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Bulls come from behind in crosstown rival win

Smithtown West’s Chris Crespo leaps for a layup. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Defense was the difference-maker in a game of crosstown rivals Jan. 3.

Smithtown West held host Smithtown East to just 17 points through the first 16 minutes of play, and outscored the Bulls 31-14 in the second half to nab a 56-31 League II win.

“We always play hard — we’ve held our opponents to the least points in the county per game for the last two years,” said Smithtown West point guard Chris Crespo. “We play defense, and that’s how we win games.”

Smithtown West’s Michael Gannon scored a game-high 26 points. Photo by Bill Landon

Smithtown West’s Michael Gannon sparked the offense midway through the third quarter, draining his third 3-pointer of the game to put his team out front 32-18. Smithtown East struggled to contain the big man in the paint, where Crespo would consistently feed the 6-foot, 6-inch power forward, who battled his way to the rim time and time again.

“In this league you can’t sleep on any team though,” Gannon said despite his effort. “Anyone has a good shot at winning no matter who you play.”

The Crespo-Gannon combination was too much for East to contain, and Gannon banked 10 of his game-high 26 points in the final eight minutes. Crespo finished with 11 points.

Smithtown West head coach Mike Agostino wasn’t surprised at some points of the contest, saying he’s come to expect great things from Crespo and Gannon.

“Our point guard Chris [Crespo] is pretty good at getting the ball to the open player,” Agostino said. “He can find people, and he found Michael today and he was making shots.”

He said he thought the end results wasn’t indicative though of what his team is really made of.

“They’re very good, and they make you uncomfortable defensively — they throw you out of rhythm,” Agostino said. “We haven’t practiced for two days, and mentally you’re not out of rhythm, but physically you are, because you have to shoot every day.”

Smithtown East’s Chris Crespo guards against East’s Joe Neto. Photo by Bill Landon

Crespo still thought his challengers fought hard, saying he wasn’t surprised by the Bulls’ caliber of play, as both teams grew up together and know each other well.

“We know a lot of these guys, so you know what you’re getting, but when we play North Babylon or Copiague, it’s coach Agostino and coach [John] Tampori who do a fantastic job of prepping us before the game,” Crespo said. “[At]practice, they show us what to expect.”

Smithtown East head coach Keith Reyling said his team’s performance was not what he’d hoped it’d be for this point in the season.  Atop the scoring chart was James Peters with nine points and John Cawley with six.

“We don’t ever expect to get out-worked, and we were severely out-worked by the other team tonight,” he said. “That’s uncharacteristic of us. We’re usually a hard-working, blue collar type of team, so it was disappointing to see that they worked so much harder than we did.”

Smithtown East will look to redeem the loss when the Bulls hit the road to face Huntington Jan. 5 at 5:45 p.m. Smithtown West is scheduled to be back in action on its home court today, Jan. 4. A 4 p.m. tip-off time is scheduled.

“We play North Babylon on Thursday, so we have one day to prepare,” Gannon said. “We’ll practice hard and go out and play hard.”

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Madison Brady keeps a Deer Park opponent at a distance as she moves the ball up the court. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Erin Tucker and Hallie Simkins combined for three points from the free-throw line in the final seconds of Harborifelds’ girls basketball team’s 39-37 edging of Deer Park at the Northport invitational shootout Dec. 30, helping to cap off 2017 on a 6-0 undefeated streak in League V.

Hallie Simkins muscles her way to the rim with a Deer Park opponent at her hip reaching for the block. Photo by Bill Landon

The Tornadoes haven’t missed a beat despite losing all five starters to graduation last year.

“This is a completely new team,” Harborfields head coach Glenn Lavey said. “And that was a good win for them.”

Early in the game points were hard to come by for both teams, as Deer Park took a 7-6 lead into the second stanza, which is where the Falcons’ 3-point game came alive. Three consecutive trifectas were scored before Harborfields could answer, giving Deer Park an 8-point lead, 16-8, with three minutes left in the first half.

