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Division I

Stony Brook University baseball player Nick Grande slides into third. Photo from SBU Athletics

By Desirée Keegan

Nick Grande was home for a few weeks during winter break, and while his mother joked he could get a job during his extended stay, the shortstop had a different idea.

“No, mom,” he said in response. “As soon as the new year starts that’s it, you won’t see me again. I’ll be at Stony Brook every day.”

The Stony Brook University sophomore was a standout for Smithtown West’s baseball team, helping the Bulls claim two league titles during the three years he was team captain. He was named second team All-State as a senior after posting a .529 batting average, which also earned him the Suffolk County Silver Slugger Award. He also captained the league title-winning basketball team in his senior season. But while there are always adjustments to be made making the jump from high school to Division I college ball, his freshman season didn’t go as smoothly as he’d hoped.

Stony Brook University baseball player Nick Grande turns two. Photo from SBU Athletics

As a freshman at SBU, he played in 35 games, collecting multiple hits in seven of those contests. He notched his first collegiate hit and home run in the same game at Presbyterian College, and went 3-for-3 as the designated hitter in a win against Sacred Heart University. But he wanted to become more consistent, so he got up every morning during winter break at 8 a.m. to work on improving his game, and he did.

Grande batted .377 for the 32-25 Seawolves this past season. His 78 hits were the sixth most in a single season in Stony Brook history; his 32 stolen bases are the second most in a season only behind MLB-draftee Travis Jankowski’s 36 in 2012; he had 22 multi-hit games, including eight in a row; and reached base safely a team-best 22 straight games. Grande batted .418 in America East conference play and had five of his six home runs in conference.

“There’s a reason why people are talented,” said Nick Grande Sr., who was the head baseball coach and now principal at Island Trees High School. He recalled bringing his son to the field every day after school since he was 3 years old. “It’s all about the time they put into perfecting their craft … his desire, his determination. He hates to lose more than he loves to win, and that’s been since he was 3 years old.”

Although the elder Grande said his son has a fear of failure, he doesn’t show it. Grande Jr. said he’s picked up a philosophy of positivity along the way, from his time spent on the diamond at the age of 7 with his dad at the end of the day from his father’s Island Trees coaching job, to his new head coach Matt Senk, and everyone else he met along the way.

“You have to go into a game expecting to be successful — that’s the only way it’s going to work out of you, I think,” he said. “Even if you’re cold or having a tough day you have to step into the box knowing that you’re going to get a hit. I tried to have a positive mindset out there.”

“He hates to lose more than he loves to win, and that’s been since he was 3 years old.”

— Nick Grande Sr.

The starting shortstop earned back-to-back America East Player of the Week honors March 27 and April 3. He went 6-for-11 with a homer and three RBIs in a home series against the University of Massachusetts Lowell and went 6-for-6 with three doubles and a pair of RBIs in a win against Binghamton University. One of the nation’s top base stealers in 2018, he swiped three in a game twice. He went on to be named second-team ABCA/Rawlings Northeast All-Region, an America East spring scholar-athlete, a first-team Google Cloud Academic All-American and a first-team All-American by Collegiate Baseball.

“It was nice to be able to produce and contribute to help the team win games,” Grande said, adding it helped having role models like recent MLB draftees pitcher Aaron Pinto and infielder Bobby Honeyman and Coram outfielder Andruw Gazzola. “Being in a great lineup where top to bottom guys are having great at-bats didn’t hurt either.”

Despite his strong showing on the offensive side of the ball, Grande said he has a defense-first mentality.

“He’d rather catch a ground ball than get a base hit, and when he makes an error I hear about it for days,” Grande’s father said, laughing. “That’s because we’ve hit thousands of ground balls. He doesn’t stop, he doesn’t quit, and that’s because he wants to be as close to perfect as you can be.”

