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Dominic Pryor

By Bill Landon

A late Long Island-hit drew a penalty, leaving New York City with an even bigger advantage with two seconds left on the clock in the 22nd annual Empire Challenge football game. Monsignor Farrell kicker Paul Inzerillo tried to draw Long Island offsides without success, but just ahead of a delay of game flag, sent the ball flying as the clock ran down to zero, and nailed the 32-yard field goal attempt to snatch a second straight NYC victory, 37-35, from Long Island. The June 21 loss marks the second year in a row Long Island lost in dramatic fashion at Hofstra University’s James M. Shuart Stadium.

“That penalty hurt us,” Elwood John Glenn wide receiver Damien Caffrey said. “But to play in this game is a dream come true.”

“That penalty hurt us, but to play in this game is a dream come true.

—Damian Caffrey

A Long Island interception led to NYC’s first touchdown of the game, with four minutes left in the opening quarter. But Ward Melville senior John Corpac received a pass from Long Island quarterback Aaron Ruthman, of Elmont, and bolted down the right sideline for the touchdown. Christian Carrick added the extra point to tie the game, 7-7.

NYC took the lead with the team’s second touchdown of the game, but the kick failed, and left Long Island with a chance to pull ahead. Ward Melville wide receiver Dominic Pryor, already looking comfortable on his new field, where he will instead though play lacrosse next year, was found twice for big yardage. The first connection was for 18 yards to NYC’s 40-yard line and the second, was for 28 yards to the 5. Two plays later, Farmingdale running back Jordan McLune took advantage of that opportunity by capping of a six-play, 58-yard drive, and Carrick’s kick gave Long Island the lead, 14-13, with 7:14 left in the first half.

Unfortunately, the lead was short-lived as NYC scored another touchdown, put the 2-point conversion play failed.

“It’s tough to come out and play football in June, but I was so motivated to come out here and play with such great athletes, and play my hardest,” Pryor said. “[NYC is] just a hard-nose team with great athletes.”

It looked like a Ward Melville football game from there on out though, as Pryor, who caught give passes for 89 and two touchdowns, scored his first on a 24-yard pass from Elmont quarterback Aaron Rutgman on fourth-and-seven.

Pryor got the call again on the next score, as the Ruthman-Pryor tag-team connected on a 17-yard pass. Carrick’s kick lifted Long Island to a 28-19 advantage.

“[This game] it’s just something that I’m blessed to be in,” Pryor said. “It’s a great event with everything that it stands for, and I’m glad to be a part of it.” Prior to Wednesday’s game, no Patriots had played in the Empire Challenge. With cornerback Eddie Munoz also on the field, it put not two, but three Patriots in the Empire Challenge for the first time.

“[This game] it’s just something that I’m blessed to be in. It’s a great event with everything that it stands for.”

—Dominic Pryor

But New York, held to 17 yards in the second half until midway through the fourth quarter, exploded for a five-play, 75-yard drive that was capped by a 45-yard touchdown from Christian Anderson to Seba Nekhet. The PAT made it 28-26 with seven minutes left in regulation. NYC’s defense forced Long Island to punt from deep in its own end and the city took advantage of the favorable field position to score on Siddiq Muhamad’s 12-yard run that made it 34-26. The special teams completed a 2-point conversion that brought the score to 36-28.

Corpac continued the strong Ward Melville showing as he handled another punt return 83 yards, going coast-to-coast to tie the game.

“I was telling my teammates on the sidelines: ‘I gotta take this one back,’” Corpac said. “’I got to do it.’ And sure enough, I saw the hole and I took it.”

Carrick, who was perfect on the evening, put Long Island ahead with 2:44 left in the final quarter.

NYC threw the ball out of bounds to stop the clock, and got a gift when Long Island was flagged for a late hit. The 15-yard penalty brought NYC to Long Island’s 22-yard line.

“I was scared leading by a point with eight seconds left,” Caffrey said. “It was pretty crazy, because their offense is really good. They brought it to a whole new level.”

Corpac, who is bound for Stony Brook University’s football team in the fall, echoed his longtime teammate-s sentiment of the significance of the Empire Challenge.

“[To play in this game] — it’s a great honor,” he said. “It’s the best way I could ask to end my high school football career.”

