”

Chris Gray shoots and scores. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Each time the Wildcats made a mistake, whether not winning the faceoff, falling victim to a forced turnover or having a pass bounce out of bounds, the Seahawks capitalized on the opportunity.

“Every time we made a mistake they made us pay, and they made us pay not only in possession, but turning those possessions into goals,” Taylor said. “They’re a good team; they’re some of the best.”

Taylor thought the two teams matched up similarly, and they did. Senior Chris Gray, who just recently edged out Smithtown East’s Connor DeSimone to become Suffolk County’s leading scorer with 90 goals and 25 assists, and Long Island’s top goal scorer, was a similar scoring threat that Cold Spring Harbor’s Taylor Strough was. Each team has lockdown defenders, and plenty of other offensive weapons.

“We’re both run-and-gun teams with so many guys that can score,” Taylor said. “The ball bounced their way a little more, and they made a lot less mistakes defensively. And our mistakes turned into big goals.”

Xavier Arline tries to push a Cold Spring Harbor defender out of the way to get a clear look at the cage. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Strough finished with four goals and two assists, while Gray led the Wildcats with three goals and two assists. Shoreham-Wading River, which edged out Garden City last year for the Class B Long Island title, also had contributions from senior Sean Haplin and freshman Xavier Arline, who added two goals each.

The Seahawks were up 4-0 before Gray scored unassisted on a dodge from behind the cage — the Wildcats’ only goal of the first quarter. He added another at the four-minute mark off a Joe Miller faceoff win, but Shoreham-Wading River was down 11-2 at the half.

After a 5-0 Cold Spring Harbor run that triggered a running clock with the team up 14-2, Arline scored twice, sandwiching a Haplin goal off a feed from Gray, to try and stop the bleeding. After a Seahawks tally, Gray completed his hat trick to help the Wildcats close within 10, 16-6. Haplin’s final goal came off another assist from Gray at 2:14, but neither team would score thereafter.

Kevin Cutinella makes his way to the cage. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“It’s been special,” Taylor said of taking his seniors on the Long Island championship-bound journey two seasons in a row. “I’ve had three years with some extremely talented kids, and I may never see that kind of talent again like I have in Kevin Cutinella, Danny Cassidy, Chris Gray. I have 16 fabulous seniors that are great lacrosse players and even better kids. It’s hard to spend so much time with them and see them move on, but I wish them nothing but the best.”

Cutinella said he’s felt privileged to be coached by Taylor and his assistants.

“[They have] spent so much time developing a team that can perform at a championship level year in and year out,” Cutinella said. “As a team, we didn’t perform well and to the level that Cold Spring Harbor played up to, and ultimately the score spoke for itself. But Shoreham-Wading River has shaped me into the person I am today. I’m grateful we made it this far, and even more grateful to play with all the other players on my team. My teammates, these coaches have done a lot for me, and I can’t thank them enough.”

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Patriots avenge 11-10 loss to Smithtown East in 2015 Class A finals

 

Being down 5-1 in the Suffolk County Class A finals didn’t scare the Patriots — it fueled them.

According to senior Eddie Munoz, Ward Melville coaches say lacrosse is a game of runs, and all the team needed was a run to get back in it.

So Ward Melville’s Zach Hobbes scored twice in a four-run spurt across the end of the first half and beginning of the second, and Munoz capped it off with an unassisted goal to tie the game, en route to a 9-8 win for Ward Melville over Smithtown East May 31.

“Down 5-1 is tough to come back from, but we made our run at the right time,” Munoz said. “And we didn’t stop.”

After senior Mike Marino scored off an assist from senior Mike Latini for Smithtown East, Munoz was quick to help tie it up again, when he scored his hat trick goal off a pass from Hobbes. Senior Dominic Pryor scored next off a feed from classmate Andrew Lockhart, but Smithtown East senior Connor DeSimone tied it up for
the Bulls.

DeSimone was held off the scoreboard besides one assist, thanks to Ward Melville senior Andrew McKenna, who was tasked with guarding one of Long Island’s leading goal scorers.

“I know he’s a very good player, but I’ve [gone up against] a lot of good players,” McKenna said. “He’s one of Long Island’s best, but knowing I have a great defense around me and a great goalkeeper behind me in Perry Cassidy made me all the more confident.”

Watching his defenseman lean in to help with a dodge on the next play, Munoz said he decided to step into it, hoping Pryor would find him with a pass. With little time to think, Munoz decided to send the ball to senior Noah Kepes, who finished his shot to put Ward Melville back on top, 8-7.

“When Dom passed the ball, I knew I was a little far out, so I took one glance at the crease in my windup, I saw Noah there and I couldn’t not pass it to him,” Munoz said. “It was a great catch, a great handle and a great finish.”

Senior Jack Purdy tacked on an empty netter for what the Patriots thought would be an insurance goal, but Smithtown East’s Dominic Pizzulli found the netting with 22.1 seconds left, and Ward Melville’s defense was able to hold the Bulls off after senior Brian Herber’s faceoff win.

