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Matt Hudzik

Patriots shut out Smithtown in double-elimination game

By Bill Landon

Logan Doran delivered.

The Ward Melville player homered in the first inning, and drove in two runs in the second to give the No. 1 Patriots baseball team a 3-0 home win over No. 9 Smithtown East May 23, to advance to the Class AA semifinals.

Doran said he was looking for his pitch to set the tone early.

“It was a 2-0 fastball, and I was looking fastball dead red,” he said. “I saw it high and in, and just took a big swing on it. I didn’t think it was out. I was just running and then I heard my first base coach say it’s out.”

Ward Melville threatened two batters later, when Joseph Rosselli singled into shallow left, and Michael Sepe found the gap with two outs, but Smithtown East pitcher Nick Harvey fanned the last batter to strand the runners.

With two outs, Smithtown East’s Marc Barbiglia singled in the top of the second, Ward Melville catcher Tom Hudzik fired the ball to his twin brother Matt at second base to catch him on a steal attempt. The strike arrived in plenty of time for Matt Hudzik to apply the tag.

“They’re a hard-hitting team — they hit well last year and they came back and are hitting even better this year,” Tom Hudzik said. “It was Logan’s home run that got the momentum going.”

The Patriots went back to work in the bottom of the inning when Trevor Cronin singled to start things off. James Curcio followed with a fly ball to right field to put runners on the corners.

Again, Doran was the difference maker as he blasted the ball to right, plating Cronin and Curcio for a 3-0 lead.

“We played them [twice] and we knew what we were coming into,” Doran said. “We had to stay focused like we did the first two games. Just come out hot — that’s what we’ve been talking about. I think our team played great, and we just got to keep it rolling.”

The Patriots defense was just as potent as their bats, and the boys turned a double play in the top of the third for the first two outs. Later in the inning, with a runner on base, Hudzik sent another laser throw to his brother, who again waited for the runner to end the inning.

Ward Melville pitcher Max Nielson kept the Bulls at bay the rest of the way, spreading 76 pitches over the seven innings with four strikeouts and allowing just three hits in his shutout performance. It was the second playoff victory of his varsity career.

“The key to winning today was our defense,” Nielsen said. “But Logan’s base-hit knock sealed the deal.”

Ward Melville head coach Lou Petrucci also had high words of praise for Doran.

“He’s our captain ,and that’s what captains do,” he said. “That home run in the first gave us momentum.”

But he also gave other credit where due.

“Max pitched a heck of a game,” Petrucci said. “He kept their lead-off batter off base — he made quality pitches and you’ve got to give the guy credit.”

It was the third time these teams faced each other this postseason, each giving the other its first loss to send them into the double-elimination bracket.

“Bottom line is they played a little bit better than us, and they deserved to win,” Smithtown East head coach Ken Klee said of Ward Melville. “Our kids hung in there — we had a very nice season — and I’m proud of them.”

Ward Melville hosted the first of a three-game series on Wednesday against No. 4 West Islip, but results were not available by press time. The two teams will face off again on the Lions’ home turf May 25, at 4 p.m. The finals are set for May 31 at Stony Brook University, 3 p.m.

This version was updated to correctly identify the second baseman as Matt Hudzik.

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Hansen, Hudzik head girls and boys teams to victory

Lauren Hansen maintains possession during a previous game. File photo by Desirée Keegan

It was a winning weekend for Ward Melville.

First, the No. 2 girls’ basketball team trampled No. 18 North Babylon, with sophomore Lauren Hansen putting up a game-high 35 points in 20 minutes Feb. 17. The Patriots demolished North Babylon 93-24.

“Lauren played great like always and her putting up 35 points in 20 minutes is something really special,” said senior Taylor Tripptree, who finished with 15 points.

Taylor Tripptree dribbles around a defender during a prior matchup. File photo by Desirée Keegan

Hansen scored more than half of the team’s first-quarter points, banking 15 of the 24, while the Patriots held their opponent to just five points.

Twelve different Patriots managed to show up on the score sheet, including a few junior varsity players who got the call to join the varsity squad, which impressed the veteran Tripptree.

Junior Bre Cohn chipped in 12 points, which would have been enough to lead North Babylon in scoring.

But to Hansen, who made eight shots from beyond the arc, the first-round win is only the first step.

“We’re looking to win the whole thing,” she said. “We have to stay locked in each moment in practice and in preparation for the very next game.”