Senk said though that Grande wanted to be more of a consistent hitter to balance his game. He said he pointed out to his shortstop he had an inside-out swing that didn’t allow him to hit the ball as hard as he could, so he started pulling the ball more. Grande also practiced using his backhand to get to more ground balls.

Stony Brook University baseball player Nick Grande digs into the box. Photo from SBU Athletics

“He has such a tremendous work ethic — that was never an issue,” the SBU coach said. “He worked hardest in the toughest part of the game. He takes well to coaching, he kept working at it and working at it and ended up really clicking in a big way. I knew it when we were playing the defending national champs, University of Florida, and he hit a home run off first-round draft pick Brady Singer. From there his season took off. I think that was because of his dedication, athleticism and intelligence.”

But there’s more to the ballplayer than his devotion and talent. Smithtown West head coach Al Nucci said what he does in the classroom, and the kind of teammate he is makes him exemplary in every which way.

“He stood out from the day he started,” Nucci said of seeing Grande during a Booster Club practice as a youngster. “As crazy as it sounds as a young boy he had an incredible work ethic, he loved the game, he was always looking to improve, he smiled, he was super polite — as a 6-year-old on 60-foot diamond completely and totally standing out from his peers.”

He was pulled up to varsity as an eighth-grader to get more of a challenge, and ended up starting the second half of the season and into the playoffs after an injury sidelined one of his teammates. His coach joked that he might be the only Bulls player in history to hit a home run in his first at-bat and sacrifice bunt his next, showing his team-first mentality.

“He’s probably a better person and a better student than he is an athlete,” Nucci said. “He’s the first on the field and the last one off it, and he backs up his leadership skills and his work ethic with results on the field. And Nick didn’t need to speak — he spoke with his mitt, with his arm, with his bat, with his baseball intellect and with his attitude. Nick is the type of kid that takes a little something from everyone and uses it to his advantage. I hope my son ends up like Nick one day, I’ll tell you that.”

“He takes well to coaching, he kept working at it and working at it and ended up really clicking in a big way.”

— Matt Senk

Grande’s father said although it can be nerve-racking, it’s been nice to take off the coaching uniform and sit back and watch his son play.

“Your stomach is turning, you’re a nervous wreck, your hands are sweating, but there’s not a better place in the world to be than watching your kids play sports,” he said. “The sport to me always had such a positive effect on my life, and from an early age he seemed to be following in the same footsteps, that the game was going to be meaningful for him, too.”

Baseball is a game of highs and lows, and it’s those who turn the lows into highs that tend to become successful. Nick Grande is the epitome of that according to those who know him best.

“When you get a text from your son that says, ‘Dad, I was just chosen as first-team All-American,’ after you pick yourself up off the floor, you take a deep breath and say, ‘Wow, all of his hard work, all of his dedication really paid off for him,’” Grande Sr. said. “People that work hard deserve to be rewarded in life, and in his case he has.”

The 4x400 relay team of Maritza Blanchard, Jess Faustin, Lexie Roth and Dana Cerbone took home multiple medals a the state track and field meet. Photo from Middle Country school district

By Desirée Keegan

Middle Country’s seniors have shown the strength, determination and dedication to achieve greatness, and now they have the success to prove it was all worth it.

After undergoing six brain surgeries and having a shunt put into her skull to help her manage an incurable disease, Lexi Roth hit the ground running. She helped Middle Country’s 4×400-meter relay team cross the finish line a fraction of a second behind first at the Division I state championships last weekend. The girls clocked in second among Division I schools in 3 minutes, 52.92 seconds. Rush-Henrietta Senior High School finished in 3:52.52.

Maritza Blanchard, above with Bay Shore’s Nia Singer, finished third among all schools in the 400 dash. Photo from Middle Country school district

The quartet, which also includes seniors Dana Cerbone and Maritza Blanchard and sophomore Jessica Faustin, placed fourth among all schools during the June 8 and 9 meet at Cicero-North Syracuse High School.