“We were resilient,” McKenna said. “Down 5-1 we still went out there and competed, gave 100 percent on every play and played good, hard, smart lacrosse.”

He said it’s been a dream ever since he was a kid to make it to this point in his senior year with his longtime Patriots surrounding him, and they agreed.

“We needed to get back here,” Munoz said. “I couldn’t let us lose today. This is a dream come true.”

Ward Melville will play Massapequa in the Long Island Championship June 3 at 10 a.m. at Stony Brook University.

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Smithtown East will face Ward Melville in Suffolk County championship May 31

 

Jason Lambert told his team to weather the storm.

Not only literally, as rain fell through the thick fog during Smithtown East’s Class A semifinal game May 25 against their in-district rivals, but because he knew that Smithtown West was going to push for a comeback.

East was leading West 7-2 heading into the fourth quarter, and despite West scoring three goals to cut down the margin, Connor DeSimone drained time off the clock, and held it during the final seconds to secure a 7-5 win for East.

The senior said his team knew it had to adopt a different strategy to seal the deal.

“That was definitely the game plan coming in — we were going to hold the ball,” he said. “We knew that if the ball was in our stick, we couldn’t lose. So we didn’t mind holding the ball during five or six minutes of good possession at a time without scoring.”

Lambert said the other main objective was to value the ball, and he liked that his team accomplished that goal — using it to capitalize on early scoring chances.

DeSimone and senior Luke Eschabach went back-to-back with unassisted goals, and then assisted on each other’s shots in East’s 4-1 first quarter.

“We’ve been playing together since we were 5 years old and we always find each other through the field,” Eschbach said. “He knows where I am, I know where he is without even looking, and he always finds the void.”

DeSimone said he knows his longtime teammate’s skills and wants to find him when he can.

“He’s an awesome shooter, a great player, and I know when I find him on the through ball, he’s going to put it in the back of the net like we’ve been doing all year,” he said.

DeSimone said the team was concerned about West’s faceoff man Conor Calderone and goalkeeper Ryan Erler.

“We weren’t letting [Ryan] Erler make the saves, who played great today,” he said, although Erler still made 12 stops, including back to back saves in the game’s final seconds. “I knew possession was crucial. They out-possessed us by two times the amount we had the ball, so knowing that we knew we had to value the ball, we had to take the best shot, not the first shot.”

Both teams went scoreless over a 20-minute span, before DeSimone found senior Dominic Pizzulli.

“We weren’t nervous at all,” DeSimone said of the drought. “It’s one play at a time. We’re not looking for home runs — there’s no superheroes on the team — if we all look out for each other and play team ball it’s going to be hard to beat us.”

Danny Riley scored twice for West, sandwiched around a goal by Jimmy Caddigan, to make it 7-5 with 7:23 left.

“We just had to make sure to manage their comeback and not give them all the momentum,” Lambert said.

West’s Brian Herber won the ensuing faceoff, and East went back to draining the clock.

“Sometimes we have letdowns, but this team knows we have ups and downs, and every single person on this team never gives up on each other,” Eschbach said. “We always stay positive, so when we lose a couple of ground balls, get a flag here and there to go a man down, we always come back and pull through.”

DeSimone said he was most excited to avenge last season’s semifinal loss to Connetquot, and is just happy to have another day of practice. Eschbach said he’d love nothing more than another county championship win over Ward Melville, like the Bulls had two years ago.

“I wanted to get here so bad my senior year,” he said. “We need to possess the ball — not throw it away — and play strong defense. If our defense plays the way it did today, I think we’ll have a very strong shot at taking that game.”

Smithtown East will face Ward Melville May 31 at Stony Brook University at 3 p.m. The winner will move on to the Long Island championship game at Stony Brook University June 3 at 10 a.m.

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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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Kevin Keese reaches for the layup for Smithtown East. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Smithtown East’s comeback effort, despite a 24-point showing from senior forward Kevin Keese, may have fallen short Tuesday with a 59-54 nonleague loss to Sachem North, but the team is optimistic about its chances moving forward.

“I thought we played really hard and that’s our hallmark,” Smithtown East head coach Keith Reyling said. “We have to be a team that outworks other teams. I think at times today we got outworked, and that was disappointing, but we never gave up. It’s going to be like this every night. We’re going to work hard like this every night and work on our identity by defending better.”

Sachem knocked down the first three points, but Smithtown countered when junior small forward Sam Wahba made two free throws.

“I thought we could have played a lot better,” he said. “Staying in it speaks of our heart and how hard we wanted it, but at the end of the day we just got to play better defense.”

After forcing a turnover that led to a three-pointer by senior guard Conor Wooley, Keese snatched the ball out of midair and converted the turnover into points of his own when he scored a layup that gave his team its first and only lead of the game, 7-5.

Keese said he agreed with Wahba though, about the lack of defense.

“We all could’ve stepped up on defense,” he said. “We had too many gaps in our defense, and I don’t think we should have lost to this team. We definitely have the skill level there, but tonight we missed a couple odd shots and the defense hurt, too.”