Harborfields junior Celia Argiriou launched a long distance shot to net her first 3-pointer of the game to close the gap to 16-13, but the Falcons outscored the Tornadoes 17-11 in the quarter to take a 24-17 advantage into the locker room.

“At halftime, our coach just told us 7 points is nothing — we’ve just got to keep chipping away at it, we’ve got to play harder than them,” Tucker said. “That’s what went through everyone’s mind — do it for the team, and eventually, it will move in our direction. We played a zone coverage we literally put in three weeks ago, and we caused some turnovers that we were able to turn into points.”

With three minutes left in regulation, the forward battled in the paint and scored to make it a 1-point game. One the next possession, Simkins took matters into her own hands and banked two points of her own to give the Tornadoes their first lead since the first quarter with 2:28 left.

Erin Tucker shoots uncontested. Photo by Bill Landon

“I just kept thinking, ‘We have the effort, we have the drive, but we just kept fighting and pushing them by doing what we know how,” said Simkins, who finished the third quarter with two consecutive buckets that cut the deficit to 31-26. “[We won because of] our mental toughness — we all really stayed headstrong on the court and we never gave in.”

With 12.6 seconds on the clock, Tucker went to the line shooting two and banked both of her free-throw shots to edge ahead by three. After a Falcons score, the Tornadoes kept their cool, and Simkins split the difference during her team’s final showing at the charity stripe to seal the deal.

Tucker and Simkins topped the scoring sheet with 11 points apiece. Freshman forward Madison Brady, who banked seven, said Lavey’s encouragement at halftime resonated with her and her teammates, who know the program’s positive playoff position its in year after year.

“Coach said we can come back, and we all agreed that we’re better than that first half, and we could come back,” Brady said. “We just have to battle it out every game the whole season to win our league, and hopefully make a run at a county championship.”

Harborfields looks to continue its positive trajectory in 2018 when it hosts Hauppauge Jan. 4. Tipoff is scheduled for 6 p.m.

Head coach Andrew D’Eloia speaks to his team during a timeout. File photo by Bill Landon

Head coach Andrew D’Eloia has brought the Northport boy’s basketball team to its first undefeated season.

D’Eloia is in his fourth year as head coach, but he is no stranger to the halls and basketball courts at Northport High School. He graduated from Northport in 1991 and played as point guard for the boy’s basketball team.

“I’m extremely familiar with the district,” D’Eloia said in a phone interview. “I wanted to be able to give back to the community. The Northport High School basketball team did a lot for me, to help me develop — it taught me discipline, teamwork and investing in a common goal.”

D’Eloia now lives in Huntington with his family and owns AD Hoops Training, a basketball training business in Brooklyn.

Before coming back to Northport, he worked as an assistant coach at various institutions including Hunter College in Manhattan and Bishop Ford Central Catholic High School in Brooklyn. He was then offered the assistant coach job at Northport High School and D’Eloia jumped at the opportunity.

Head coach Andrew D’Eloia speaks to his team during a game. File photo by Bill Landon
Head coach Andrew D’Eloia speaks to his team during a game. File photo by Bill Landon

After a year as assistant coach, D’Eloia became head coach, and while he said he didn’t want to bring any major changes to the team, he did want to implement some new focus points.

Among his ideas, he said he wanted to encourage the boys to set up a plan for the off-season, to stay in the best shape they could. He said he believes this helped the team’s bond become even stronger.

“The team chemistry is phenomenal,” he said. “This is one of the best teams I’ve been around in terms of the element of camaraderie, and it’s one of the most unselfish groups as well.”

Since taking over as head coach in 2012, the boy’s record is 72-14, they have won 18 playoff games and made it to the Suffolk County final four all four years. In 2013, the boy’s made it all the way to the state semifinals but fell to New Rochelle.

This was the first year since 1995 that the team has gone undefeated in the league, and D’Eloia credited that to the work of the entire team.