“That group especially had an immense amount of talent and the work ethic that goes along with that, so I’m not surprised they got where they got to,” said former coach Matt Torres, who worked with the seniors their first two years. “Jessica, being the young one, works incredibly hard. She has some great leaders in front of her.”

Cerbone is about five feet tall, but Torres said you wouldn’t know it. She placed fourth among Division I athletes in the 200 dash (24.94) and fourth overall (25.33).

“Girls tower over her, but she has a bulldog-type mentality,” he said. “It wasn’t just practice, it was after practice that she would want to do more to see if she could get even just a little bit better. She’d push to have that edge, get in the weight room.”

He said none of the athletes would stop between seasons. They showed a desire to remain in shape and continue to try to take their talents to the next level.

“Maritza was always on the brink of being great, and I think coach Cuzzo really helped push her toward that,” he said.

Blanchard also brought home an additional medal with a third-place overall finish in the 400 dash. She crossed the finish line in 56.78. She ranked fifth among Division I schools (57.39) and bounced back to have a better showing in day two.

“Everything is moving in the right direction,” two-year spring track and field coach Charley Cuzzo said. “I’m very proud of how the kids ran. What they’ve been able to do is quite an accomplishment. They were ready to go, and they proved it.”

The quartet came out of nowhere and shot right up to the top. The girls were ranked No. 1 in the state prior to the meet. Cuzzo said they’ve made improvements that are impressive, and ones that the seniors will take with them to the collegiate level.

“They haven’t gotten there by accident,” Torres said. “They got there by how hard they work.

Olivia Carner competing in the Suffolk County championship last year against Middle Country. File photo by Bill Landon

By Desirée Keegan

All season long, Northport’s girls lacrosse team has shown it can handle the pressure, and Friday was no different.

Olivia Carner had three goals and three assists and Emerson Cabrera added four goals and one assist
to lead Northport to a 15-9 win over crosstown rival Huntington May 11 and complete the program’s first perfect season since 2009.

Emerson Cabrera ompeting in the Suffolk County championship last year against Middle Country. File photo by Bill Landon

“It feels good to go undefeated — the girls have been working extremely hard and have stayed focused all season,” said head coach Carol Rose of her 16-0 Tigers. “It’s not easy to go undefeated — the pressure can be overwhelming, but this group handled the pressure all season with poise, grit and determination. I love seeing them be successful because this group has earned the title ‘undefeated division champions.’”

Northport came out of the gate firing on all cylinders, building up a 9-1 advantage over the Blue Devils by the halftime break. Carner said the team’s closeness has led to this year’ successes.

“Throughout the season our team has become closer and closer — knowing how much potential we have,” she said. “We all play for one another and work well as a team. We all want each other to do whatever it takes to win.”

The team’s leading scorer credited its strong bond for her own personal accomplishments this season.

“It felt great being able to contribute to our wins and is easy to do so because our team is so close and we all want to achieve the same goal,” said Carner, who leads all Suffolk scorers with 64 goals and 25 assists. “When the final whistle blew it was an awesome feeling of pride knowing all our hard work had paid off and we were finishing undefeated.”

She said with an undefeated season and as the No. 1 seed, she knows her team has a target on its back, but said the Tigers will work that much harder this postseason to prove they’re where they belong.

“We’re motivated and determined this time around, especially knowing so many teams are looking to beat us.”

— Danielle Pavinelli

“We want to get back to that county title game,” she said.

Northport lost 13-3 to Middle Country in 2017, ending a 13-5 season in the county finals. Senior Danielle Pavinelli, who is the second Tiger in the top 10 in the county in scoring, coming in at No. 9 with 46 goals and 25 assists, said she only sees her team continuing to thrive this time around.

As the top team Northport earns a first-round bye. The Tigers will take No. 8 Sachem East Saturday, May 19, at the local Veterans Park at 11 a.m.

“We’re motivated and determined this time around, especially knowing so many teams are looking to beat us,” Pavinelli said. “I believe we will be able to handle whatever teams throw at us in playoffs. We’re the closest we’ve ever been — we treat each other like family and we’re always looking out for each other. Each and every one of us understands how hard we have to play in order to go far.”