Ward Melville to face Smithtown East in Suffolk championship May 31

As the crowd and sideline erupted over a stretch of three minutes in the third quarter, it seemed like the Patriots couldn’t miss.

In fact, they didn’t, as the Ward Melville’s boys’ lacrosse team scored six times on six shots during that span, on the way to a 15-6 Class A semifinal win over Half Hollow Hills East May 25.

“We’ve been here before, and we were pumped up,” junior Zach Hobbes said. “We knew we had to come out fired up, because there was a chance we were going to go home.”

An early ouster from the playoffs seemed like a remote possibility coming into the game for two-loss Ward Melville, after Hills East gave the Patriots all they could handle in a triple overtime, 8-7 thriller during the regular season, but the second-half scoring spurt erased that possibility. Hobbes found the back of the net for the first of the six goals, which was his third of the game. Junior Matt Grillo scored twice to complete his hat trick, and junior Michael Giaquinto also scored twice, directly off faceoff wins.

“We played more unselfish,” Grillo said. “Last time we played them, we had a lot of individuals doing their stuff, and this time we looked for the open man, and it worked.”

The Patriots were riding a 6-2 halftime advantage into that 6-0 run. The last goal of the second quarter fired up Grillo and senior Eddie Munoz, inspiring the team to come out even quicker after the break.

Grillo intercepted a Hills East pass attempt by the goalkeeper, and with Kyle Bockelman outside of his posts, Grillo saw the opportunity at an empty-netter with Munoz at his side.

“I saw the rusty pass and I ran over to pick it off,” Grillo said. “Eddie’s always there to put it in, and I knew he was going to finish.”

Giaquinto, who split 10 faceoffs in the first half, won seven of eight in the third, and got lower on the draw to help him win 18 of 25 faceoffs overall in the game.

“I give Michael Giaquinto a lot of credit,” Hobbes said. “Those possessions were key.”

Munoz said his teammates have been hearing all season long how they’re the next resilient bunch to vie for the state championship, and he said he knew the next step toward getting back to where the Patriots were last year wasn’t too far out of reach.

“To be so close to another county championship — we needed to win,” he said. “Our drive is what got us here, and our confidence is through the roof, but you can’t be too cocky. We’re soaking it in, enjoying the moment, but once we get on that bus — get back to the school — we have work to do. It’s all about staying focused.”

Ward Melville will face Smithtown East May 31 at Stony Brook University at 3 p.m. with a chance for redemption. The Bulls halted the Patriots’ playoff push two years ago, with an 11-10 county final victory.

“We feel we have a standard to uphold at Ward Melville,” Hobbes said. “We need to get back to where we were last year, and take that title this time. We’re ready to play.”

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John Corpac. File photo by Bill Landon

In 21 years, not one Ward Melville football player has been invited to compete in the Empire Challenge. This year three Patriots will get the chance to put on the pads one more time.

John Corpac, Eddie Munoz and Dominic Pryor were chosen by the coaches of the Long Island team, all of which led their squads to county titles this year, to play in the game that pits Long Island all-stars against the best of New York City.

“It feels amazing knowing I’ll be able to suit up once more in a sport that I’ve loved since I was young,” Pryor said. “I couldn’t be more proud to represent Ward Melville, especially after what we accomplished this season.”

Dominic Pryor. File photo by Bill Landon

The three standouts were part of a Patriots team that upset No. 1 Lindenhurst in the Division I semifinals to make it to the county championship for the first time in 30 years.

“After losing in counties,” Corpac said, “this game is a redemption game for me and my teammates that made it, to show that we belonged where we were.”

Ward Melville head coach Chris Boltrek said his three athletes, who were named All-State by the New York State Sportswriters Association, don’t need redemption, because they’ve shown they belong among the best of the best.

“They are just excellent athletes who love football, and combined those attributes with a willingness to go the extra mile — whether it was sacrificing their bodies and taking a big hit, or tackling a larger athlete, it didn’t matter — they laid it all on the line to help our team be successful,” he said. “And they’re a huge part of why we made it to the county championship this season.”

