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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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Newfield's Ally Hu battles against Centereach's Kayley Otero. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Seniors Angela LoMastro and Ally Hu swept all three of their bouts to lead Newfield’s girls fencing team to a 17-10 nonleague win over crosstown rival Centereach Jan. 11.

LoMastro, a sabreist, blanked her first opponent in a 5-0 bout.

Newfield captain Angela LoMastro faces Centeach’s Gail Laurino. Photo by Bill Landon

“I had a lot of energy,” she said. “The last time we played Centereach I let them get a lot of touches on me, but I was able to shut that down today, so I was proud of that. It’s an important match — no one wants to get beat by Centereach.”

Centereach first-year head coach Kerin Boghosian said despite the loss she’s pleased with her team’s progress.

“I think some of the girls are a little disappointed with today’s loss because we performed better the first time we faced them, but it’s a great measuring stick because they have some great fencers on that squad,” Boghosian said. “I’m leaning on the girls to show me what they’re capable of.”

She said she’s been leaning primarily on foilists Jessica DeSena and Kayley Otero, who finished 2-1.

“Our foils have performed well for us — it’s a weapon we kind of depend on,”  Boghosian  said. “Some of our epeé fencers did a nice job today, too. Ayanna Hodge went 3-0, so she’s a bright spot. She learns from Abby Cornelia.”

Newfield epéeist and captain Grace Scura gets a touch on Centereach’s Ayanna Hodge. Photo by Bill Landon

Hodge won her bouts 5-4, 5-3 and 5-0.

LoMastro and Hu, also a foilist, swept their opponents 5-0, 5-2 and 5-3. Hu said she was happy with her shutout because she isn’t at full strength.

“To win against Centereach is so important — it brings up the school morale for more than just one sport,” she said. “I have fenced better than I did. I lacked in energy today.”

Centereach traveled to Lindenhurst Jan. 13 and outscored its nonleague opponent 18-9. The Cougars (3-4 overall, 1-4 in League I) travel to Half Hollow Hills East Jan. 16 for a 5:15 p.m. matchup. Newfield (7-2 overall, 4-1 in League II) hosts Brentwood Jan. 18 at 5 p.m.

“We are a tenacious athletic group — our kids don’t stop fighting,” Newfield  head coach Jessica Palmaccio said, before speaking specifically about captains LoMastro and Hu. “They really carried us today. I’m really proud of both of them.”

This version corrects the results of Centereach’s win over Lindenhurst.

Ward Melville's Lauren Hansen carries the ball up the court while Commack's Casey Hearns follows close behind. Photo by Jim Ferchland

By Jim Ferchland

Former WNBA player, Commack graduate and current Ward Melville girls basketball coach Samantha Prahalis was frustrated and emotional on some calls the referee made while facing her alma mater Jan. 2. She received two technical fouls and was ejected in the middle of the fourth quarter in a 75-59 loss.

“I thought [the referees] missed a lot of calls,” Prahalis said. “If you let a few travels go, let a few backcourts go in a crucial time — we’re trying to come back, [and] there were a few big calls that I didn’t think were made.”

This is Prahalis’ first year as Ward Melville’s head coach. She was embarrassed that she was tossed, and said she has to do a better job of maintaining her composure.

Ward Melville’s head coach Samantha Prahalis, a former Commack star, coaches the Patirots from the sidelines. Photo by Jim Ferchland

“I can’t put myself in a situation and get a technical, and then [to] get another one,” she said. “Lesson learned. I learned from it and we’ll learn from it as a group and we’ll move on.”

Ward Melville junior guard Lauren Hansen felt that Prahalis was in hostile territory facing her old team.

“I felt that the refs were just gunning for her,” she said. “It’s Commack environment.”

Commack assistant head coach Russ Tietjen was with Prahalias at Commack last year when she was an assistant. He is aware of her emotions on the court that translated to her emotions as a player at Commack.

“Sammy was a great player here and you can see her intensity as a coach is very similar to when she played,” Tietjen said of Prahalis. “She had a Ward Melville team who was ready to play; they played hard. That’s what good coaches do — they get their teams to play hard.”