She attributed much of the team’s success and will to win to Rose, who eclipsed 800 career victories this season.

“She encourages us every day to be the best we can be,” Pavinelli said. “And we owe this season to her.”

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Mount Sinai’s cheerleading team, a county, state and national champion, bounced back after having its seven-year streak of first-place Empire Regional finishes snapped, to win the first meet of the regular season. Photo from Megan Wesolowski

For the first time in seven years, Mount Sinai’s cheerleading team fell short of a first-place finish at the Empire Regional championship. The girls could have sulked, hung their heads and given up the idea of maintaining their national prowess. Instead, the Mustangs used the slip to second place to fuel their fire.

“We put out an amazing routine that we were very proud of,” senior captain Alexa Tabile said of Mount Sinai’s 88.1 score Dec. 2 at Nassau County Community College that still earned the team a bid to nationals. “We took a step back and saw we need to be better, because the team that beat us was better. It’s just as simple as that.”

The girls went into the next practice asking what they could do to get back on top, and worked at it.

Mount Sinai sticks a routine. Photo from Megan Wesolowski

“I try to motivate my teammates before practice and tell them we need to be supporting each other,” Tabile said, adding that the team takes everything in stride. “It’s something I felt we did, and it led to our next first-place finish. We focus on what’s coming up next, but always have the big picture in mind.”

The Mustangs ended up in the No. 1 spot Dec. 11 at Longwood, redeeming themselves from a bobble in the pyramid at the regional competition and a fall at the  meet.

Tabile said she was still afraid of once again coming in second, because more points are deducted for a fall.

“There was a little bit of doubt,” she said. “We thought maybe the fall really put us back, but we knew we put out a routine that was clean, and everything else in the routine we hit beautifully. We kept going.”

Mount Sinai placed fifth in the state championship earlier this year after taking first in the inaugural state competition in 2016. The Mustangs won the county title last season and have a history of placing at nationals, coming in third in February and in 2015, and first in 2016 and 2014.

“They feel a great amount of pressure knowing that we have a long tradition of winning,” said first-year head coach Megan Wesolowski, who coached the district’s middle school team for the last five years and took over for long-standing leader Samantha Melella following the birth of her child. “They want to make the people that made this program proud. They’re proving that one fall or one mishap never carries through an entire routine, and Alexa Tabile is leading the team through everything. She’s one of our best back spots with great tumbling skills. Cheer-related or not, she’s there for every girl that needs her.”

Mount Sinai’s cheerleading team earned a bid to nationals next yea.r Photo from Megan Wesolowski

Mount Sinai, as Suffolk County’s only Division II Large team, competed against Division I Large schools, which made the win this time around even sweeter. Wesolowski petitioned for her team’s step up in competition.

“It’s great to have teams to compete against, and especially to be able to compete against schools with a bigger pool of girls to choose from,” she said. “Competing against yourself you kind of lose that competitive edge. We didn’t want to end up going down to nationals next year with a false sense of security.”

Tabile said the jump has not only forced her team to improve its skills and routine, but it has also been more fun.

“Now, we go to competitions and we know we have to be on point,” she said. “Going out there last year, it didn’t matter if we were doing forward rolls on the mat for two-and-half minutes, we were still getting first place. Now, we’re driven to put in the extra work because we’re competing against other teams with national titles.”

After new and old players quit the team, and through injuries and adjusting to a new coach, Mount Sinai worked to remain competitive, and Tabile said this learning experience is only making the Mustangs stronger.

“We’ve clicked very well,” she said. “Coach Wesolowski motivates us in every way and we want to do better for her. It hasn’t been the easiest season for us — we’ve had our fair share of challenges throughout the season — but I feel like we’ve never had a team with this kind of bond, where we pick each other up and say, ‘Hey, things haven’t been going as we’ve planned, and we’ve had our hardships, but we can move on from this.’”