Corpac, a wide receiver and free safety who signed to play for Stony Brook University this fall, finished last season with a team-high 13 touchdowns through 11 games, four of which were on kickoff returns. The All-County and All-State honoree racked up 378 yards on 27 receptions, and rushed for 131 more and one touchdown. In total, he had 1,110 yards thanks to 532 added kickoff return yards. On the defensive side of the ball, Corpac had 58 tackles, 38 solo, and two interceptions.

While Munoz and Pryor will be playing lacrosse next year, at Stony Brook and Hofstra University, respectively, the two have also battled for big numbers at Ward Melville.

Munoz gained 454 yards on 37 receptions as a wide receiver, and rushed for 90, ending the year with eight touchdowns. He intercepted the ball twice as a strong safety, and made 57 total tackles, 37 solo.

“We put in a lot of hard work, but our teammates also helped us stand out, because without a good team we wouldn’t have been selected,” Munoz said. “Football to me is all about being tough and giving it your all on every play.”

Eddie Munoz. File photo by Bill Landon

Pryor ended his senior season with a team-high 604 receiving yards, averaging a team-high 16.3 yards per catch on his 37 receptions, rushed for 88 yards, returned kickoffs for 111 and even passed for 167. The wide receiver and defensive back also had two interceptions and made 28 tackles.

“Dom and Eddie are great examples of multi-sport athletes, and demonstrate how competing in multiple sports is a benefit,” Boltrek said. “Both of those guys have played on big stages before in lacrosse, and it was evident that those experiences paid dividends for us throughout the playoffs. I know them playing football has made them better lacrosse players. The toughness and grit that it takes to be successful in football is visible every time they step on the lacrosse field.”

Pryor credits his coaches and teammates, and playing in one of the toughest leagues on Long Island, for making him a better athlete day in and day out, but his head coach said it’s all about what the boys do.

“It’s great for the program to get this sort of recognition, but of course, the program doesn’t receive these honors without the individual efforts of these three players,” he said. “It’s no coincidence that all three of them started in all three facets of the game — offense, defense and special teams — and no matter who the opponent was, they had to game plan for these three.”

New York City opponents will have to make big plans to take down the trio, who said they have been best friends since elementary school. They’ll battle on the gridiron at Hofstra University June 21 at 7 p.m.

“I was hearing rumors that I might get selected, but once I actually got the news, I couldn’t be happier — it’s a dream to be able to play in this game,” Corpac said. “This sport is the best thing that’s ever happened to me, and I’d do anything to play the season all over again. I cannot wait to put on the pads and play high school football one last time.”

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Nick Messina rushes the ball upfield. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

The No. 4-seeded Ward Melville football team had waited 30 years for another Suffolk County championship appearance, and despite a tough loss to No. 2 William Floyd Nov. 18, 28-21, the Patriots powered the program to new heights.

Dominic Pryor jumps up to make a catch. Photo by Bill Landon
Dominic Pryor jumps up to make a catch. Photo by Bill Landon

“We’re extremely proud of the boys and how far they’ve come this year,” Ward Melville head coach Chris Boltrek said. “Over the last three seasons, we have improved upon the prior year’s record and, for the seniors, Friday was the culmination of their dedication and effort. Hopefully, going forward, our trip to the county championship will encourage student-athletes throughout the district to play football and strengthen the program.”

Ward Melville’s first break of the game came on a fumble recovery when William Floyd was driving into the red zone. The Patriots offense went to work on their own 18-yard line, and senior quarterback Wesley Manning hit classmate Andrew McKenna, a wide receiver, over the middle on a 22-yard pass to move the chains to the middle of the field. Amid the drive, Ward Melville was forced to punt the ball away.

On their next possession, the Patriots also fumbled the ball, but the difference was that the Colonials made the Ward Melville pay for its mistake by finding the end zone four plays later for an early 7-0 lead.

The ensuing kickoff gave Ward Melville good field position following William Floyd drawing three consecutive penalties for an out of bounds kick, delay of game and offsides. Backed up on its own 25-yard line, William Floyd finally got the kick away and the Patriots’ return brought them to the Colonials’ 38-yard line with eight minutes remaining until halftime.

Wesley Manning tosses a pass over the middle. Photo by Bill Landon
Wesley Manning tosses a pass over the middle. Photo by Bill Landon

Ward Melville seized the opportunity and Manning found senior wide receiver Eddie Munoz over the middle, to move the chains to the 29-yard line. Manning spread the wealth and dropped the next pass to senior wide receiver Dominic Pryor on the left side for the 35-yard touchdown reception, and with senior kicker Joe LaRosa’s extra-point kick, the team tied the game 7-7.