“They are coachable and they do right both on and off the court,” he said. “This is a team in every sense of the word.”

The head coach said that not only are the starting players key to the success of this season but also the supporting players, who have worked well to “conserve small minutes.”

Looking forward, D’Eloia said he hopes his team will continue to play at the highest level possible at every game and go as far as they can in the playoffs.

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Jillian Colucci makes her way to the basket untouched after forcing a tunrover. Photo by Desirée Keegan

The No. 1-seeded Port Jefferson girls’ basketball team stayed toe-to-toe with its No. 2 Pierson/Bridgehampton challenger through two quarters on Tuesday, but as time wound down, the hole the Royals found themselves in grew too deep to pull out of. The team fell 69-50 in the Suffolk County Class C finals at Riverhead High School.

“We had a fantastic season,” Port Jefferson head coach Ed Duddy said. “We started out slow, and they all came together to go on a 10-game streak. We won the league, which I didn’t expect at all, and it all came down to this game … and [Pierson/Bridgehampton] won the war.”

The girls also came together in the first 16 minutes of the game.

Port Jefferson junior forward Courtney Lewis scored the first points of a matchup that was just seven seconds old, but a minute later, Pierson countered to even the score. Lewis did it again, and after the Whalers tacked on another field goal, she added a free-throw point. She followed it up with her third field goal to put the Royals out front, 7-4. The junior banked two more points off a layup in the quarter but her team let up on defense, and the Royals were down 16-11 heading into the second quarter.

This time, it was Pierson that scored first, with a 3-pointer, followed by the two teams trading field goals before junior guard Jillian Colucci’s free-throw point made it 21-14.

After another Whalers field goal, Colucci’s own field goal and three free-throw points and junior guard Annabelle Soucy’s 3-pointer helped draw the Royals within one, 23-22. But that was as close as Port Jefferson would come the rest of the way.

“We didn’t tighten up the defense like I thought we were gonna, but also our shots didn’t fall,” Duddy said. “We got into foul trouble a little bit, but that’s the way it goes.”

Despite back-to-back treys by Soucy and Colucci, and a Lewis trifecta with 1:06 left in the third, the Royals deficit remained as a result of the lack of pressure under the boards.

Up 52-44, Pierson went on a 10-point streak before Port Jefferson junior forward Gillian Kenah scored the Royals’ first points of the quarter off an offense rebound from a missed Soucy attempt, with 2:56 left to play.

Duddy said he thought his girls got frustrated after the Whalers knocked down some threes and long field goals. He added that the Royals switched between man-to-man and zone defense and passed the ball to try to minimize the damage, but to no avail.

Lewis finished with a team-high 21 points, Colucci added 11 and Soucy finished with eight.

Despite the season being cut short, Duddy said his Royals can walk away from this season with their heads held high, as it has consistently been able to improve with each season.

“We’ve done a lot of things,” he said. “We just have to take it to that next level come the playoffs. We’re all coming back next year, and [Pierson’s team will] all be back, too. But I’m proud of my girls. I told them in the locker room that I couldn’t ask any more of them.”

With every player returning to the roster next season, the Royals will be looking to make another postseason run, and Duddy is hoping to send them off on a high note.

“I’ve been with them since they were freshmen, and I want to see them out as seniors,” he said.

When asked if he thinks his team can continue to reach new heights, Duddy said, “Hell yeah. I told them, ‘If you’re in, I’m in.’”

Harborfields High School. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

Harborfields’ boys’ basketball team has become one of the most celebrated at the high school in recent years, with the boys winning the League V title for the eighth straight year.

Although this is only John Tampori’s first year as head coach of the Tornadoes, he has been the assistant coach for the last 11 years, and has been able to seamlessly keep their tradition of domination alive.

Tampori served under Chris Agostino, who left the school left last year for Elmont Memorial High School as the school’s new athletic director.

“I’ve known the players, some of them are three- or four-year varsity players,” Tampori said in a phone interview. “They knew me as well. I knew what I was stepping into. I knew exactly what was going on.”

