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Cougars

Senior running back scores four touchdown in emotional homecoming win

By Desirée Keegan

Centereach senior Alec Kiernan, who scored four touchdowns and recorded three sacks Saturday, wasn’t just motived by the fact he was playing in his last homecoming game.

The team rallied around Kiernan after his brother, Danny, died Sept. 10. He said he had no idea how the circumstance would impact his performance in the 43-8 win over Riverhead Sept. 16, especially after missing practices on Thursday and Friday to attend the wake and funeral.

“Everyone was there for me today,” said the senior, who decided to play in the game to honor his brother. “Everyone played for Danny, my family, and we played the best game we’ve played in a while — especially in the second half. I felt confident on both sides of the ball.”

“Everyone was there for me today. Everyone played for Danny, my family, and we played the best game we’ve played in a while.”

—Alec Kiernan

Junior wide receiver and linebacker Devin Demetres set the tone early for the Cougars, returning the opening kickoff 82 yards for a touchdown and early 7-0 lead after sophomore Matt Robbert’s extra-point kick.

“That was our plan,” Demetres said of the play. “We knew on that play to hit hard and bring it all the way. We had great blocks. That score gave us momentum.”

He said Kiernan was also a momentum-booster.

“We made our blocks and played for him — when he played well we were playing well,” the junior said. “Kiernan is a team leader, he’s the captain and everyone looks up to him. He makes something out of nothing, and it helped us so much along the way.”

With a 10-yard run, Kiernan extended the lead to 14-0 with nearly seven minutes still remaining in the opening quarter. He broke up a Riverhead pass minutes later, but the Blue Waves were able to score on the drive. A 50-yard pass reception for a touchdown and a two-point conversion made the score 14-8.

In that moment, Centereach head coach Adam Barrett said he didn’t doubt what his now 2-0 team is capable of doing, and the Cougars proved it. Kiernan, who rushed for 213 yards on 23 carries, was slid the ball on a pass fake and ran 11 yards into the end zone. Robbert, who was perfect on the day, brought the score to 21-8 at the end of the first quarter.

“Special teams is huge,” Barrett said. “Last year it was a weakness of ours. We put in a lot of time in the offseason working on that, and we were able to get one early. A lot of these kids have been playing together since they were little, and these were the guys that were freshmen when I took over the program four years ago, so we came up together, and it’s nice to see them be so successful so early in the season.”

“[Alec Kiernan] plays like no other person I’ve ever met. He’s something else. He’s not human.”

—Devin Demetres

Senior running back Vinny Liotta later scored on a 21-yard carry, and Demetres completed a two-point conversion for a 29-8 advantage at halftime.

“It was a great team effort,” Demetres said. “Coaches put us in place to get some opportunities, we took advantage of them, made adjustments at halftime.”

Kiernan excelled on both sides of the ball, as he continued to do most of the rushing for Centereach, and halted a handful of would-be Riverhead gains with tackles. He had two sacks and ran in the final of his four touchdowns in the fourth quarter.

“It’s a good feeling,” he said of his contributions in the win. “I did it for my brother. There’s no spot on the field where we were perfect. We can get better everywhere, and we’re going to.”

Kiernan refrained from providing additional details about the circumstances of his brother’s death, but his teammates and coaches alike think he’s already on the path to greatness.

“He elevates the game, even today,” Barrett said. “He’s just a great player and I’m proud of him. I’m glad he had the game that he did.”

Demetres joked he wasn’t sure of the species of the team’s running back.

“He plays like no other person I’ve ever met,” he said of Kiernan. “He’s something else. He’s not human. Today we proved we’re more than a team, we’re more than a family — we’re a brotherhood. We have each other’s backs no matter the circumstance.”

Smithtown East's Stella Mazzitelli celebrates her game-winning overtime goal. Photo by Desirée Keegan

A scoring drought dating back to the last game of last season — 400 minutes of game time — hung over Smithtown East’s girls soccer team, so when sophomore striker Stella Mazzitelli got the ball on a breakaway with the score tied 0-0 in overtime, she admitted she was worried.