With just over three minutes left in the half, William Floyd went up 14-7 with a 10-yard touchdown run from James Taitt, but Ward Melville had an answer. The Patriots went deep into the playbook, and Manning hit Pryor on a screen pass who, although running into a wall, flicked the ball to senior wide receiver John Corpac, who raced down the left sideline for the touchdown. LaRosa’s kick made it a new game at 14-14. 

Ward Melville had an opportunity to take a lead into the break, but failed to find the end zone on four consecutive plays from William Floyd’s 5-yard line.

Manning threw an interception to open the second half, and Taitt moved the ball to Ward Melville’s 1-yard line on the next play. Nick Silva finished the drive to put William Floyd out front, 21-14, to open the final quarter.

“Obviously we are very upset we didn’t reach our goal of winning the LIC, but I’m very proud to be able to say I helped lead the team to the county championship [final], which we haven’t been to in 29 years,” Manning said. “It’s been a great season and we all made memories and have a bond that will last a lifetime.”

The Patriots struggled with the Colonials’ defensive line, and with 6:54 left to play, Silva tacked on his third touchdown run of the game, to extend the advantage, 28-14.

Chris Boltrek coaches from the sideline. Photo by Bill Landon
Chris Boltrek coaches from the sideline. Photo by Bill Landon

On the ensuing kickoff, Ward Melville’s junior running back Nick Messina made a statement, when he returned the ball 74 yards and into the end zone, to pull the Patriots back within one touchdown with 6:32 remaining.

The Patriots’ final push brought them to the Colonials’ red zone with just over a minute left on the clock, but after four chances Ward Melville just couldn’t break through.

“This is a group of kids that are fighters — they don’t quit no matter what was going on,” Boltrek said. “They fought through adversity at all points of the season. They were never out of any game and that’s just the attitude they have. At one point we were 2-4, and for them to show the fortitude and character to believe in one another and believe in the process and keep fighting all the way to the county championship speaks volumes about them as young men. We’re going to miss our seniors, and I hope their Herculean effort has inspired the underclassmen to work even harder for next season — off-season workouts begin after Thanksgiving.”

Ward Melville’s ascent to the finals may have seemed unlikely, needing to win the final two games of the season to make a postseason appearance, and shutting out Connetquot and dethroning previously undefeated No. 1 Lindenhurst. But in his third year leading the team, Boltrek was able to continue the turnaround for the program.

“I have good athletes and I have good coaches, so I give them a lot of credit,” Boltrek said. “And the kids have bought into the idea that Ward Melville could be a football school.”

Desirée Keegan contributed reporting.

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Owen McAvoy gets checked while trying to create an open lane during Ward Melville's semifinal win over Lakeland-Panas. Photo by Bill Landon

Ward Melville is used to playing defense — it’s the name of the Patriots’ game.

But the boys’ lacrosse team became fatigued as Victor High School’s faceoff specialist T.D. Ierlan won 13 of 16 draws to give the undefeated Blue Devils a huge advantage in time of possession, and ultimately lead them to a comeback win in the New York State Class A final, 7-5, Saturday afternoon at Middletown High School.

Dylan Pallonetti drives to the crease during Ward Melville's semifinal win over Lakeland-Panas. Photo by Bill Landon
Dylan Pallonetti drives to the crease during Ward Melville’s semifinal win over Lakeland-Panas. Photo by Bill Landon

“It sucks when you know you’re in the good old days yet it still flies by,” senior midfielder and attack Owen McAvoy lamented on Twitter following the loss. “I’ll never forget this team.”

With 5:35 left in the first quarter, Ward Melville freshman attack Dylan Pallonetti put his team on the board, followed by junior attack Dominic Pryor, who found the back of the net from the left side of the cage, to give the Patriots a 2-0 lead after 12 minutes.

Senior attack and midfielder Connor Grippe bounced in a good goal before Victor scored unassisted with its first goal of the game for a 3-1 halftime advantage over a team that averaged 16 goals per game up to that point.