The transition appears to be just as easy for the players, as the team is currently undefeated in the league and look to be in a great spot in the Suffolk County playoffs, which kick off this Friday.

John Tampori has been with the Harborfields Tornadoes for more than a decade. Photo from Tampori
John Tampori has been with the Harborfields Tornadoes for more than a decade. Photo from Tampori

Tampori said he didn’t want to bring too many changes in as the new coach.

“When things are working, you don’t want to change too much,” he said. However, after losing the Suffolk County A Championship last year, he said he wanted to focus on improving shot selection on offense.

“Playing smarter was a thing I had in mind going into this season,” Tampori said. According to the head coach, that included working the ball into a shot that players are more capable of making, and better time management of the game clock.

Harborfields Athletic Director John Valente said Tampori has exceeded expectations.

“Coach John Tampori had some big shoes to fill when Chris Agostino left,” Valente said in an email. “Coach Tampori has stupendous knowledge of the game and knows all the right buttons to push for the team and players to reach all their goals this season. I couldn’t be prouder of the job he has done this season taking over from a successful coach who he served as an assistant coach to for six years. This is now Coach Tampori’s basketball program.”

For this season, Tampori said the starting five are all very special players, and have really contributed to how successful this season has been.

“They all play super hard in practice and get each other better,” he said of the five, who include seniors Alex Bloom, Dan Morgan, Malcolm Wynter and Robert Pecorelli, and junior Alex Merhige.

For what he enjoys the most about coaching the team, he says it comes down to the type of boys they are.

“We’ve always had really good students — as far as their grades — and they must come from really good families, because they’re all very respectful, polite, and just solid, good young men,” Tampori said. “Even when they get off the bus, they say thank you to the bus driver. That’s a little thing, but it still shows who they are.”

As far as the next few weeks and the Suffolk County Championship, Tampori doesn’t like to look too far ahead.

“I just talk about one game at a time,” he said. “I don’t want anybody to look ahead and forget what’s in front of us.”

Aside from boys’ basketball team, Tampori is a special education teacher at the high school, and also coaches boys’ and girls’ junior varsity tennis teams in the fall.

“I enjoy the faculty and the type of students you have,” he said of teaching at Harborfields. “You get really nice kids, they respond to what you have to say to them, it’s a nice environment to work in.”

Katie Reilly goes to the rim. Photo by Bill Landon
Katie Reilly goes to the rim. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Needing a win to earn a share of the League III championship title, the Huntington girls’ basketball team took care of business Tuesday night, defeating Smithtown East on the road, 63-50. It was senior night for the Bulls, who were able to close within 11 points late, before falling to the Blue Devils.

Huntington sophomore Alex Heuwetter had the hot hand early, scoring seven points, while teammate Anna Gulizio, a junior, added six to put their team out front 21-9 after eight minutes of play.

Having trouble scoring from the paint, Smithtown East unleashed its 3-point game, with juniors Tori Redmond, Jordi DeBernardo and Alex Schultz netting treys in the second quarter. But Huntington answered back with four 3-pointers of its own, two of which were by senior guard Katie Reilly, propelling the Blue Devils to a 40-24 advantage to open the second half.

“They came out with a lot of passion, especially on a night like this, so we should’ve taken them more seriously,” Reilly said. “I thought we played pretty good, but I think we could’ve played stronger defensively. All in all, we did all right.”

Battling the boards all night for the Bulls was Nina DeStefano, who rebounded several missed shots for putbacks. DeBernardo nailed her second trifecta of the game as Smithtown East outscored Huntington 13-12 after eight minutes, to trail 52-37 heading into the final quarter.

Nina DeStefano fights for possession under the board. Photo by Bill Landon
Nina DeStefano fights for possession under the board. Photo by Bill Landon

Huntington senior Brooke Baade sparked the offense with a field goal and her third 3-pointer of the game, and Heuwetter banked a pair of field goals to put a stop to the Bull’s late-game surge.