Commack had several offensive weapons with four players scoring 16 points or more. Meanwhile, for Ward Melville, Hansen recorded 39 points and was the only player in double figures for the Patriots.

Junior guards Amanda McMahon and Katie Kelly lead the Cougars with 18 points each. Senior Casey Hearns recorded 17 and classmate Kim Shalhoub added 16. They combined for 69 of Commack’s 75 points.

“We have a group of great shooters and we like to push the tempo,” Tietjen said. “When you’re making your baskets, it looks good. It looked good today. The level of competitiveness in these girls is second to none.”

Kelly enjoyed going up against her former assistant head coach. She says it ramps up the competition.

“Sammy is a very good competitor and loves to win as much as we do,” Kelly said. “It just makes the atmosphere that much better to play in. It make us want to win even more.”

Kelly’s learned her game from former player and point guard Jillian Spagnuola who graduated in 2016, when the team went 22-1. Kelly is doing her best fill Spagnuola’s shoes.

Commack’s Katie Kelley looks to make a play up the court. Photo by Jim Ferchland

“I learned everything from Jill,” Kelly said about her play style. “I learned how to run the point and organize the offense.”

After being down by at most 30, the Patriots went on a big run in the four quarter and cut the deficit to 12 after Prahalis was ejected. Senior forward Shannon Brazier said her coach ignited the spark.

“We just weren’t going to go down without a fight,” Brazier said. “We wanted to do it for coach and wanted to come back for her.”

Hansen’s scoring prowess is nothing new to her. Brazier says that’s always how her teammate plays. But the junior’s main focus is to face Commack again in Ward Melville territory.

“The loss brings us motivation to come back and go harder and beat them next time,” Hansen said. “We’ll bring a crowd next time, too.”

With Prahalis as the opposition to Commack, she enjoyed battling in her old stomping grounds.

“It felt good,” Prahalis said. “Ward Melville is my home now. I love Commack, I grew up there, but I’m where I’m supposed to be.”

Ward Melville’s next game is at Brentwood Jan. 5 at 4 p.m. The Patriots fall to 2-4 on the season with the loss while Commack improves to 7-1. The Cougars travel to William Floyd  Jan. 5. Tipoff is currently
scheduled for 4 p.m.

Smithtown East's Joe Neto scored five 3-pointers in a win over Centereach. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Smithtown East senior Joe Neto has a sweet outside shot.

The guard finished with five 3-pointers and a commanding 19 points to lead the Bulls over the visiting Centereach Cougars in a 54-36 League III opener Dec. 19.

Alex Zampieron goes up under the basket. Photo by Bill Landon

The Cougars were able to pull as close as within five points late in the fourth quarter, but a 14-9 fourth quarter sealed the deal.

“They were putting a little more pressure on me, forcing the ball out of my hands, but in the second half our spacing was great, our pace was great and everyone was moving the ball really well,” Neto said. “We found the open guy — we made a bunch of open shots and we made our layups.”

With 5:25 left in the first half, Neto hit back-to-back triples to put his team out front 21-7. Centereach called timeout, and made a defensive adjustment out of the huddle that helped the Cougars hold Smithtown East scoreless until the final second before the break, when Neto launched his second nearly half-court shot of the game for his fourth 3-pointer to that point. Smithtown East held a 10-point advantage, 24-14, heading into the locker room.

Centereach head coach Ed Miller said the guarded effort wasn’t what he expected.

“We actually just kind of woke up and started playing the defense we should have been playing,” Miller said. “We made a couple of adjustments where we should have been, positionwise, and the kids followed through on it.”

Centereach’s Chris Witherspoon leaps for a layup. Photo by Bill Landon

Three minutes into the third quarter Centereach senior Chris Witherspoon hit a field goal and a pair of treys to close the gap to six points. Smithtown East retook to the court following an immediate timeout call, and with a different offensive look. Then 6-foot, 3-inch senior Alex Zampieron got the call, grabbing low passes and battling in the paint for each point. When he didn’t score, he drew a foul and made his time at the charity stripe count. He finished with a team-high seven points in the third to Witherspoon’s eight.

