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league title

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By Jim Ferchland

The league-title winning drought is finally over for the Ward Melville Patriots.

With a 64-51 win over Sachem East Feb. 9, the boys basketball team nabbed a share of the bragging rights for the first time since 1990.

With only five players scoring, Ward Melville was efficient enough to hold down Sachem East in its final regular season game. Brentwood played Longwood the same night and lost, 53-49, leaving the Indians, Lions and Patriots all tied at 11-3 in League I play. Ward Melville had the best overall record at 16-4.

“All we talk about is putting a dot up on the wall. At times this year, we didn’t know if it was going to happen. We came together and it all kinda fell into place.”

— Alex Piccirillo

“It’s all we’ve talked about in the offseason,” Ward Melville head coach Alex Piccirillo said about winning the league title. “We’ve gone all spring, all summer, all fall; we’ve played 100 games. All we talk about is putting a dot up on the wall. At times this year, we didn’t know if it was going to happen. We came together and it all kinda fell into place.”

Senior Trevor Cronin, who averaged four to six points per game this year, finished Feb. 9 a game-high 18 points, 16 of them coming in the second half.

“If you’re going to leave him open, that’s what he’ll do to you,” Piccirillo said of Cronin. “He’s worked his tail off and got tremendously better. He just works hard and does whatever we ask him to do.”

For Cronin, who barely touched the ball two years ago as a sophomore on the junior varsity team, he wasn’t the only one reviving the game’s vitality.

“My teammates have been there for me all year,” Cronin said. “When they needed me to pick them up, I was there to pick them up today. It’s all about my teammates.”

In the collaborative effort, senior Brendan Martin poured in 16 points with a team-high four 3-pointers.  Junior Robert Soto contributed 15, and junior Ray Grabowski came through with a double-double on 11 points and 10 rebounds. Leading scorer Alex Sobel came back after missing three games with an ankle injury and scored four points.

Sobel said he felt a lot better being back on the court.

“It feels good,” Sobel said. “It wasn’t a very statistical game for me tonight, but it’s perfect because I have a week now to get ready for our next game. I expect to be 100 percent ready by the playoffs.”

Piccirillo said it was great to see Sobel back on the floor despite not putting up his usual numbers — he was averaging 16 points, 15 rebounds and almost five blocks a game this season prior to his injury.

“That’s what we want here for Ward Melville basketball — big team guys with everyone playing well together. That’s exactly what happened today.”

— Brendan Martin

“He blocks shots, he hinders guys from shooting layups,” the coach said. “He just changes the game.”

Sachem East seniors Ryan Panno and Ryan Sheehy combined for 30 points. Panno led with 18 points. Junior Ryan Kennedy had nine points off of three triples.

In a tale of two halves, the Patriots got scorching hot in the second, outscoring the Flaming Arrows 43-28 after being down 23-21 at halftime. Ward Melville went on a 12-2 run to conclude the third quarter. It was a big spark plug to finish strong.

“We started knocking down threes and getting stops,” Martin said. “Our stops led to early offense — big rebounds by Alex Sobel making blocked shots. We pushed the ball on the fast break and it got the home crowd fired up, too.”

Martin said Ward Melville strives to have every player contribute. He said he’s hoping having the team at full strength with help the Patriots get there this postseason.

“That’s what we want here for Ward Melville basketball — big team guys with everyone playing well together,” Martin said. “That’s exactly what happened today.”

Cronin enjoyed finishing the season with a league-clinching victory in front of family and friends.

“It feels great,” Cronin said of the win. “Hopefully, we can go far in the playoffs.”

No. 8-seeded Ward Melville hosts No. 9 Half Hollow Hills West Feb. 17 at 1 p.m.

This version has been updated to include who Ward Melville will be facing in the first round of playoffs.

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Northport's girls basketball team took the League II title with a 50-42 win over Walt Whitman to remain undefeated (11-0). Photo by Jim Ferchland

By Jim Ferchland

League II play did not phase Rich Castellano and his Northport Tigers this season.

Hannah Stockman ready to make a pass. Photo by Jim Ferchland

The girls basketball team took down Walt Whitman on the road Feb. 2 in a 50-42 victory to remain undefeated at 11-0 and claim the league crown. Junior guard Hannah Stockman was the catalyst with 16 points.

With the Tigers lead 23-19 at the halftime break, the four-year varsity player’s mind was set on taking the title.