Schultz swished a pair of 3-pointers late and DeStefano netted two field goals, but it was too little too late for Smithtown East, as Huntington took the win to finish 12-1 in League III, and tie Riverhead for a share of the league title.

“I knew that they were going to be tough,” DeStefano said. “They’re in first place in our league for a reason. It was a struggle under the boards because they have a lot of good rebounders.”

Schultz led her team in scoring with 15 points, while DeStefano followed close behind with 12 and Redmond tacked on 10.

“Nina DeStefano had an outstanding game for us on senior night, Tatiana Jean did a great job rebounding the ball and Ceili Williams, our sophomore point guard, had one of the best games she’s had for us, and sky’s the limit for her,” Smithtown East head coach Tom Vulin said. “So as a team, we played well together. We cut the deficit to 11 so a couple of turnovers here and there could’ve made it closer.”

Atop the leaderboard for Huntington was Heuwetter with 16 points, Reilly netted 14 and Baade banked 11.

Anna Gulizio drives to the rim. Photo by Bill Landon
Anna Gulizio drives to the rim. Photo by Bill Landon

“They’re a tough team — they’re in third place in our conference and they have a lot of good shooters,” Heuwetter said. “Our defense could’ve been better. They were popping threes like crazy.”

Clinching a playoff berth the week before, No. 19 Smithtown East opened the postseason with an out-bracket game against No. 14 Hauppauge, but results were not available by press time.

“Because of all the snow, our playoff season starts tomorrow, so we’ll know sometime tomorrow morning who we’ll face,” Vulin said following the loss. “I’ll get as much information as I can and we’ll go after it.”

Heuwetter said her team suffered a bitter defeat deep into the playoffs last year, so the Blue Devils are looking for a comeback performance heading into this year’s postseason. Huntington goes into the postseason as the No. 6 seed, and will host No. 11 Half Hollow Hills West on Friday at 5 p.m.

“We really want it,” she said. “Last year we went deep into the playoffs, but we were really upset that we couldn’t get farther, so we’ll use last years’ playoff defeat as motivation to get as far as we can this year.”

Smithtown West’s Sarah Harrington dribbles inside against Lady Cougars sophomore Abby Blount. Photo by Joe Galotti

By Joe Galotti

On Tuesday night, the Centereach girls’ basketball team gave its five seniors the spotlight, honoring the players in a pre-game ceremony before the club’s regular season finale. But, late in the game’s fourth quarter, it was a senior from visiting Smithtown West that stole the show.

Senior forward Mackenzie Heldberg converted a key floating jump shot with under a minute to go, to help her team secure a 47-44 victory over the Cougars.

“You can count on Mackenzie whenever the game is on the line,” Smithtown West head coach Katie Combs said. “She put that little floater in that sealed the game for us, and it’s a testament to her as a player.”

Also helping the Bulls steal a win on Centereach’s senior night were juniors Gabby Horman and Sarah Harrington. The duo combined for 24 points and 20 rebounds in the contest.

Junior Cassidy Treanor and senior Lauren Meigel both reached double-digit points for the Cougars in the game. But, according to Centereach head coach James Steigele Jr., his team did not play collectively, and shoot well enough from the field to come away victorious.

“Our defense was good, and we rebounded well,” he said. “But they were hitting their shots, and we unfortunately weren’t tonight. We had good looks, too.”

Smithtown West’s Gabby Horman moves into the paint against Centereach’s Lauren Meigel. Photo by Joe Galotti
Smithtown West’s Gabby Horman moves into the paint against Centereach’s Lauren Meigel. Photo by Joe Galotti

Even with their inconsistent shooting, the Cougars still held a 32-29 lead with 4:30 remaining in the third quarter. But Smithtown West finished out the stanza strong, ending the quarter on a 10-0 run. Harrington helped spark her team, forcing multiple turnovers and frequently making her way to the basket on offense.