“I was nervous,” she said. “But we were hyped up. We really wanted this win and it felt really good to finally score our first goal of the season.”

Following Mazzitelli’s goal with 8:09 left in the first 10-minute overtime session, sophomore forward Ava Bongiorno headed in a corner kick at the 1:58 mark for a 2-0 lead, and ultimately, a Bulls win over Centereach Sept. 11.

Smithtown East’s Alexis Desmond races ahead of Centereach’s Sophia Catapano for the ball. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“We haven’t really connected as a team, but today I feel like we all worked together — it felt like we were whole,” senior center defender and striker Danielle Bartsch said. “And I feel it’s only uphill from here.”

The beginning of the game produced a familiar result for Smithtown East. Centereach dominated the time of possession in the opening half, but was unable to put away its chances. In the second half, Centereach freshman Nicole Fabris continued to fire away, but her shots went wide. Her last shot, with 25 seconds left in regulation, rebounded off the crossbar and out of play.

“Centereach is always a good team,” Smithtown East head coach Bill Hamilton said. “They play hard. I call them a hard-luck team, because they’re better than their record usually shows. This was an important game for us to get back on track, so it’s I’m excited.”

The game served as a boost for the Bulls’ confidence, which had wavered due to losses to top League III teams Newfield and crosstown rival Smithtown West.

“I needed this to be our breakout day so they know they can play,” Hamilton said. “Losing to them wasn’t catastrophic, but we need to do a better job the next time we play them. The girls were questioning themselves, wondering why they can’t score, but they can, they just need to keep trying.”

The Bulls came out pressuring in the second half. With the game still scoreless, they knew there was still a chance.

“We passed a lot, which we were struggling to do well in the first half, and we communicated,” Mazzitelli said. “We put a lot of hard work into it and deserved to win.”

Centereach’s Lindsay Scally battles Smithtown East’s Lauren Roback for possession of the ball. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Between the 27- and 16-minute marks, Smithtown East made six breaks through the box in an effort to score. Hamilton attributed the chances to a change in formation following a 3-0 loss to Smithtown West Sept. 8.

“We were running a totally different field position,” he said. “They’re learning it, and I feel it gives us more offensive opportunities. We started to connect the passes we were just missing.”

His two sophomores were just what the team needed to ignite the spark, and Hamilton said he believes more goals are on the way Sept. 13 against Copiague. While Bongiorno was on the team as a freshman, Mazzitelli was a transfer student last year, and found herself on the junior varsity team.

“Before today we were playing with one person up top and five people at midfield, and we just never got the numbers forward that we needed to make a better offensive push, but when we practice they can kick a house down,” Hamilton said. “They’re up there for a reason, and we did a nice job on the pass that went to Stella to spring her for her first goal. She did a nice job of not kicking it to the goalie — finding a corner to put it in. She’s tough. It’s a case of them having to do it enough times to realize they can do this.”

Bartsch said the energy remained high and the team’s mindset remained positive heading into overtime, something she enjoyed seeing from her fellow Bulls.

“From the beginning of the game we all had good spirits, we had good vibes going, we were all positively cheering everyone on, working together and we got good results from it,” she said. “We have to work on sequences up the field and finishing, but we got two goals today, and I see more coming in the future.”

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Commack baseball captains Demetri Mesimeris, Pete Theodorellis and john Pohlman accept the runner-up plaque. Photo by Bill Landon
Pete Theoforellis fires from the mound. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Down three runs, Commack’s baseball team dug itself out of a hole in the bottom of the fifth inning to tie the game, 4-4, but Massapequa added four late runs to pull away with an 8-4 win for the Class AA Long Island championship title at St. Joseph’s College June 3.