Smithtown East's Connor DeSimone dribbles across the court. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Smithtown East’s Connor DeSimone dribbles across the court. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Sachem scored the next seven points to pull out in front 11-7 before Smithtown sophomore forward Brian Cosgrove tacked on a layup. Sachem closed out the scoring in the first stanza with a free-throw point to maintain the lead heading into the second.

This was where Keese got down to business.

After opening the scoring with a layup, Sachem countered with a layup and free throw, and two more free throws, for a 17-11 lead, before Keese added two field goals. Keese had a counter for everything, and answered Sachem’s ensuing three-pointer with one of his own. Sachem scored another two points, but Keese drew a foul and missed on the tail end.

“I’m so happy that he’s on our side,” the coach said, laughing. “He’s an outstanding player. No one works harder than him. He gives us everything he’s got.”

Wahba scored a layup with 4:28 remaining until the halftime break, and helped the team close the gap to one point, 22-21. The gap didn’t stay closed for long, though. After Sachem North scored the next six points, Smithtown junior guard Connor DeSimone scored a field goal, but Sachem countered with two of their own to jump out in front, 32-23. By halftime, the Bulls edged closer, but trailed 34-28.

The two teams traded scores in the third, and by the end of the next eight minutes, Sachem re-extended its lead, 45-36.

Fouls continued to plague Smithtown, as the opening foul led to another Sachem point, but Keese continued to rack up the points with two free throws and a field goal that sandwiched a Sachem two-point shot.

Smithtown tacked on four more points before Sachem scored, and with 2:08 left to play, DeSimone scored a layup to make it a three-point game, 53-50,

“They fought to the very end,” Reyling said. “The game looked like it could have been over a couple of times. We made some shots and fought back and forced some turnovers. We gave ourselves the chance to tie the game, having the ball down by three twice, the shots just didn’t fall for us.”

Fourteen seconds later, DeSimone scored a long two-point shot to again make it a one-point game. Sachem was able to tack on six points off of foul shots, though, and Smithtown missed two free throws and several three-point attempts. Keese scored the final two points for Smithtown with 16 seconds left on the clock.

“We started off hot and then we kind of lost it in the middle, but we definitely didn’t fold at the end, so it showed some good signs for us,” Keese said. “It’s huge for a young team like us. We’re finding out our strengths and weaknesses, and to keep up the intensity was huge. I think we’re starting to mesh as a team better, so it looks promising.”

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By Bill Landon

Fresh off its Suffolk County title victory three days earlier, the Smithtown East boys’ lacrosse team had the upper hand on Syosset, leading 8-7 after two quarters of play at Lavalle Stadium at Stony Brook University Saturday afternoon, but failed to tally another goal thereafter, falling in the Long Island Championship Class A matchup, 14-8.

“We struggled with simple exchanges; we threw the ball away,” Smithtown East head coach Jason Lambert said. “If you make too many turnovers against a good team like this at this point of the season, it’s going to bite you. And we got bit today, big time.”

Smithtown East struck first when senior attack and co-captain Brian Willetts fed junior attack Dan Rooney for the score, and senior midfielder and co-captain John Daniggelis found the cage unassisted a minute later, to put the Bulls out front, 2-0.

Syosset responded, but Daniggelis answered right back unassisted, to help his team edge ahead 3-1.

In the final minute of the quarter, Syosset scored two quick goals to tie the game heading into the second stanza, but Smithtown East lit up the scoreboard with four unanswered goals just midway through the 12-minute span before the halftime break, all of which were unassisted.

Willetts scored twice, Daniggelis split the pipes for his hat trick goal, and sophomore midfielder Connor Desimone drove one home to break out to a 7-3 lead.

Syosset fired back with a quick score seconds after the fourth goal, and stretched the net again two minute later to close the gap.

Looking to clear the ball, Smithtown East senior goalkeeper Sean Turner looked to clear the ball, only to have it picked off. With no defender in the vicinity, he immediately paid the price for his error, as Syosset scored to trail by one, 7-6, at the five-minute mark.

With 3:49 left in the half, Desimone found the back of the net, but that concluded the scoring for Smithtown East in the game. Syosset scored once more before the break, and the Bulls took an 8-7 lead into the third.

The Bulls weren’t firing on all cylinders in the second half, and began to miscue, loosing control at the faceoff and struggling with passing — allowing seven unanswered goals along the away.

“We struggled with lack of possession and when we did get it we had far too many turnovers,” Lambert said of his team’s play in the second half. “They beat us to ground balls today, they had actual possessions and they killed us in transition. The two things that we said we couldn’t do today was turn the ball over and loose in transition, and we did both.”

The Bulls concluded their season with an 11-0 record in Division I in the regular season, and followed with four Class A playoff wins, the last, an 11-10 win over Ward Melville in double overtime for the Suffolk County title. This is the second year in a row that Smithtown East came up short in the Long Island Championship title game.

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