“From the beginning of the season our goal was to be league champions,” Stockman said. “Tonight, we finally achieved that.”

Castellano said he was expecting a close game against Walt Whitman. The last time the Tigers faced off against the Wildcats Jan. 9, Northport won a tight 48-44 decision.

“I’ve been playing against coach Dan Trebour for many years and our games are always close,” Castellano said. “They play good defense, we play good defense. Every shot is contested. It’s always close at best.”

Kelly McLaughlin jumps for the 3-pointer. Photo by Jim Ferchland

Stockman and sophomore guard Danielle Pavinelli notched double-digit point totals for Northport. Pavinelli finished with 10 points, six of them coming the third quarter.

The Tigers faced an unfortunate scene late in the first quarter when one of their sharpshooters hit the floor hard. Senior guard and four-year varsity player Shelby Maldavir tripped and landed hard on her knee. She didn’t return to the court, finishing with one point.

“I felt a little pop right on my knee cap,” Maldavir said. “The doctors looked at it and said it’s not an ACL injury. The best it could be is just a bruise.”

Castellano said losing Maldavir, one of his biggest point scorers, was a tough break.

“That hurt us,” Castellano said. “She’s a leader. She’s an outside threat — she hits threes. But the testament of the team is that you have players to replace. That’s why you have 15 girls on the team.”

Northport sophomore guard Kelly McLaughlin filled in for Maldavir. She had five points with two three throws made late in the fourth quarter.

Danielle Pavinelli leaps above the blocks as she reaches for the rim. Photo by Jim Ferchland

Castellano rotated players for different assignments to set them up for success. After Maldavir’s injury, Castellano said he wanted to “go big” and bring in 5-foot, 10-inch sophomore Leah Morawski. When she took to the court, McLaughlin came in to provide inside help for sophomore forward Kerry Dennin, who caught 16 rebounds on the night.

“You put all of those little pieces together and it’s an 8-point win,” Castellano said. “We were just a little better tonight.”

Walt Whitman’s Meghan Soulias caught fire in the second half scoring 19 of her game-high 23 points in the second half. Twelve of them came in third quarter — with two threes — where the Wildcats cut deficit to five. Four other players scored for Walt Whitman, but she was the only player in double figures.

“She’s a great player,” Castellano said of Soulias. “We knew that. We know she’s going to get her points.”

Northport has won over 20 league titles and 10 county championships under Castellano, who has been at the helm for 39 years.  Northport is scheduled to face Central Islip Feb. 9 in the final game of the regular season. Tipoff is scheduled for 6 p.m.

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Port Jefferson take share of League VII title after senior day win

Courntey Lewis looks up under the rim amid a swarm of Pierson opponents. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Courtney Lewis drives to the basket. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Entering Port Jefferson’s final regular season game just 34 points away from becoming the 22nd player in Suffolk County girls’ basketball history to reach 2,000 career points, Courtney Lewis admitted she was anxious.

Her Thursday afternoon home game was rescheduled for Friday afternoon, only to be pushed back to a Saturday morning matchup as a result of last week’s snowstorm.

“It was stressful,” she said. “There was this build up, and I was so excited to finally get to the game.

When Lewis joined Port Jefferson’s varsity basketball team six years ago, she couldn’t have predicted the feat she would eventually achieve.

Jillian Colucci moves the ball into Pierson’s zone. Photo by Desireee Keegan

She reached 1,500 career points earlier this season, and at that point she said the thought of reaching 2,000 became a goal. The dream became a tangible milestone when she scored a field goal in the fourth quarter of her team’s 64-30 senior day win over Pierson-Bridgehampton Feb. 11. She finished with 39 points to move her to 2,005 for her career.

“Going into the game I knew I was 34 points away, so I told myself I wouldn’t think about it,” Lewis said. “But then, my coach pulled me out when there was two minutes left in the third quarter and said, ‘Do you know how many point away you are?’ and I said no. He told me I was three points away. I had no idea I was that close.”

Lewis scored the first nine points of the game for the Royals, on two field goals and a three-point play. In the second, she sank six more after converting a turnover and two offensive rebounds into three buckets.

Senior Jillian Colucci said she’s always marveled at what her teammate has been able to do on the court.

“Courtney is absolutely phenomenal,” she said. “When I dish the ball off to her she makes these nearly impossible shots and I just stand there in amazement.”