The road to the Suffolk title began on May 16, where the Cougars picked off Kings Park Hauppauge a day later and battled Patchogue-Medford in the best of three series. From there, Commack got the better of West Islip, sweeping the series and with it, picking up the program’s first Suffolk County crown in 20 years. The Cougars took a 15-3 record into Saturday’s game.

After singles by senior Pete Theodorellis and junior James Cardinale in the bottom of the fifth inning, sophomore Tim McHugh drew the walk to load the bases. With two outs, it was Jake Krzemienski’s bat that made the difference, as the sophomore ripped a deep three-run, stand-up double to make it a new game.

Tim McHugh drives the ball deep. Photo by Bill Landon

“Awesome season boys,” McHugh wrote on Twitter following the loss. “Good luck to all seniors in college. Happy to say I made another family.”

The Chiefs laid down a bunt to move senior Michael Cottone to second base, and classmate Luke O’Mahony drove him home to put his team back in front, 5-4. Theodorellis got into trouble on the mound, and loaded the bases for the second time in the game. He paid the price when he walked in Massapequa’s sixth run, and the Chiefs plated who more runs before the inning was over.

Massapequa retired all three Commack batters in order in the bottom of the inning to end the game.

“I’ve got a great group of kids who listened to everything I’d say and they gave it their best effort every single day,” Commack head coach Bryan Bonin said. “Competing on every single pitch — they’re a good group of kids who have a never-quit attitude.”

The Commack team celebrates Jake Krzemienski’s three-run double. Photo by Bill Landon

Commack's Danielle Gambino and Michelle Principe blast the ball for the Cougars in their 12-0 win over Northport April 22. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

The Commack softball team was hard for Northport to catch up to April 22, after the Cougars went through the batting order twice in the fifth inning, scoring 12 runs en route to a 12-0 nonleague road win.

Commack’s Emily Fox tosses a pitch. Photo by Bill Landon

Danielle Gambino went 4-for-4 with a grand slam and six RBIs and Gianna Venuti went 4-for-5 with two doubles and a triple to lead Commack (3-1) in Suffolk II. Michelle Principe also homered for Commack.

Already up 3-0 at the top of the fifth inning, Commack senior starting pitcher Emily Fox retired the side in order, and her team got to work on offense, which is were Principe started things off by cracking a shot over the left field fence for a leadoff homerun. The ball cleared the adjacent Long Island Rail Road property fence. According to Commack head coach Harold Cooley III, it was the longest home run he’d seen at the Northport field.

“As soon as I hit it, I knew it was definitely gone,” Principe said. “And then, when we hit, we followed through. When we had runners in scoring position, we scored most of them.”

Junior Ariana Arato’s bat spoke next on a stand-up double with no outs, and on missed catch on a pitch, she moved to third. Fox drew a walk, and was replaced by pinch runner Melanie Koster. The sophomore stole second with Gambino at the plate, and the junior ripped a base-clearing triple for a six-run lead.

Up to bat next was junior Stephanie Afonso, who hit a sac fly to bring Koster home, triggering a Northport pitching change. Senior Mimi Cusack took over at the mound.

Northport’s Sophia DeFalco gets the out at first. Photo by Bill Landon

“We started the game off a little slow,” Cooley III said. “The one thing that we’ve tried to execute from the beginning of the year is to make sure we get hits when we have runners in scoring position. We left a few out there at the beginning of the game, but we made adjustments as the game went on and adjusted well to a new pitcher.”

Commack junior Brianna Panzarella smacked in infield ball that rolled toward left field, but safely made it to first on a Northport error. Panzarella didn’t stay long, and stole second without a throw. Venuti singled, , and junior Sabrina Sussman drilled a pitch through the gap to plate Panzzerella with one out. Sussman stole second, and senior Kelly McKenna knocked the ball into shallow right field to score for an 8-0 advantage.

With still only one out, junior Casey Brown kept the inning going for Commack with a single, and Fox, made it to first on a Northport error to load the bases. Koster came in to run for Fox, and Gambino jumped on a pitch that she blasted over the right fielder’s head. The ball rolled to the fence as she rounded second, and got the green light from Cooley, as she made her way around third and crossed home plate for an inside-the-park grand slam.