“When he got the ball he was making strong moves, and finishing,” said Smithtown East head coach Keith Reyling. “It wasn’t pretty, so even if we don’t play our best game we can still be successful. Sometimes
we don’t play the game like we practiced, and we go off script a little bit and that’s when things get away from us.”

Smithtown East opened the final quarter with a 13-point lead and again Neto swished his final 3-pointer of the game. Zampieron followed Neto with nine points in the win, and junior Chris Goria tacked on six.

Witherspoon topped Centereach’s scoring chart with 16 points. Next in line was sophomore Matt Robbert with five.

Centereach hosts North Babylon today, Dec. 21, at 4 p.m.

Centeraeach ougars come close to defeating a powerhouse

By Bill Landon

Centereach epéeist Abir Das worried Ward Melville’s boys fencing squad. The junior had taken to the strip twice Dec. 12, outscoring his previous opponents 5-2 and 5-3. With Ward Melville ahead 13-11, and a must-win match on the line,  the fencer stepped up to face eighth-grader Will Lehr, who was 1-1 on the day. As he retied the match 4-4 and his visiting team’s crowd kept chanting, Das just kept counting.

“I tried to stay calm out on the strip,” he said. “I have a habit of counting numbers in my head to stay calm, get in the zone and set up my game. When [it’s loud] and everyone’s watching you, you need to learn to move out and up on your opponent. It’s like a chess game, so I tried to out-strategize him.”

Das rose to the challenge, edging his adversary 5-4 with his parry hit, but the Patriots dropped the hammer and swept the last two bouts to secure a 15-12 win to stay perfect on the season.

Ward Melville senior Jared Dorf fell in his first two bouts in epée, but came through when it mattered most — winning his final match 5-2 for the all-important 14th victory.

“Jared is our captain — he’s been on the team for a while — and I wasn’t sure if he could execute our plan to disengage [his opponent’s] parry and to be aggressive enough to hit the target,” Ward Melville head coach Jeff Salmon said. “We were screaming to find that moment and attack, [but at the same time] avoiding that parry, but the kids were having trouble just landing their points.”

Perfect on the night for the Patriots was sophomore sabreist Leo Takemaru, who swept his three matches 5-0, 5-2, 5-0. Junior epéeist Ben Rogak won both of his bouts, 5-1 and 5-2. His second win was the final bout of the evening, against Centereach senior James Moore.

“I was very nervous — we’ve had a very strong team in the past, but a lot of the other teams have up-and-coming fencers that we have to be careful of,” Rogak said. “I have confidence that we will be the strongest team throughout the season, but we have to grind it out, buckle down, and we need more
support from the bench.”

Moore finished 2-for-3, winning his first two matches 5-2 before falling to Rogak.

“I was energized, motivated,” Moore said. “I was recovering quickly and recovering forward, and I felt good. I came in here and I knew we were going to have a respectable meet.”

Foilist Frank DiCanio III swept all three of his bouts for Centereach, besting his opponents 5-0, 5-4 and 5-0.

First-year head coach Christina Piraino said she couldn’t be happier with her team’s performance against the powerhouse Patriots.

“The highlight was in foil — DiCanio won all three and Jarod Chang, he’s been working really hard in practice, and their hard work paid off today,” said Piraino, a Centereach alumna who graduated 10 years ago. “We were never able to do this well against Ward Melville, so I’m just so proud of them. This should give them more drive to work harder, and I told them that the next time we face them, we’re going to beat Ward Melville.”

Even still, Salmon said he’s most worried about Middle Country’s other fencing team: Newfield.

“I think they’re the second best team in the county, and it’s no secret they trained in the off-season,” the coach said of Newfield.“They have key players that have trained all year long, and they’re ready.”

Dorf said the boisterous Centereach crowd had an impact on his team’s performance, and they’ll learn from it for the meets ahead.

“It’s not an exciting moment when you lose any bout, but any good fencer is an amazing person to watch and we could feel their pride in that moment,” he said, pointing to Das’ win. “But when you face a good opponent, it shows us that we’re not the best all-around, and that we have room for improvement.”