Jackie Brown looks to make a pass. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Lewis credited her teammates for her success.

“We did really well pushing the ball and looking for open girls,” she said. “We prepared all season and we’re ready to take on the playoffs.”

Several assists and multiple turnovers caused by the Royals’ defense helped her chip away at the 34 points until her goal was met.

“It was on today,” senior Corinne Scannell said. “We were working on our defense a lot in practice and it just shows that hard work pays off. We were able to get more traps and read their offense better. On the press we were also really good.”

Lewis needed three points heading into the final quarter, and after assisting on the first field goal of the quarter, she made a layup at the 5:49 mark to pull her within one point. She sank her 2,000th career point a minute later.

“It’s one of my best memories of basketball so far — being my senior year, my last home game, it’s great,” she said.

Corinne Scannell leaps for the ball at tipoff. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Colucci said the culmination of Lewis’ achievement, senior day and the team’s last game of the regular season made the victory sweeter.

“Being with these girls for the last time on this court, to win, it just tops off the season,” she said. “We had a lot of steals and we played really tough. This is my last sport, my last time playing in the Port Jefferson gym and it’s surreal, but it’s great to do it with these girls.”

With the win, Port Jefferson ended the regular season 15-1 and earned a share of the League VII title with Sayville.

“That was definitely our goal, so it feels incredible to have accomplished it,” Colucci said. “We’re working as hard as ever and I think we’re going to go far. We’re hoping that this isn’t the end.”

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Lauren Hansen drives around a Commack defender. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

The Patriots are in it to win it.

Taylor Tripptree leaps up to the rim for the score. Photo by Bill Landon

Looking for redemption Feb. 3, the Ward Melville girls’ basketball team outscored Commack at home, 62-47, to remain in contention for a share of the League I title.

The first time the two top-seeded teams faced off, on Jan. 10, Ward Melville led Commack heading into the fourth quarter, but lost the game by four points, 59-55. Senior Taylor Tripptree said she knew her Patriots needed to end the game strong in order to pull away with the win.

“In our last game against them our defense fell short in the fourth quarter,” she said. “So this time around we made sure to stay on them and not give up, because the fourth quarter is Commack’s game.”

And defense was the name of the game.

Four minutes in, the game was tied just 2-2 before Tripptree tripled to take a 5-2 advantage. After sophomore Lauren Hansen hit a three-pointer of her own and senior Kiera Ramaliu also posted a trifecta, Tripptree hit a buzzer-beating field goal to put her team ahead 13-8 at the end of eight minutes.

Kiera Ramaliu at the free-throw line. Photo by Bill Landon

The Patriots’ defense flexed its muscles in the second and third quarter, holding Commack to 6 and 7 points, respectively, while outscoring the Cougars 26-13 over the span.

“They got some shots, but we got the rebounds,” Hansen said.

Leading 39-21 heading into the final quarter, Ward Melville put on the full-court press to not give Commack the quarter that previously led to their demise.

Although Commack held the advantage in the final stanza, Ward Melville also put up big numbers, with the away team outscoring the Patriots 26-23 in the final eight minutes. Sophomore Bre Cohn hit a pair of back-to-back three-pointers, Hansen hit her second trey of the game and added a field goal and free-throw point, Ramaliu swished a field goal and went 4-for-4 from the free-throw line, and Tripptree banked two from the charity stripe to put the game out of reach.

Hansen led Ward Melville with 17 points, Tripptree had 14 and Ramaliu added 11.

“We were winning in the fourth quarter in that first game, but we didn’t play great defense,” Ward Melville head coach Bruce Haller said. “Today, I heard them say, ‘this is the quarter. This is their quarter. This was the quarter where they beat us last time,’ and they all knew it. I didn’t have to emphasize it, so they stepped up their defense.”

Hannah Lorenzen moves through traffic. Photo by Bill Landon

Senior Hannah Lorenzen said her team worked harder every day in practice for the defeat over Commack.

“It feels good that all of our hard work paid off,” she said. “It was our defense and our rebounding — in practice we focused on boxing out and not allowing them to have second and third shots.”

With the win, the Ward Melville and Commack are 11-1 with two games left in the regular season.

“You like to challenge yourself against the best — they’re ranked No. 1 in Suffolk County,” Haller said of Commack. “The kids just stepped up and did what they had to do. They played great defense and I think that was the difference in the game.”

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