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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.”

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The Kings Park cheerleading team leaps into the air during the Small School Division I competition. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Kings Park’s cheerleading squad has been battling since opening day, when seven of the team members dropped out. And now the girls are struggling to stay healthy.

The team took to the mat, competing for the top spot in Small School Division I against 10 other teams Dec. 18 at Comsewogue High School, and even with two members sidelined, the girls were able to stay solid through the two-and-a-half-minute performance in front of a near-capacity crowd.

The Kings Park cheerleading team performs different stunts while getting the crowd involved in the cheering during the Small School Division I competition. Photo by Bill Landon

What has made matters more difficult is getting used to the differences between the Long Island Cheerleading Association and Section XI rule book and scoring sheet, since cheerleading has been recognized as a sport.

“We had to change our routines and it’s a drastic change,” said Kings Park head coach Jennifer Ford. “Section XI caused us to fundamentally change how we do it.”

Kings Park senior Alyssa Ambrosia, a two-year varsity starter, said she’s only known the new scoring system, so for her, that’s an advantage.

“We’ve had to overcome a lot this season,” she said. “We were strong in stunting, but I think we can all improve on our tumbling.”

The Kingsmen finished outside the Top 5, but four-year veteran Jamie Barbarino sees nothing but prospect.

“I know that every single person on our team has potential,” she said. “We can be really, really good out there on the mat, but we need to get better with our [end of the routine] pyramid.”

Senior Olivia Nicoletti has been cheering since ninth grade, and has seen the difference between the two scoring methods.

“You have to do certain types of jumps, certain tumbling, and you do stunts differently,” Nicoletti said. “All the points are awarded differently in individual sections, so it’s much harder. We had some challenges today, [another] one of our girls got hurt, so we had to [animate] one stunt.”

Kings Park looks to put on a better performance once they’re at full strength on Jan. 15 at Mount Sinai High School at 9:15 a.m.

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Senior midfielder Justin Eck fires at the cage. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Middle Country countered Half Hollow Hills West’s four unanswered goals with four of their own to close within one in the second quarter of Division I boys’ lacrosse action Thursday afternoon, but the Mad Dogs couldn’t maintain the same level as the Colts and fell 15-9 in their second to last game of the season.

Trailing by two, Middle Country finally got on the scoreboard when junior Ryan Wheeler dished the ball to classmate and midfielder Michael Benasutti, who drove his shot home to cut the lead in half, to 2-1, at the 4:30 mark of the opening quarter.

The Colts countered by rattling off four unanswered goals in the next two minutes for a 6-1 advantage in the opening minute of the second quarter, but the Mad Dogs found a rhythm and scored four of their own, beginning with senior midfielder Kyle Stemke, to pull within one goal. Next to score was senior attack Ty Tracey, who connected for the score on a pass from senior attack David Garcia, the cutter, and Stemke struck again with a blast just outside the crease with six minutes left in the half to help his team close within two, 6-4.

Senior attack David Garcia gets checked. Photo by Bill Landon
Senior attack David Garcia gets checked. Photo by Bill Landon

“They’re a strong team — it just comes down to heart and that plays a major role in the game,” Stemke said.

Garcia’s stick spoke next when his shot stretched the net to shave the deficit to 6-5 at the 2:33 mark.

Garcia said knowing his teammates since childhood has helped the team developed a bond both on and off the field.

“We knew that they were a very good team, we worked hard and we’ve played our whole lives together,” Garcia said, adding that his team was able to come back because “we kept each other up and we stayed positive the whole way.”

The Mad Dogs came no closer though, as the Colts rattled the cage with five more goals in less than two minutes, to surge ahead 11-5 at the halftime break.

Middle Country opened the third quarter able to hold the Colts in check, and junior attack Matthew Gensinger’s drilled one past the goalie to stop the onslaught. Unlike the final minutes of the second quarter, the Middle Country defense was able to hold its opponent, limiting the Colts to just two goals in the third, but the Mad Dogs failed to score again until the final quarter.