Victor proved why it is undefeated though, and scored three unanswered goals before Grippe moved the ball to the middle and stretched the netting unassisted, to knot the game at four goals apiece with 5:08 left in the third.

The teams remained in a stalemate until the fourth, when junior attack Eddie Munoz rocketed a shot between the pipes from up top to give the Patriots a 5-4 advantage, but again, the Blue Devils proved what they are really made of.

The Patriots went over eight minutes without an offensive touch, and tried four different guys at faceoff, but couldn’t get the ball. The Blue Devils rallied back with three more unanswered scores for the win.

“And just like that, my high school sports days are over,” senior defender John Day posted on Twitter. “It’s been real, Melville.”

Chirs Grillo fires at the cage for the score in Ward Melville's semifinal win over Lakeland-Panas. Photo by Bill Landon
Chirs Grillo fires at the cage for the score in Ward Melville’s semifinal win over Lakeland-Panas. Photo by Bill Landon

Victor, which was the Class B state champion last year with a win over Manhasset, proved that moving up a class could not bring the team down, as the Blue Devils are currently riding a 44-game winning steak into next season.

Maryann Holsberg took to Twitter to voice her opinion of Ward Melville this season.

“[Ward Melville lacrosse], [Connor Grippe], you played with heart and made the Patriots family proud,” she wrote.

Senior defender Sean Thornton also lamented about the fact that the Patriots’ defensive unit will be split up next year.

“I don’t wanna believe that I just had my last high school lacrosse game today,” he wrote. “Love you boys.”

Despite the loss, and the many losses Ward Melville may realize next year without its 16 seniors it will have to replace following graduation this June, some of those current seniors are confident in the team’s ability to get back to the state finals next season.

“Thank you for the memories,” senior attack Chris Grillo wrote. “I wouldn’t have wanted to do it with any other group of guys. Take it down next year boys.”

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After outscoring Section I's Lakeland-Panas 16-6, Patriots will take on Section V's Victor

By Bill Landon

Looking at the Ward Melville boys’ lacrosse team now, you would never guess that it struggled early in the season.

On Wednesday at Hofstra University, the Patriots scored 16 goals against Section I challenger Lakeland-Panas in the New York State Class A semifinals, to earn them a spot in the championship round Saturday.

“We had our ups and downs this season, which started very quickly,” junior midfielder Dominic Pryor said following the win. “We knew we weren’t doing what we needed to do to play up to our potential, so we had a meeting and we said we have to start playing Ward Melville lacrosse. And that’s what we did tonight.”

Once again, it was junior attack Eddie Munoz who stole the show, scoring five goals in the 16-6 victory. But he too said things started off a little shaky for the Patriots.

“At the beginning of the year, we had trouble finishing,” he said. “That first game against Smithtown West we took 31 shots and scored just one goal, so there’s no excuse for that.”

This time, the team had no problem lighting up the scoreboard.

The Rebels may have hit the the board first, four minutes into the contest, but the Patriots countered with four unanswered goals with less than four minutes left in the opening quarter to take the 4-1 advantage. Pryor, who led the team with six points off a hat trick and three assists, scored twice during that run, while senior attack Chris Grillo found the net off an assist from senior midfielder Owen McAvoy, and senior defender Sean Thornton stretched the net off a feed from Pryor.

“At the beginning of the season you always have the mindset that you’re going to [make it to] states, but early on we weren’t playing at the level,” Grillo said. “As the season progressed we played better and that hope of making it to states became more of a reality.”

Lakeland-Panas countered with two quick goals in the closing minute to cut the deficit to trail by one, and sophomore midfielder Zach Hobbes opened the scoring in the second quarter with a solo shot before a penalty put the Patriots down a player. Lakeland-Panas cashed in on the man advantage to trail 5-4, but Munoz’s stick spoke next when he split the pipes to take a two-goal lead.

“Eddie Munoz comes out and snipes one left, and he’s worked hard at it, and he’s elevated his game,” Negus said.

From there, the Patriots never looked back.

“Our offense works — especially when you’re dodging, you’re banging around the outside because it gets everyone energized and we spread the scoring around,” Munoz said. “Earlier in the season it was tough to find the back of the net, but this game was the best we’ve played all year.”

A loose ball caused a scrum in front of the Rebels’ goalkeeper, and freshman attack Dylan Pallonetti swatted in the ball for a three-goal lead.