The Bulls took a seven-point lead into the final quarter, and seemed poised to run away with the contest. Centereach would have none of that, as the team quickly worked its way back into striking distance. With 1:28 left in regulation, Meigel hit a layup that trimmed Smithtown West’s lead to just one point.

At this point, all of the momentum seemed to be on the Cougars’ side, but the Bulls managed to stay composed.

“We faced a lot of adversity tonight in the second half, but we just kept pressing harder,” Harrington said. “We knew we had to play defense to win the game.”

Centereach was held off the scoreboard in the game’s final minute, and Heldberg’s late basket helped stabilize things for Smithtown West. On the Cougars’ final possession, the team’s comeback hopes were officially ended by a Horman blocked shot.

“This game wasn’t the cleanest you could’ve watched, but the girls that I coach have a tremendous amount of resolve,” Combs said. “I really appreciate the efforts they gave tonight.”

Despite the loss, Centereach still put together a memorable senior night. Before tip-off, Steigele Jr. took to the microphone and shared kind words about seniors Meigel, Erica Medina, Alyssa Sokolowski, Nicole Fellone and Katrina Gangji.

“That moment meant a lot,” Gangji said. “I’ve played on this team for three years and my teammates mean so much to me. It’s meant a lot being a Centereach Cougar, and the fact that it’s almost over is really upsetting.”

Fellone, who tore her ACL in a recent game against North Babylon, was given a chance to start, at the request of the team’s players and their parents. In a great showcase of sportsmanship, the Bulls allowed Fellone to record a layup, before she exited her final regular season contest to cheers from the crowd.

Both teams will quickly move on from the emotions of Tuesday’s matchup, as postseason play gets underway. Harrington said after Smithtown West’s victory, that the club is feeling good about itself entering playoff action.

Steigele Jr. also seems to have plenty of faith in his squad.

“We’re definitely confident going into the playoffs,” he said. “Our team was able to get to this point for a reason.”

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Heidi Scarth attempts to maintain possession of the ball between defenders while going up for the layup. Photo by Desirée Keegan

For the first time since 1988, the Ward Melville girls’ basketball team is No. 1.

The Patriots pushed past Brentwood Tuesday, 50-35, to earn a share of the League I title with Commack, which was undefeated until outscored by Ward Melville a week ago, 52-35, to put the Patriots in a position to claim a piece of the prize.

“It is total elation,” senior center Heidi Scarth said of the title. “We had a game plan and we went out there and executed it, and that’s why we won this game. Getting this league championship title was one of our big goals. We’re all so excited and ready for playoffs.”

Kiera Ramaliu passes the ball. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Kiera Ramaliu passes the ball. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Ward Melville jumped out in front 13-0 in the first quarter, with Scarth and sophomore guard Kiera Ramaliu netting four points apiece. The team almost kept their opponent off the scoreboard, but with 16 seconds left, Brentwood sank a field goal to go into the second stanza down 11 points.

Junior guard Taylor Tripptree started the next eight minutes like she did the first, scoring the first two points, but Ward Melville’s defense lost its rhythm, which led five straight Brentwood points. Ramaliu and Tripptree had big blocks to keep the Lions contained, but the team ran into some trouble on the offensive end. Still, the Patriots were up 21-14 heading into the halftime break.

“We were a bit shaky in the second quarter, but we pulled it together,” Tripptree said.

The team was able to outscore its opponent in the third, but by a slim margin, 16-14, increasing the lead to 37-28 heading into the game’s final quarter.

“While we had a couple of rough spots, I think in the end they did what they had to do to win,” Ward Melville head coach Bruce Haller said. “Letting up 35 points against a playoff team like Brentwood is good defense, so we’re pleased. Now our girls are ready to give their best effort on Friday.”

Taylor Tripptree dribbles around an opponent. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Taylor Tripptree dribbles around an opponent. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Tripptree, who finished with a game-high 15 points, said it was Haller’s halftime talk that motivated the team to push harder in the third and fourth quarter.