With less than five minutes left in the game, junior midfielder Jessie McKeever fed senior midfielder Justin Eck on a cut, and he drilled his shot just inside the pipes to trail 13-7.

Middle Country kept pace the rest of the way, with junior Nicholas Belmonte and sophomore Daniel Hogan countering two Half Hollow Hills goals, but the team’s efforts were not enough to catch the Colts.

Middle Country head coach Christopher Siragusa said he thought his team would have been able to keep up with its opponent if it weren’t for the last two minutes of the second quarter.

Senior midfielder Kyle Stemke sprints to the crease. Photo by Bill Landon
Senior midfielder Kyle Stemke sprints to the crease. Photo by Bill Landon

“I thought that we could handle them,” he said. “It depended on what team we had on the field — we’re a strong character team, we fought with every team we faced this season, even the top dogs. We thought we had a good shot at it.”

Senior goalkeeper Christian Brody said he wasn’t surprised by Half Hollow Hills West, and knew he would have a busy day between the pipes.

“They’re what we expected — they’re heavy shooters and they swing the ball very well,” said Brody, who finished with 11 saves. “But it’s all about how our defense sets up, and we had great stops on defense. They did a good job.”

Stemke said he’s felt honored to play on the same field as his goalkeeper, who has worked hard to keep the team in games this season.

“Our goalie played great,” he said. “He’s having a great year and I can’t thank him enough for getting in that cage every game.”

With the loss, Middle Country drops to 4-9, and will finish out the season hosting Lindenhurst on Thursday at 7 p.m.

 

This version corrects the Half Hollow Hills West mascot.

From left, Chris Barba, Matt Irving, John Petroski and Alex Petroski have fun at the 2015 Cotton Bowl at the AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Photo from Alex Petroski

College football fans that live on Long Island might as well live on a deserted island. A Long Islander looking to take in a major college football game on a quick Saturday trip has two options, and sadly, at the moment, neither is very appealing.

Rutgers University plays their home games in Piscataway, New Jersey, which is about a two and a half hour drive from the Times Beacon Record office located in East Setauket. Under three hours isn’t a terrible ride to see a Big Ten football game, but the Scarlet Knights’ 4-12 conference record since joining leaves a bit to be desired for five hours round trip.

The University of Connecticut in East Hartford is about the same distance from East Setauket as Piscataway, New Jersey, with the help of the Port Jefferson ferry. Though a $75 each way ferry ticket is difficult to justify to see a team that saw a dramatic improvement to go 6-7 overall this year, up from their 3-9 and 2-10 2013 and 2014 records, respectively.

Rather than use up my time, energy and money to make one or more treks to Piscataway or East Hartford to see struggling teams, I went with my brothers and a couple of friends to games in the newly minted College Football Playoffs the last two seasons. On New Year’s Day 2015, a year ago, I was at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, to see Florida State University play the University of Oregon. On New Year’s Eve 2015, I attended the Cotton Bowl at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, where the University of Alabama met Michigan State University. The games were moved from New Year’s Day to New Year’s Eve this season, so technically both games took place in 2015.

It may be premature to call a two-time occurrence a “yearly tradition,” but they have to start somewhere, and I think that is what my brothers, friends and I have created — a yearly New Year’s Eve/Day tradition.

As far as New Year’s Eve plans go, traveling to Texas to see a football game might seem comprehensive and overwhelming. But if you consider what goes into planning some of the “all-inclusive” catering hall-type events that are closer to home with a large group of people, the difference in legwork is negligible. When compared to bustling into Manhattan to see the ball drop in Times Square, I’d argue this is even simpler and easier.