Ward Melville outscored Lakeland-Panas 4-1 in the third quarter. Grillo notched two goals during that spurt for the hat trick, and Pryor added his second before assisting on junior attack Andrew Lockhart’s shot.

Munoz drilled home his hat trick goal early in the final quarter to help the Patriots break out to a 12-5 lead.

“It’s un believable what they’re capable of,” Ward Melville head coach Jay Negus said. “We’re trying new things and it’s working.”

Lakeland-Panas managed one more goal in the game, but the Patriots dominated the final period of play.

Pryor finished with his third goal of the game when he did a spin move just outside the crease and drilled his shot past the keeper, and junior Dylan Krieg scored his first goal of the season with the final goal of the game.

“At the beginning we were forcing some shots and I had to keep telling them ‘it’s not the first thing, it’s the best thing’ and that takes experience and maturity. I’m starting to see that,” Negus said. “They’re buying into the game plan and early in the season we didn’t know our team’s identity. But I’ve seen some flashes of brilliance throughout the playoffs.”

Ward Melville will face Section V’s Victor High School on June 11 at Middletown High School at 4 p.m.

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D.J. Kellerman said the Syosset fans kept him entertained all night.

“I don’t even want to repeat it,” he said of what his opponent’s fans were shouting to him while between the pipes. “Everyone was frustrated with me and my defense, our offense and our faceoff guy — we just dominated.”

The Ward Melville boys’ lacrosse team held Syosset to its lowest amount of goals in two years, outscoring the team 9-5 for the Patriots’ 17th Class A Long Island championship title on June 4 at Hofstra University.

Kellerman made 11 saves and the defense was smothering, silencing fans quickly as Ward Melville jumped out to a 4-0 lead midway through the second quarter.

“I was dialed in,” Kellerman said. “We pride ourselves on our defense. We elevate our play from each other and that’s why this unit is successful.”

Both teams came out with intensity, but with Ward Melville’s leveled offense, four different players were able to score while Kellerman made three saves before Sysosset got on the board. Kellerman made his final save of the first half with 8.2 seconds left during a man-down situation.

“We wanted to jump out early on them,” said junior midfielder Eddie Munoz, who earned a hat trick. “We got the momentum going and then, when they made defensive stops, it got us a little juiced up and motivated to put some more goals in. Every time they get a little bit of life, you’ve got to take it right back and my teammates found me the open looks.”

Kellerman made another big-time save with seconds left in the third stanza, and Munoz followed it up with scoring seconds into the fourth, off an assist from senior attack and midfielder Connor Grippe.

“This is the greatest day of my life right now — I said that on Wednesday when we won counties, but this is 10 times better,” said Grippe, who finished with two goals and two assists. “Each game I come in with an open mind, not thinking about it being my last game, but thinking ‘on to the next one.’”

He too thought his team’s defense, with help from players like Kellerman, John Day, Andrew McKenna and Sean Thornton, were key in the game plan to take the title home.

“These guys lock out every single opponent,” he said, also noting the correlation between the defense and offense’s success. “Once the defense makes the stops, it gets us going and it’s a recipe for success.”

What head coach Jay Negus said is the reason for his Patriots’ triumph, on top of the team’s defensive coach and the boys executing his game plan, is the Patriots’ progress.

“The effort, the heart and the accepting of all of the things we throw at them on a daily basis to rise them to the level they need to be at — to see their growth from the first day of practice to now — they really are peaking at the right time,” he said. “I told the guys we need to absorb [Syosset’s] energy because this is a game of momentum and we need to dig in and then counter attack, and we did a good job of doing that today.”

But as Negus said, and the boys know, it’s back to work until the team takes on Lakeland-Panas in the state semifinals at 8 p.m. on June 8 at Hofstra University.

But Munoz just wanted to bask in the moment a little longer.

“Last year a lot of people said we had a better team, but I feel like this year it’s been more of a team effort, and it feels really good to come back here,” Munoz said. “This is where we belong, and we’re going to be here for a while.”

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Patriots defeat Walt Whitman in semifinals, 9-3, to make it back to final round

The game may not have started off the way they wanted, but it sure did end like it.