“Coach told us to pick it up, and we all came together as a team,” she said.

Scarth, who netted nine points, said she agreed that team is a force when the current group of girls she plays with unites, like they did when they outscored Brentwood 13-7 in the fourth quarter for the win.

“I think that making that extra pass, looking for your teammates and non-selfish playing is what really made us league champs,” she said. “I think we have a really strong group of girls that play as a team.”

Scarth said her team is ready and prepared for the postseason. The Patriots are the No. 1 seed, and will host the winner of the No. 16 West Babylon/No. 17 Centereach outbracket matchup on Feb. 12, at 6 p.m.

Tripptree said Ward Melville’s 17-1 overall record shows how her team is always working to achieve its goals, and there’s more to be met.

“Getting to this moment is what our first goal was this season,” she said, “Now we will keep going farther, because we’re not done yet.”

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Greg Giordano races through the paint into traffic. Photo by Desirée Keegan

It was four years ago that Mike Agostino took over at the helm of the Smithtown West boys’ basketball team, and since then, the team has come full circle.

In 2012, in the Bulls’ last League III game of the season, they traveled to Riverhead to duke it out for the conference title, where Riverhead pulled away with a one-point win, 72-71.

This time, the Bulls, at 10-1 heading into Tuesday’s contest, handily outscored the Blue Waves 64-38 to seal sole possession of the League III title. It was the first time Smithtown West had achieved that feat since 1968, according to Agostino.

“I’m so grateful,” he said. “Winning the league title is almost as good as winning the county championship, because the county title is a result of a tournament, but this you have to play 14 games. Everyone knows us, everyone knows our starters and our bench guys, everyone scouts you, so to be able to win a league championship is so special.”

Nick Grande drives the baseline for a field goal. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Nick Grande drives the baseline for a field goal. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Both teams were slow to start, but Smithtown West junior Greg Giordano kept the Bulls in the game with a free throw at 5:32 to tie it 1-1, and followed it up with a 3-pointer at the 4:54 mark to knot the game at 4-4.

From there, the Bulls charged ahead with senior Matt English knocking in a layup and Giordano netting another trifecta. Seconds later, senior Nick Grande swiveled around defenders as he jumped up to face the rim and tacked on a field goal, to help his team to an 11-4 advantage.

“We came a long way since our first loss in the first of the season against Copiague,” said English, who finished with 10 points and a team-high 11 rebounds. “We’ve really come together. We’re playing like a family.”

Riverhead tacked on a field goal of its own to close the gap to 11-6 after the first eight minutes of play. In the second stanza, Riverhead scored a free-throw point at 3:59 to bring the score to 18-10, and the Bulls held the Blue Waves scoreless until 15.6 seconds, where Riverhead swished a 3-pointer. In that time though, the Bulls tacked on 12 points, and used fouls to keep their opponent at bay, with Riverhead coming up scoreless from the charity stripe at three different appearances.

“We came out firing and we held them to 13 points in the first half, which is tremendous for our defense,” said Smithtown West junior Kyle LaGuardia, who finished with two field goals and seven rebounds.

The Bulls ran away with the game in the third, outscoring Riverhead 22-10.

Smithtown West sophomore Chris Crespo, who finished with a game-high 14 points, five assists and five rebounds, opened the final quarter with a three-pointer, and scored two points off a 1-and-1 opportunity minutes later, to help his team to a 30-point lead, 57-27.

“This is my second year on varsity and I didn’t know it would take off this fast,” Crespo said. “Last year we were alright, but it feels great to see such a big improvement at such a fast pace this year.”

With 4:04 left to play, Agostino called a timeout after a Riverhead travel call, to swap out his starters. Over the next four minutes, Riverhead outscored Smithtown West 11-3, but the Bulls’ bench kept its commanding defense in tact, stealing passes and grabbing rebounds.