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Girls hoops will rely on speed, defense to remain zealous

Former Commack star point guard Samantha Prahalis, above playing for WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, will be the head coach at Ward Melville this season. Photo from Facebook

By Desirée Keegan

Ward Melville is looking to maintain its competitive edge.

The back-to-back League I title-winning girls basketball team is readying for a new challenge following the loss of senior leaders Taylor Tripptree, Kiera Ramaliu and Hannah Lorenzen, with head coach Bruce Haller.

That’s where veteran Samantha Prahalis comes in. The former WNBA standout, who scored 2,372 points for Commack, the fifth-best total in Long Island girls basketball history, will lead her old high school’s rival team this season. After she steered Ohio State University to four straight NCAA tournaments from 2009 to 2012, she completed a two-year stint for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury and played four years professionally in Europe. The 5-foot, 7-inch point guard said she was ready to return to her roots in New York, and decided it was time to give back.

Ward Melville’s Lauren Hansen moves the ball during a game last season. File photo by Bill Landon

“It’s cool because I can tell them I’ve been in their shoes and I know what they’re going through,” she said. “I’m very lucky to be with a great district, have some great support and some great kids for my first year. I think the best part about coaching for me right now is helping these kids, and its pretty unique, because I can help them in a way maybe others can’t.”

The Patriots are looking forward to learning from Prahalis’ experiences. Ward Melville senior Shannon Brazier said the team’s style of play is already changing.

“She brings a whole new level of style of play and intensity that I think we were all excited to learn,” Brazier said. “Every single one of us have been working hard since the summer to get ready for the season, because it’s a pretty new team, losing most of our starters and getting a new coach, and we’re really proud of the progress we’ve been making, working together.”

Brazier said her coach wants her new team to have a defense that matches its offense.

“It’s no question that in the past we have had really strong shooters and a strong offense in general, but this year she’s been teaching us a lot more about defense and really focusing on this aspect of the game,” Brazier said. “Her emphasis on this side of the game has already started to greatly improve our skills. With a great number of our team graduating a lot of us had to step up and fill in those holes, and I think we’re all doing a good job at that.”

Prahalis agreed, adding she’ll be leaning on Brazier to command the Patriots this season.

“She’s vocal, and probably our best defensive player,” the coach said of one of her two remaining seniors. “She knows where to be, she has really good instincts.”

Ward Melville’s Shannon Brazier shoots from the free-throw line during a game last season. File photo by Bill Landon

The team will continue to rely on its speed and hustle in grabbing rebounds and forcing turnovers. With work on the defensive side of the ball, more offense should come.

The other two captains this season will be juniors Noelle Richardson and Lauren Hansen. Rounding out the roster will be juniors Bre Cohn and Lauren Walters, and underclassmen Molly Cronin, Jamie Agostino and Sarah Bucher.

“Lauren is not the most vocal person, but she leads by example,” Prahalis said of Hansen. “I’m asking a lot of her on all sides of the ball and, so far, she’s responded. She’s special — I don’t think a player like her comes around too often. The way she dribbles a ball, her shot, you have to see it to believe it.”

Hansen was one of Ward Melville’s leading scorers last season, Prahalis said, with 22.7 points and 3.4 assists per game as a sophomore and will be big for the team this season if she can repeat these statistics. Prahalis added the now-junior standout has more than just a natural ability.

“She’s skillful, and I think that’s a testament to her work ethic,” the coach said. “You don’t wake up that way. You get that way by being in the gym and working hard.”

Hansen said she’s looking forward to seeing what she can take away from her coach.

“Coach has done everything that I aspire to do, so for me I hang on every word that she says,” said Hansen, who has received offers from Ohio State and the universities of Miami, Georgia and Pittsburgh. “Her experience is something we all look up to and her ability to relate to us as players I think is extremely beneficial to our relationship with her. We all really understand that if we’re going to do any damage this year it’s going to start on the defensive end. I think the girls, myself included, definitely have to step up big this year and mature quickly on the court, but so far they’ve done a great job of that and I think we can hold our own and make a statement this year against top talents on Long Island.”

Samantha Prahalis brings experience

A six-year varsity starter for Commack is calling Division I rival Ward Melville her new home court.