The No. 4 Ward Melville boys’ lacrosse team turned a no-score first-quarter Wednesday into a 4-1 halftime lead, and held No. 8 Walt Whitman scoreless until the final seconds of the game, earning a trip back to the Suffolk County Class AA finals with a 9-3 win.

“We’re really excited,” junior midfielder Dominic Pryor said. “We worked so hard for this all season and we can’t wait for counties.”

After the first, senior attack and midfielder Connor Grippe said his team knew it needed to figure out a way to turn things around.

“The first quarter we didn’t play Ward Melville lacrosse,” he said. “Our coaches keep preaching to us to play a full four quarters and we really came back and put it all together. We were hitting our shots, we were moving the ball, our defense played outstanding, our goalie D.J. Kellerman played a hell of a game and we won the faceoffs.”

Grippe said the coaches made some adjustments to the Patriots’ pre-existing zone plays, which helped them get some open shots and inside looks.

Ward Melville head coach Jay Negus credits his assistant coaches Chris Murphy and Chris Muscarella for the turnaround.

“The defense has been outstanding, the faceoffs have been outstanding — and it’s because of them and the kids buying into what they’re talking about,” he said. “Our offense did a nice job once they started clicking to relieve some of that pressure, but I’m so appreciative of the two assistant coaches I have because they really, on the defensive end of the field, do an outstanding job.”

Junior goalkeeper Kellerman made two saves in the first, and tipped another shot upward to open the second. At the 8:18 mark the Patriots’ opponent finally found the back of the cage for a 1-0 lead.

The Patriots’ intensity was there in the first, but it didn’t match that of the Wildcats. On top of that, dropped passes in the offensive zone and turnovers all over the field deflated the team. But that all changed in the second quarter.

The Patriots pride themselves on their defense, and the boys held it down on that end of the field following the first goal.

At the 4:35 mark, the offense repaid the defense for its hard work, when Grippe fired a shot from 10 yards out to tie the game. He then assisted freshman attack Dylan Pallonetti on his shot from the same position, but on the opposite side of the cage.

“Once we got one, we rallied from there,” Pallonetti said. “I feel like we did a great job riding and clearing. Our defense did great. They stripped the ball a lot, got the ball in the offensive zone and then we did our job.”

At the 1:51 mark, Pryor snagged a rebound off a save in mid-air and buried the ball for a 3-1 lead.

“As soon as we figured out their defense, we started putting in goals and that’s really when we started rolling and knew what we needed to do the rest of the game,” he said.

Junior attack Andrew Lockhart forced a turnover and, on a fast break, fed the ball to Pallonetti in front of the net for what proved to be the game-winner to end the scoring for the first half.

Grippe added two more assists on the night, Pryor scored his second goal and Lockart, Eddie Munoz, Chris Grillo and Zach Hobbes each added a goal. With 33 seconds left, Walt Whitman managed to score back-to-back goals but ran out of time to make a comeback.

“Last year we unfortunately lost in the counties in double overtime, so anything for us to get back to that position is great, and hopefully we’ll come out on top,” Grippe said.

Ward Melville is back in a familiar position, but this time faces a new opponent. Smithtown East topped the Patriots last season, but since the Bulls fell to Connetquot in overtime in the their semifinal game on Wednesday, Ward Melville will instead be facing that team, to whom they lost twice in overtime the last two seasons.

“I definitely think we will have to adjust,” Grippe said. “It’s a revenge game for us. We’re always fired up to play them, they’re a big rival and it should be a good game.”

He said their faceoff player is arguably one of the best in the county, so his team will need to game plan to stop him and limit transitions.

Negus said his team will be prepared for its June 1 matchup at Stony Brook University at 8 p.m. against what will be an athletic, strong opponent.

“We can’t take them lightly, and we’ll be ready,” he said. “They don’t have a lot of depth, but we’re watching them on film and we’ll continue to look for their tendencies. We have some tricks up our sleeve. As a No. 4 seed a lot of people were looking past us and when we execute on both sides of the ball we can be a very dangerous team.”