Commack’s Gianna Venuti underhands the ball to the second baseman for the out. Photo by Bill Landon

“When I got to second and I saw he was waving me on, that’s when I knew,” Gambino said of her productive at-bat. “We’re a very strong team and we came out strong. This was one of our best games, so I’m very proud of my team.”

Because of the mercy rule of being up 12 runs by the sixth inning, the game was called with a 12-0 score. Despite the scoring drought, Northport head coach Janet Richter said she saw some bright spots.

“I was pleased with Danielle Petrunti, our senior second basemen and our first basemen Sophia DeFalco, but we made too many errors,” Richter said. “We worked the pitch count — we were able to get on base — so offensively I think we have room to grow and our infield was very tight today.”

With the win Commack improves to 9-3 and will get right back to work March 24 at home against Patchogue-Medford at 4:15 p.m. With the loss, Northport drops to 1-9, and will hit the road to take on Central Islip March 24 at 4:30 p.m.

“We had some monster shots today,” Cooley III said. “It’s the difference between having a pitcher that’s on and having hitters that are on. Sometimes, the hitters can make a run, and that’s what happened today.”

Centereach's Eric Russo hurls a pitch from the mound. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Behind solid pitching and timely hitting, the Centereach baseball team was able to hold off Huntington, 6-4, at home April 10, despite back and forth lead changes.

Centereach’s Ryan Mahnke grabs the ball to apply the tag to Huntington’s Steven Napurano. Photo by Bill Landon

Trailing by a run, Centereach third baseman Ryan Mahnke slammed a base-clearing, stand-up double to left center that plated teammates Nick Corsaro and Steve Krauth for a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the first inning.

The Blue Devils countered in the top of the second when Justin Italiano drilled the ball through the gap, and Will Vollack sprinted home to tie the game.

In the next inning, Vollack’s bat cracked again when he sent the ball to right center, scoring Steven Napurano from second, as Huntington retook the lead. With two outs, the Blue Devils looked to stretch their lead with runners at the corners, but the batter was caught looking to end the inning.

After another Mahnke double, first baseman Sean McGuinnes sent the ball into the air, which was carried by the wind to help send Mahnke across home plate to retie the game, 3-3.

“Both teams played hard,” McGuinnes said. “I thought Huntington would be [tough] after their win against West Islip, but we did well today.”

Centereach looked to break the game open, and with an infield hit by Robert Maina that loaded the bases with one out, it seemed as if it could be done. If Luke Eidle, Huntington’s starting pitcher, felt the pressure, he didn’t show it. He retired the Cougars’ next two batters to get out of the jam.

Centereach’s Sean McGuinnes makes contact. Photo by Bill Landon

Huntington right fielder Ethan Copp smacked a pitch deep to right center next, to score. Italiano scored from second base to again take the lead, 4-3, in the top of the fourth.

“They had the timely hits, and we didn’t,” Huntington head coach William Harris said. “We left a lot of runners on base, so it’s a tough loss for us today. It’s a lost opportunity. They had some good pitching today, and that kept them in the game.”

Centereach went back to work countering when Corsaro doubled to start things off. Krauth’s bat spoke next, as the left fielder hit the ball deep, just dropping in to plate Corsaro to retie the game. Despite a Huntington conference on the mound, Mahnke ripped his third stand-up double of the afternoon, driving in Corsaro as Centereach edged ahead 5-4.

“Our team pulled out the win,” Mahnke said. “We hit the ball timely with two outs, and [starting pitcher] Eric Russo did his job and that gave us a chance to win.”

Huntington’s Ethan Copp swings for the fences. Photo by Bill Landon

Centereach designated hitter Brian Honka singled into the gap next to bring Mahnke home for a 6-4 advantage.

Again, Eidle loaded the bases when he walked Maina, but the Blue Devils’ defense rose to the challenge, as all three Cougars were stranded to end the inning.