Samantha Prahalis, 27, accepted the coaching job for the Patriots in September after an extended basketball career that included playing for four years at Ohio State University, two years for WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury — as the sixth overall pick in the 2012 WNBA Draft — and four years professionally in Europe.

“The professional experience was good — I got to play at every level, which is pretty rare, so I’m grateful for that,” said Prahalis, who averaged 15.1 points and 6.8 assists per game over four years at Ohio State, and holds the Big Ten’s career record with 901 assists. “But I’ve been traveling my whole life. I’m a big family person, and I don’t like being overseas for seven months out of the year.”

Previous head coach Bruce Haller stepped down citing scheduling conflicts as a professor at Molloy College.

“I just felt like I’d been through a ton in my career on and off the court that I can help other players who are coming up,” Prahalis said of throwing her hat in the ring. “I didn’t think I would want to coach when I was younger, but while I was overseas I realized I wanted to give it a try. I’m just as determined as I was as a player, but this time around its teaching my kids and helping them and the team succeed. This new chapter of coaching is special to me.”

Ward Melville athletic director Pete Melore said more than just Prahalis’ résumé stood out to him during the interview.

“She never talked about how good she was at basketball,” he said. “What impressed me the most is her humility. It was all about paying it forward.”

He said while Haller was outstanding, he’s hoping Prahalis’ experience playing for multiple coaches at different levels will help her be successful at the helm.

“I think she’s patient, she runs a good practice, but you can see that competitive fire there from when she was a player,” Melore said. “There’s a good knowledge base and she learned a lot overseas. Her goal getting into coaching is all about her giving back to the kids the same positive experience she had as a player.”

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

By Jim Ferchland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Game 1

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

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

Game 2

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

Game 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Up next

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

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Devin Demetres rushes with the ball. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Centereach threatened to retie the game late in the fourth quarter, but a costly interception halted the Cougars march down the field, and with that, went the football team’s chance to compete in the Division II finals. Centereach fell to North Babylon 14-7 in the county semifinals Nov. 10.

Chris Witherspoon leaps up in an attempt to intercept a North Babylon pass. Photo by Bill Landon

The Cougars had a historic run, opening the season on a five-game winning streak and completing the season with an 8-2 record.

Centereach head coach Adam Barrett said the transformation of his team  to finally become a playoff contender was due to several factors.

“The players have really committed to the offseason program and took the necessary steps to improve each year, which was key,” he said. “Having leaders that want to be the best they can be, and never settling has really helped the younger kids contribute. Having a great core of young coaches that bought into the program and the system that I brought here and having them relate to the kids is a big factor as well.”

On their opening possession, the North Babylon Bulldogs began a march down the field from deep inside their own territory, leaning on running back David Estrella. They ground out yardage and sustained the drive until ultimately finding the end zone on short yardage with four minutes left in the opening quarter.

North Babylon threatened again with six minutes left in the half, but the Cougars defense made a stand, forcing the Bulldogs to punt on fourth-and-15.

The spark for the Cougars offense came three plays later, when senior quarterback Jay Morwood handed a pass to junior Devin Demetres, who despite seeming to be stopped at the line of scrimmage, broke outside and defended against four would-be tacklers while covering 65 yards during his touchdown run. Sophomore kicker Matt Robbert completed the point-after attempt to make it a new game.

Marcus Garcia-Miller drags a tackler as he moves the ball up the field. Photo by Bill Landon

On the opening drive of the second half, a Centereach fumble proved costly. After North Babylon recovered, the team completed three plays before Estrella sauntered into the end zone once more for a 14-7 lead.

With less than two minutes remaining in regulation, Centereach mounted a drive downfield connecting on a pair of long pass-plays, one of which was a 32-yard toss to Marcus Garcia-Miller, but both were called back because of offensive pass interference. On a third and long, Morwood threw a Hail Mary pass near the end zone where a North Babylon corner leaped in front for the interception, and with it, victory.

Barrett said that seniors Alec Kiernan, Vinny Liotta and Mike Grieco have led the team to places he hasn’t seen, and were a big part of the team’s success.