I can’t recommend highly enough for college football fans living on Long Island to try and make it to one of the three playoff games next season. We flew out of LaGuardia Airport on the evening of December 30th, landing in Dallas and checking into our hotel in enough time to explore the area around the vast AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys and the largest video board known to man. We stumbled upon a local sports bar with infinite televisions and beer-on-tap choices to go along with some excellent Texas style barbecue. On game day, the 31st, we explored the stadium, which can’t remotely be captured in words, and attended the game.

College football fans have a reputation for being ravenous and boisterous, so imagine about 100,000 of them packed into some of the nicest venues in the country and worked into an absolute fever. The two games I’ve attended were experiences unlike any other, let alone sporting events.

Both years, we booked flights home for the day after the day after the game, leaving us a day to do some modest exploring in a new city. Dallas did not disappoint. We visited the site of John F. Kennedy’s assassination, which is now a museum. We stood and looked out the window down to the road from the perspective of Kennedy’s killer and saw the same view that he saw on that day. We drove the same path that Kennedy’s motorcade took. It was a breathtaking experience.

Believe it or not, costs for both trips were not as outrageous as you might think. Because the venues are so large, there are game tickets to be had, and if you’re willing to leave a little before the 31st, flights are more manageable as well.

Next year, we’ll be choosing between the Peach Bowl in Atlanta, Georgia, the Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Arizona and the National Championship game in Tampa Bay, Florida. Trust me, keep it in mind.

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Northport senior wide receiver John Tabert makes a diving catch in a previous game. File photo by Bill Landon

By Joe Galotti

After losing a perfect season in last year’s playoffs, No. 2 seeded Longwood looked like a team on a mission in their return to the Suffolk Division I semifinals on Friday night. Visiting No. 3 Northport allowed the Lions to strike for 14 points in the game’s opening minutes, and was never able to recover from the early blow, falling 48-21.

Northport senior quarterback Andrew Smith passes the ball up the middle in a previous game. File photo by Bill Landon
Northport senior quarterback Andrew Smith passes the ball up the middle in a previous game. File photo by Bill Landon

The loss not only marked the end of the 2015 season for the Tigers, but also the finish of the high school careers of many of the team’s key offensive players. Quarterback Andrew Smith, running back Dan Preston, fullback Rob Dosch, wideout John Tabert, center James Clemente and guard Rob Fontana will be moving on this spring.

“With all the struggles and all the work that we put in over the season, it’s tough coming to the end,” Preston said. “We gave it our all to get to the Long Island Championship, but we came up short.”

Northport dug itself an early hole in the contest, allowing a 75-yard touchdown run to junior Latrell Horton on Longwood’s first play from scrimmage. Then, on the Tigers next possession, Smith was intercepted by senior cornerback Mike Linbrunner, who proceeded to run the ball into the end zone to make it 14-0.

Later in the opening quarter, Longwood’s offense was deep in Lions’ territory, threatening to expand their early lead even further. But, Northport forced a fumble, which junior linebacker Andrew Havrilla was able to recover.

The play seemed to help settle things down for the Tigers, and the team was able to cut into the Lions’ lead soon after. Just seven seconds into the second quarter, Preston reached the end zone on a 7-yard touchdown rush, trimming Longwood’s advantage to 14-7.

“We showed our pride,” Preston said. “We’re not the type of team to just give up and lie down.”

With 7:40 remaining in the second, the Lions expanded their lead back to 14, when senior halfback Tahj Clark ran 31 yards for a touchdown.

But Northport continued to show fight, and with 4:41 remaining before the half, was able to pin the Tigers down in their own end zone and come away with a safety. Havrilla once again was responsible for a crucial play, this time making the tackle in the end zone.

Northport senior fullback Rob Dosch rushes up the field with the ball in a previous contest. File photo by Bill Landon
Northport senior fullback Rob Dosch rushes up the field with the ball in a previous contest. File photo by Bill Landon

With 1:48 left in the second quarter, Smith made it a 21-15 game, when he connected Tabert for a touchdown.

The Lions added another touchdown before the end of the half, but Northport still found itself within striking distance entering the third quarter.