Centereach’s Ed Bassett relieved Russo, and Huntington fell into new-pitcher jitters, as the Blue Devils laid off the pitcher, which proved costly as he threw strike after strike. Forced to make contact, and with a runner on third, the Blue Devils threatened, but the Cougars’ defense was more than ready.

“Today they came to play — they can hit from No. 1 to No. 9 — they put the bat on the ball,” Centereach head coach Michael Herrschaft said of Huntington. “Eric [Russo] did a gutsy job for us is how I would describe it. Then, Eddie [Bassett] coming in and closing us out throwing strikes — that was big for us — not walking anyone and letting us make a play. He did what he’s supposed to do and that was awesome.”

Centereach traveled to Huntington April 12 for the second game of a three-game series, but results were not available by press time. The two will face off at Centereach again April 15 at 3 p.m.

 

By Bill Landon

Colin Powell once said “success is the result of perfection, hard work, learning from failure, loyalty and persistence,” and the Smithtown West boys’ basketball team has used dedication and determination to attain another success this season. On Feb. 13, the Bulls outscored Centereach 59-29 on senior night in the last game of the regular season to remain perfect, at 14-0, in League III.

Smithtown West’s seniors started the game off strong, despite four not seeing much playing time this year. Will Kass started the three-point flurry with a shot that gave the Bulls an early 8-0 lead, but Centereach junior forward Chris Witherspoon drained back-to-back 3-pointers to make it a two-point game with just over two minutes left in the opening quarter. Centereach would come no closer.

Even with a different starting five, the Bulls found their rhythm early. Juniors Chris Crespo and Michael Gannon, and senior Gordon Shouler added shots from beyond the arc to help Smithtown West take a 34-13 advantage into halftime. In total, Smithtown West had eight 3-pointers from six different players.

“Our effort is what won this,” Crespo said. “Our seniors gave 100 percent effort and we executed all game. I’m really just in awe as to how we played together as a team tonight.”

Centereach senior Josue Chery opened the third quarter with a trey of his own, to bring the score to 34-16, but Smithtown West’s defensive pressure was more than the Cougars could handle. That pressure keyed in mainly on senior Jon Agostino, who is usually a double-digit scoring threat. Smithtown West held its coach’s nephew to just three points.

“I thought the defense was the best part of our game tonight,” Smithtown West head coach Mike Agostino said.

The Bulls continued to bank 3-pointer after 3-pointer, as senior Justin Durcan, Crespo and Gannon swished their shots to break the game open at the end of the third.

“I was just happy that all of our guys got to play,” Gannon said. “We have four seniors who don’t play as much and it was fun to watch them play well.”

Durcan finished atop the scoring sheet with 14 points. Crespo followed with 11 points, Gannon added nine and senior Chris VanderBrink tacked on seven.

“I think coming out hot and confident — even though we’re not the regular starters — that’s what made us so comfortable,” Durcan said. “It’s our preparation. We work hard every day in practice even if we don’t see much playing time, and I think we work harder in practice than any team in our league, and that helped us today.”

The loss eliminated Centereach from postseason play. The Cougars finished the season with a 9-11 overall mark and 6-8 record in league play.

The Bulls, who clinched the league title with their win over Copiague on Feb. 2, finished with the best boys’ basketball record in the county, at 19-1. Only one other team, Center Moriches, finished undefeated in conference play.

Heading into the postseason on a 15-game winning streak, Crespo said his team will maintain it’s winning attitude.

“Once we know who we’ll play,” he said, “the coaches are going to show us the personnel, what they run and what we have to do to defeat them.”

But Durcan said his team will remain composed as the No. 4 Bulls prepare to host No. 13 Lindenhurst Feb. 18 at 1 p.m.

“We’ve just got to stay poised and don’t expect to win, but the county championship is what we’re shooting for,” Durcan said. “Even though we’re up there [in the rankings], we’ve got to stay humble and hopefully our games will speak for themselves.”