Chris Crespo leaps up to the rim. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Chris Crespo leaps up to the rim. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“We played typical Smithtown West basketball,” Agostino said. “We were strong inside, we defended, we took care of the ball and that’s what we said was going to be the key — not only stopping them, but getting the rebound and being able to get it out cleanly without losing it.”

Agostino said he still feels like his team has room to grow, though.

“I don’t feel like we’ve reached our full potential,” he said. “I know that there are kids in that locker room who haven’t played as well as they’re capable of playing, and it’s my responsibility to get them to that point. I’m happy with the way they are right now, and I told them the nostalgic part is really sweet, but once we start practice tomorrow, it’s over.”

The head coach credits his seniors for shaping the team this season, adding that they’re focused on competing, and don’t stop until the buzzer sounds.

That winning mentality is trickling down, the players said, but the Bulls still credited their coach for helping them achieve greater and greater success with each passing season.

“He’s a great leader — knows how to play the game right,” English said. “In the beginning of the season, our first goal was to win the league title and the second goal was to make some damage in the playoffs. We’ve got the first one done, and now it’s onto the next.”

Noah Kepes drives the lane. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Tim Specht reaches for the rim from inside the paint. Photo by Bill Landon
Tim Specht reaches for the rim from inside the paint. Photo by Bill Landon

With two games left to play in the regular season, the Ward Melville boys’ basketball team, at 6-5 in League I, was playing for its postseason life when the team hit the road to take on Commack Tuesday.

The game was close through three quarters, but Commack, also at 6-5 at the start of the game, slowly edged ahead in a game largely decided at the free-throw line, to win 56-45.

The Patriots led by two points after the first eight minutes of play, and Commack enjoyed a one-point lead at the halftime break. Ward Melville senior Mathew O’Hea had the hot hand in the first half, netting four field goals in the first quarter and nine more in the second.

O’Hea said it’s a hostile environment whenever his team travels to Commack.

“It’s always tough to play here — they’ve got a really great fan base,” O’Hea said. “I thought we played hard — we gave it a great effort — but we just didn’t come out with a win tonight.”

With the game tied at 30-30, Ward Melville senior Tim Specht went to the line shooting two and swished both for the lead at the 6:53 mark of the third.

“Commack’s known for their crowd, and getting in our faces when we make mistakes,” Specht said. “So we knew that was coming, and we fell into that trap at the end.”

Noah Kepes drives the lane. Photo by Bill Landon
Noah Kepes drives the lane. Photo by Bill Landon

It was Specht with the hot hand in the second half though. With his Patriots team up by two points, he went to the charity stripe and nailed both opportunities to help his team edge ahead, 38-34, with 1:55 left to go in the third period.

Commack battled back and retook the lead 40-38 to begin the final quarter, and the Patriots would not see a lead the rest of the way. The game, infested with fouls, sent Ward Melville junior Noah Kepes to the line, where he netted both to retie the game at 40-40, but that’s as close as the team would come.

Commack slowly edged ahead, point by point, and outscored the Patriots 10-3 at the charity stripe in the final minutes to win the game.

O’Hea led all scorers with 19, while Specht was next in line for the Patriots with 13 points.

Ward Melville head coach Alexander Piccirillo said his team played without a let-up for all 32 minutes. “We just couldn’t get some shots to fall and we struggled to get stops down the stretch,” he said. “We hit all of our free throws today, we boxed out, we were able to rebound with them, but we turned it over in key spots and when we needed a big shot, we just couldn’t get it to fall.”

Matthew O’Hea shoots. Photo by Bill Landon
Matthew O’Hea shoots. Photo by Bill Landon

Ward Melville takes on William Floyd at home in a must-win game Friday, Feb. 5, at 6:15 p.m., before facing undefeated powerhouse Brentwood on Monday to wrap up the regular season.

To prepare for Friday’s game against Floyd, Piccirillo said his team will prepare like it would for any other game, adding that his players will have two good practices to be fully prepared for the last home game.

“We’ll just mentally prepare — we’ll watch film because its senior night and we need that win,” Specht said. “We will not leave the gym without that win.”