“After they scored early on in the game, I was happy with the way we were able to fight through like we always do,” Smith said.

Unfortunately for the Tigers, it would be all Longwood in the second half. Clark added two more touchdown runs, to help give his team a commanding lead.

Dosch provided Northport’s only score in the final 24 minutes, registering a four-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.

The Lions move on to the Suffolk Division I finals to face off with No. 1 Lindenhurst at Stony Brook University. The Tigers meanwhile, finish with a 6-4 record.

There was plenty of emotion on the Northport sideline after the loss, knowing that this was the end for many of the team’s leading players.

“We had a good season,” Smith said. “It’s been a long one, and we fought through a lot. I’m proud of this team and what we were able to do.”

Ward Melville's Lexi Reinhardt (No. 9) taps the ball into the cage off a feed from Kerri Thornton (No. 12) during the Patriots' 4-0 shutout of Commack on Sept. 22. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Ward Melville swarmed the field Tuesday and with an impressive passing performance gave Commack more than it could handle, blanking their opponent 4-0 on the road in Division I field hockey action.

The Patriots got to work three minutes in when sophomore Kerri Thornton hit the scoreboard first off an assist from fellow sophomore Kate Mulham, to take an early lead.

Ward Melville's Katie Mulham moves the ball down the field during the Patriots' 4-0 blanking of Commack on Sept. 22. Photo by Bill Landon
Ward Melville’s Katie Mulham moves the ball down the field during the Patriots’ 4-0 blanking of Commack on Sept. 22. Photo by Bill Landon

“I had a great insert from Kate Mulham,” Thornton said of the first goal of the game. “Our passing today was the best [we’ve had this season].”

Having lost to their Division I rival Sachem East on Saturday, the Patriots’ play was crisper, more deliberate, and they were faster to the ball than their opponents to bounce back and learn from their defeat.

“I think that coming off Saturday’s loss to Sachem East, today, we showed a lot of discipline,” said Ward Melville head coach Shannon Watson. “We were able to play at our level, the entire game.”

With 13:06 left in the first half, junior Kassidy Rogers-Healion passed the ball to freshman Lexi Reinhardt, who redirected the ball in the front of the cage for the score to put her team out front, 2-0.

At the 10-minute mark, Commack made an offense push, spending more time in front of the Patriots’ box, but Ward Melville senior goalkeeper Emily Hoey stood tall and extinguished the Cougars’ onslaught. She notched four saves on the afternoon.

Ward Melville wasn’t finished scoring, and a minute later, Reinhardt found the box again, this time, off an assist by Thornton, to help her team break out to a 3-0 lead.

“It was a fast break and the defender was on Kerri [Thornton],” Reinhardt said. “I was right in front of the goal and she passed it to me, and I just tapped it in.”

With just over four minutes left in the half, Commack’s Brooke Novello squared off against Hoey with a penalty shot at point-blank range, which Hoey was able to deflect, spoiling the Cougars’ best scoring opportunity of the afternoon.

Ward Melville's Kiera Alventosa air dribbles the ball during the Patriots' 4-0 win over Commack on Sept. 22. Photo by Bill Landon
Ward Melville’s Kiera Alventosa air dribbles the ball during the Patriots’ 4-0 win over Commack on Sept. 22. Photo by Bill Landon

Reinhardt wasn’t done, and buried her hat trick goal early in the second half, to put the game away, 4-0.

“I got a great pass [from junior Hannah Lorenzen] and I just tapped it in,” Reinhardt said. “I had a lot of help today from my teammates.”

Watson said that junior Kiera Alventosa and senior Shawn Davenport held the midfield together, which was key to getting the ball up front.

“They both did a really nice job for us in the midfield this afternoon,” she said. “They made smart choices and they anchored the center of the field today.”

With the win, Ward Melville improves to 4-1, and will look to improve on that when the Patriots host Bay Shore on Friday. The opening face-off is scheduled for 4:15 p.m.

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