Smithtown West's Chris Crespo prepares to move the ball across the court around Centereach's Chris Witherspoon. Photo by Desirée Keegan

It’s raining “threes.”

A total 15 3-pointers swished through the netting on Centereach’s court Jan. 17. The Cougars got off to a hot start from long range thanks to senior Jon Agostino, who hit three of the first four treys in the game, but the Smithtown West boys’ basketball team only allowed Centereach to score one more after that in the Bulls’ 87-52 win.

Smithtown West’s Greg Giordano scores his first of three 3-pointers. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Coming off a big win over Copiague Jan. 10 — a 74-67 overtime victory after Chris Crespo tied the game at the fourth-quarter buzzer — the senior said his team has all the confidence in the world.

“It really boosted us as a team and I think we all got closer,” Crespo said. “We definitely bonded over that game. It was the first big test I think we’ve had. We played a few hard games against Half Hollow Hills West [the only loss this season but non-league] and St. Anthony’s, and we respect all those teams, but especially in a league game against Copiague it was a different atmosphere. I really felt good, and I feel we have a lot of confidence running through us for the rest of the season.”

That confidence showed against Centereach, as the Bulls — now on an eight-game win streak — built momentum throughout its total team success.

Agostino scored all four of his 3-pointers in the first half of the contest. He knocked down his first on the Cougars’ first possession, and added another at the 1:33 mark to tie the game 8-8. Smithtown West seniors Greg Giordano and Kyle LaGuardia scored a free throw and 3-pointer, respectively, to close out the scoring for the first eight minutes, leaving the Bulls up 12-8.

“In spite of our slow start in the first quarter, we were able to provide a strong second quarter and basically end the game in the third,” Giordano said. “It always amazes me how resilient we are and how we are able to get so many contributions.”

Three Bulls scored in the first, and two others contributed in the team’s 24-point second quarter.

Centereach’s Jon Agostino scores a 3-pointer. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“This was really a great game,” Smithtown West head coach Mike Agostino said. “Defensively, we played consistent, but I thought our ball movement was the difference. You could see when the ball moves, people get open and we knock down shots.”

Senior Gordon Shouler and junior Michael Gannon helped extend West’s lead to 36-20 by halftime.

Shouler tacked on two of his team-high four 3-pointers in the second, and added the other two in the third.

“Copiague is arguably one of the best teams in our league this year, and after getting a win coming from behind, getting out here and playing a good team, we were ready to go,” Shouler said. “We were very confident, and the biggest thing was just not having a letdown. You beat a team like that, you win a good game like that, you want to come out and carry that momentum, and we did that.”

Gannon added 11 points in the second, including a basket of his own from beyond the arc, and a pair of free throws. Giordano, who finished with a team-high 17 points, added two assists on Gannon’s scores.

“We perform with consistency,” Agostino said of his team. “We know who we are, we’ve won a lot of games the last couple of years and we’re confident. We know who we are and we’re going to play our way, and as hard and we’re going to play in a playoff game regardless of our opponent.”

The head coach said he was excited to see the team reach its offensive potential, finding the basket more than it has been. On days like that, he said he wishes he could play 11 players at a time, instead of five.

Smithtown West’s Kyle LaGuardia makes a layup. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“They all practice hard and they all work hard every day,” he said. “It’s good to get guys in. These guys are capable — they’re all capable. And when they get the time they’re going to be able to do big things with it.”

This is true for freshman Michael Behrens, who seized his opportunity off the bench in the fourth quarter and scored nine points to help put the game out of reach. Behind Giordano was Shouler with 14 points, and Gannon with 13.

Crespo, who finished with eight points, said he’s excited to see his Bulls playing team basketball.

“I have no complaints,” he said. “We moved the ball beautifully and we were knocking down shots. Gordon and Greg form the outside and Kyle and myself were finishing around the basket. We’re really, really coming together great and I have high hopes for the rest of the season if we keep this up.”