“Buying in to everything we do and making other players better around them is why I consider them leaders,” Barrett said. “They lead by example on the field, in the classroom and in the community. Even though the season didn’t end the way we wanted it to, the seniors have really shaped the program into what it is today.”

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Jesse DiStasio stretches his arms over the goal line for the game-winning touchdown. Photo by Jim Ferchland

By Jim Ferchland

Centereach’s football team scored four touchdowns in 18 minutes to erase a 28-0 West Islip lead and send the game into overtime Oct. 28. After West Islip was held to a field goal, Centereach senior Jesse DiStasio scored the game-winning touchdown in a 34-31 come-from-behind thriller.

Jay Morwood tosses a pass. Photo by Jim Ferchland

After a 32-yard field goal by West Islip’s Bobby Dicapua, Centereach had an opportunity to win the game with a touchdown. Senior quarterback Jay Moorwood rushed out of the pocket avoiding pressure and connected with DiStasio, who was running on a deep slant and caught the pass at the 2-yard line before lunging with outstretched arms over the goal line for the 20-yard touchdown.

“The defender stopped me short,” DiStasio said. “I stretched over and I just started crying. I couldn’t believe it; I just saw everybody running to me. It was the best feeling of my life.”

West Islip led 28-7 heading into the fourth quarter. Morwood’s athleticism, vision and elusiveness outside the pocket made him a threat West Islip couldn’t contain. After throwing three interceptions, Morwood’s performance emerged in the fourth quarter with three crucial touchdowns. He finished with 276 passing yards on 19 completions with four touchdowns.

“I had all the confidence in the world in my team,” Morwood said on that final overtime possession. “I knew we were scoring. No one was stopping us. It didn’t matter who was getting the ball. I knew we were going to score no matter what.”

Jesse DiStasio celebrates the win with his teammates. Photo by Jim Ferchland

West Islip quarterback Mike LaDonna supplied all the offense for the Lions with his legs. He had 22 carries for 191 yards on the ground with four touchdowns.

“I’ve never been a part of playing or coaching a better comeback in the second half of a game,” Centereach head coach Adam Barrett said. “We kind of wanted to forget that first half. It was one of the best games I’ve ever been apart of.”

Centereach junior wide receiver and kick returner Devin Demetres ignited a spark after West Islip went up four scores. He broke free of multiple tackles on a 98-yard kick return and took the ball back for a touchdown, and the Cougars continued to plant their foot on the gas peddle.

Morwood took the offense under his wing with his scrambling ability and accuracy. He connected with his 6-foot, 2-inch senior wide receiver Chris Witherspoon on a 23-yard touchdown in the far right corner of the end zone to cut the deficit to 15, and launched the ball to Demetres into double coverage, which was was tipped by a West Islip defender before landing in Demetres’ hands for a 65-yard touchdown to make it 28-20.

“Jay made a great throw and the defense undercut it,” said Demetres, who had four receptions for 110 yards. “They cut it it too much and I knew they were going to tip it up, so I just kept my focus on the ball.”

Devin Demetres races into the end zone for a touchdown. Photo by Jim Ferchland

Senior running back Alec Kiernan, who carried Centereach’s offense all season long, was shut down by West Islip’s defense, which even forced a fumble on him. Although he was not a contributor on offense, he made a big defensive play on West Islip’s next drive.

Kiernan intercepted a pass with 4:20 left to play, and took the ball into Lions territory.

“We had the momentum before that play,” Kiernan said. “That play definitely set up a beautiful drive by Jay [Morwood]. We knew we had a chance.”

The interception resulted in Morwood’s touchdown to Demetres from 11 yards out with 2:38 left. Centereach converted on a two-point conversion to tie the game 28-28.

“It’s not a one person game,” Kiernan said of the comeback. “It’s a team game. We love each other and that’s how our team plays.”

Centereach finishes the regular season at 7-1 in Division I. Ranked No. 3 in the postseason, the Cougars will host No. 6 Bay Shore at 2 p.m. in the No. 4 qualifying round game.

“Every coach wants to go 8-0 every year and win the championship,” Barrett said. “Since I got to Centereach four years ago, we were always building. For the way the program was, we’re just getting better every year and continue to be successful.”