Centereach senior Kevin Callahan drives the baseline around Ward Melville junior Dominic Pryor. Photo by Bill Landon
Ward Melville junior Dominic Pryor reaches for the ball on a rebound. Photo by Bill Landon
Ward Melville junior Dominic Pryor reaches for the ball on a rebound. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Centereach achieved something this season that hasn’t happened since 2010: they made it to the postseason. Not only did the boys’ basketball team make the playoffs, the No. 14 seed hosted No. 19 Ward Melville on its own home court. The Cougars were able to close within eight points midway through the final quarter, but that was the closest they would get, as the Patriots floored it in the final minutes to put the game away, 59-41.

Ward Melville stretched its legs early, and edged ahead 12-4 after eight minutes of play. The Patriots’ defense was swarming, blocking several shots.

While the Cougars struggled offensively, the Patriots found their 3-point range during the second quarter, with senior Mathew O’Hea netting one, and teammate Mathew Hudzik, a junior, swishing his second trey of the game, to put the team out front 22-13 at the halftime break.

Ward Melville opened the second half much like it did the first, with 3-pointers from O’Hea and Hudzik. Centereach countered when Kevin Callahan fouled from 3-point land. Despite thunderous calls from the visiting crowd, the senior swished all three attempts.

Centereach junior Jon Agostino drives the lane as he makes his way to the rim. Photo by Bill Landon
Centereach junior Jon Agostino drives the lane as he makes his way to the rim. Photo by Bill Landon

“We haven’t made it in a while — it’s a different mindset and it’s a big deal,” Callahan said. “It’s a big crowd and lot of people come out, so it’s a lot of pressure.”

Centereach senior Justin Eck also nailed a 3-point field goal, to make it a 10-point game with two minutes left in the third.

“We focused on this round just like we did with the in-season games,” Eck said. “We needed to focus on our game plan. … We focused on execution — we tried to stay loose and play our game.”

Centereach junior Jon Agostino hit his second 3-pointer to make it a nine point game, and both teams traded points before the Cougars, on a defensive steal, converted the opportunity to draw within eight points with 4:03 left in regulation.

“Tonight we fed off of our defensive energy,” Ward Melville head coach Alexander Piccirillo said. “We thrived on stops, or holding someone to just one shot or forcing a bad shot, and that translates to the offensive side of the ball.”

Hudzik executed his fifth trifecta of the evening to re-extend the Patriots’ lead, and with time running out, Centereach was forced to arrest the clock. The Cougars sent Hudzik to the line after a foul, and the junior went 6-for-6 from the charity stripe to put the game out of reach.

Centereach senior Justin Eck scores a layup while Ward Melville junior Mathew Hudzik reaches for the block. Photo by Bill Landon
Centereach senior Justin Eck scores a layup while Ward Melville junior Mathew Hudzik reaches for the block. Photo by Bill Landon

“We looked at the film from our loss to Commack [10 days ago] and we learned from that,” said Hudzik, who scored 21 points on the evening. “We did our best to do everything right that we did wrong in that game.”

According to Centereach head coach Ed Miller, having endured a long playoff drought, this season was a testament to the commitment of his Cougars senior leadership.

“They came out and shot the ball well, and you can’t take anything away from them,” he said of Ward Melville. “They made it very difficult to play against them. Alex does a great job over there and they’re in the right spots.”

Miller added that he was proud of his team, and admired their sense of urgency and the contribution each of them made this season.

“They’ve set the stage they laid the groundwork to get our program back to where we want to be,” he said. “I know the effort that they put into the off season, so it was my seniors that I was most impressed with.”

Ward Melville junior Noah Kepes said his team’s preparation for this game was the same as it was for the regular season, and will be for the rest of the postseason.

Ward Melville junior Mathew Hudzik scores one of his five 3-pointers. Photo by Bill Landon
Ward Melville junior Mathew Hudzik scores one of his five 3-pointers. Photo by Bill Landon

“We tried to not get all in our heads, because it’s a playoff game,” he said. “We’ve been working on defensive slides every day in practice. Just the same thing we’ve been doing — it’s like any other game.”

The Patriots hit the road tomorrow, Feb. 13, to take on No. 3-seeeded Half Hollow Hills West, with tipoff scheduled for noon.

“We’ll get a film from somebody in their league, we’ll get a scouting report, we’ll get a good practice in tomorrow and then we’re going to get on the bus and go over there,” Piccirillo said. “We’re going to defend like crazy; we’re going to be ready for them, and I hope they’re ready for us.”