It’s the kind of mentality Agostino said he stresses to his players, about continuing to focus on executing plays and not letting the other team disrupt how they play. And the boys have bought into it, building on the win total with each season over the last few years.

“Coach always says just play your game and the rest will follow, and that’s exactly what we did,” Giordano said. “Our defense kept us in the lead until our offense was able to connect and build a big lead. I couldn’t be more excited about the way our team has progressed throughout the season, and feel like we have a chance to do something really special.”

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Ward Melville's Dom Pryor reaches for the rim. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Ward Melville led from the opening tipoff, and despite a late push by Commack’s boys’ basketball team, which pulled within nine points late in the third quarter, the Patriots maintained the advantage and won 57-41. With the win, the Patriots remain tied atop the League I leaderboard.

The Patriots came out fast, and quickly jumped out to a 13-4 lead midway through the first quarter, prompting a Commack timeout. Ward Melville’s defense swarmed, looking as if there was an extra man on the court. The shot clock worked against the Cougars, which struggled to let the ball loose in time.

Ward Melville senior Noah Kepes had the hot hand early, scoring three three-pointers in the opening quarter, and classmate Dom Pryor pitched in two field goals and a three-pointer of his own, to help the Patriots to a 20-6 lead at the end of eight minutes.

Kepes said his team’s focus is always defense first.

Ward Melville’s Alex Sobel scores. Photo by Bill Landon

“We’re just hungry on defense,” he said. “Everyday in practice we work on these drills — whoever’s on the floor first is going to get the ball first, so it’s that kind of the mentality. When they began to make their push coach told us they were going to do that, and how you react to that push is who’s going to come out with the win.”

Commack countered with four unanswered points, but again the shot clock expired, turning the ball over to the Patriots.

With just over three minutes left in the half, Commack senior Christian Volatile fell. Injured on the play, he sat out the remainder of the game.

Commack sophomore Aiden Keenan went the free-throw line shooting two and banked both points, but the Patriots answered back and then some, when senior Matt Hudzik drained a three, as Ward Melville edged ahead 25-14 by halftime.

The Patriots’ defense remained unrelenting. The Cougars still couldn’t get the ball to the rim, and turned the ball over as the 35-second shot clock expired.

Ward Melville head coach Alex Piccirillo said he likes what he saw.

“On the defensive end we communicated well, we rotated well, we switched on screens; so we did everything we needed to do on that end,” Piccirillo said. “We struggled offensively from time to time, every team will go on a scoring run, it’s how we weather it and how we stop it that’s important.”

The fouls began to eat up the final minutes of the third quarter, and momentum shifted Commack’s way.

Keenan sank four field goals and a pair of free throws, and with help from senior Ryan Donohue, who added four points, the Cougars pulled within nine, 37-28.

“Ward Melville’s a good team and they’ve got a lot of guys who can knock down the outside shot, so we tried to plan for that, but unfortunately, we left some guys open in the first half,” Commack head coach Peter Smith said. “We adjusted nicely in the second quarter. We did OK in the third, but their defense is very good.”

It would be as close a Commack would come.

Commack’s Aiden Keenan dribbles the ball up the court. Photo by Bill Landon

At 6 feet, 7 inches, the big man for the Patriots, junior Alex Sobel, battled in the paint muscling his way to the rim, scoring three times. Sobel went to the charity stripe three times too, and never missed.

“We knew they’re a good team, especially the last two years,” Sobel said of Commack. “We came out strong and held a little gap. We got a little worried when they got close in third quarter, but we picked it up and closed the game out strong.”

Hudzik hit a field goal, Pryor swished a three-pointer and sophomore Ray Grabowski banked a field goal along with a free-throw point to close out the scoring for the Patriots.

With the win, Ward Melville improves to 9-2 overall and 5-0 in league play, sharing the top spot with Brentwood.

Sobel topped the scoreboard for the Ward Melville with 20 points and Kepes tacked on 15. Keenan led the scoring for Commack with 12 points and Donohue finished with nine.

With the loss, Commack drops to 5-5 overall and 1-4 in the league.

“We’ll put this game behind us quickly,” Smith said. “We have practice tomorrow and we have to rebound. We need to get a home win against Pat-Med.”

Commack hosts Patchogue-Medford Jan. 12 at 5:45 p.m. Ward Melville will travel to William Floyd Jan. 13. Tipoff is scheduled for 4:30 p.m.

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Senior Dante DeBonis fights off his opponent during his sweep of Brentwood. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

The Centereach boys’ fencing team notched its first win of the season, 18-9 after hitting the road to take on Brentwood Jan. 7, before the snow began to fall.

Saberist Dante DeBonis struck first for the Cougars. The senior blanked his opponent 5-0, and sophomore Aiden Donnelly followed with a close 5-4 win over Brentwood’s Emanuel Santiago for a 2-0 lead.

Senior Ray Rahman pushes toward his Brentwood opponent as their weapons collide. Photo by Bill Landon

Although dropping the final saber match, Ray Rahman started off foil with a win, as the senior edged his challenger 5-3, and was followed by junior David Hatami, who outscored Brentwood’s Shaib Ali, 5-3.

Centereach head coach Glenn Schnabel said Rahman has quickly risen in the ranks to become Centereach’s top fencer.

“He’s our No. 1 foil guy — he went 3-0 today, but early in the season he was sort of one-dimensional, he was relying on one or two moves,” Schnabel said of Rahman. “We talked about what it takes to be an elite fencer. You’ve got to use three or four moves, you have to change it up and he used a lot of different moves today.”

Completing the sweep in foil for Round 1 was sophomore foilist Jarod Chang, who defeated his challenger 5-3.

Centereach was solid throughout the rest of the round, as two of the final three bouts, all epée, were won by large margins. Junior James Moore narrowly defeated his opponent, 4-3, before sophomores Abir Das and Jayden Garcia won their respective bouts, 5-1, to put the Cougars out front 8-1.

“I did a good job getting [my opponent] close to me,” Das said. “I took big steps forward and small steps back. I’m going to focus on making each move better, and you can only do that by doing it over and over again — making small improvements and then making them faster.”

Junior Abir Das gets a touch on his opponent. Photo by Bill Landon

Schnabel said he liked what he saw out on the strip.

“I like the fact that they’re committing to their moves, because earlier in the season, they were timid — maybe afraid — so now I see confidence in their moves,” the head coach said. “Now it’s easier, because they’re more comfortable; we can work on [technique], we can fix the moves and they can [hone] them, making them better for the next match.”

DeBonis, Rahman, Chang, Garcia and Das all won their second bouts in Round 2, to put Centereach ahead 13-5 going into Round 3.

DeBonis, a co-captain who was named first All-County and All-Long Island last season, and finished third in this year’s Brentwood holiday tournament, made short work of Brentwood’s Allen Bettencourt, winning his third bout of the day, 5-1.

“I think I did well defensively, which is what I like to do,’ he said. “I try to make them react [to me] and not react to them. The biggest thing I did wrong today is I looked at the blade a couple of times, and you don’t want to do that because then you lose the action.”

Sophomore Jarod Chang closes in on his Brentwood opponent. Photo by Bill Landon

Rahman, also a co-captain, who was named second team All-County last year, also capped his day with a third win, by a 5-2 margin.

“I thought I did well adapting to their style, but they’re great fencers,” Rahman said of his Brentwood opponents. “They figured me out in some situations, and controlling the tempo of the match is something I need to work on.”

Das also scored a win in the final round to sweep on the day, besting his foe 5-3.

“Abir has really come a long way, especially today with his strategy,” Schnabel said of the No. 2 epéeist, “He’s picking the right moves to use at the right time.”

Centereach, now 1-4, will host Walt Whitman, 6-1, on Jan. 10 at 5:30 p.m.

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