She said she liked the way her team bounced back from its 38-33 loss to Brentwood in the last regular season game.

“It was what we had to do,” Hansen said. “I give a lot of credit to my teammates. Without them, it wouldn’t be possible. I thought a lot about what I could’ve done better individually after the loss to Brentwood, and I let the loss soak in and the feeling of it, and I did a much better job in preparation before I even put the jersey on for game day. In practice, and out of it.”

She said her team will use the first-round win as motivation when it moves on to No. 7 Half Hollow Hills West for a home game Feb. 22 at 6 p.m.

Mat Hudzik moves the ball up the court during a previous contest. File photo by Desirée Keegan

“The game made a statement, showing that we are definitely on a mission,” Hansen said. “We call this a second season, and we’re focused on not dwelling on our accomplishments or obstacles in the regular season. Going into the second round I think it’s definitely time to amp our intensity up even more, and accomplish all that we have set out to do.”

The next day, the No. 6 boys’ basketball team hosted No. 11 East Islip and also made short work of its opponent, with the Patriots bouncing the Redmen out of the postseason with a 66-34 victory.

Ward Melville nearly doubled East Islip’s first-quarter score, leading 17-9 after eight minutes.

“I think we had a big first quarter because we were all excited to go out in front of our home crowd and win for them,” said senior Dom Pryor, who finished with a double-double on 14 points and 14 rebounds. “What really helped us get the win was our coaching staff making sure we were all prepared before the game even started. Coach made it specific that we were not doing anything different than we have all year, and that we just needed to play like we always do.”

Dom Pryor leaps up for the layup during a previous game. File photo by Desirée Keegan

Like the girls, the boys also put forth a total team effort with nine different scorers.

“I thought we all came together as a team and executed in all parts of the game,” Pryor said. “It’s always more comfortable when you have so many threats on offense, especially ones that are rarely off their game.”

Classmate Matt Hudzik liked what he was seeing from his teammate.

“Dom works really hard,” Hudzik said. “He is everywhere on the court, is really good at playing defense and grabbing rebounds and loose balls.”

Hudzik led all scorers with 21 points —18 on 3-pointers — and senior Alex Sobel banked six field goals and a free throw for 13 points.

“My outside shot was feeling good and my teammates just kept finding me on the wing,” Hudzik said. “Before the game, we just talked about everyone doing their job. If everyone on the team does what they are supposed to, we play to the best of our ability.”

Ward Melville will travel to No. 3 Half Hollow Hills East Feb. 21 for a 2 p.m. tipoff.

Pryor said he sees smooth sailing in Ward Melville’s future.

“I feel very confident in our next match up,” he said. “I don’t think any team can keep up with our offensive threats, and when we play defense like we did today, I don’t think there’s a team that can stop us.”

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Alex Sobel fights through traffic and scores. Photo by Desirée Keegan

The big man on campus puts up big numbers.

Ward Melville’s 6-foot 7-inch senior center Alex Sobel posted a double-double with a team-high 22 points and 24 rebounds in the Patriots’ third straight win — an 80-58 home decision over Sachem North Jan. 31.

Although offense comes naturally for the towering center, he also showed off his defensive skills against Sachem. Besides grabbing rebounds, he contributed six big blocks to keep the Patriots ahead, despite a slow start to the game.

Dom Pryor knocks down a field goal. Photo by Desirée Keegan

After a layup by senior Dom Pryor to open the scoring, Sobel banked the next five points for his team. He scored nine and Pryor scored six of his 12 points in the game in the first eight minutes.

At the end of the first quarter, Ward Melville had a 17-12 advantage but watched that lead diminish when the Flaming Arrows outscored the Patriots 15-12 in the second, limiting Sobel to just one point. Junior Brendan Martin led Ward Melville that quarter with six points on two three-pointers.

But by the end of the third quarter, Ward Melville found its rhythm, and with help from five players, edged ahead 56-39. Sophomore Ray Grabowski led the team with 10 points, opening the quarter with a field goal and a three-pointer, and added another of each with back-to-back shots with four minutes left.

“We all played our hearts out and came out with the win we wanted,” said senior Matt Hudzik, who finished with 14 points. “Some shots weren’t falling my way. Ray Grabowski stepped up big and made a couple of really good shots.”

Martin added two more three-pointers in the quarter.

“We didn’t want the other team to slow us down,” Ward Melville head coach Alex Piccirillo said he told his team at halftime. “We dictate the pace and tempo, and once we got it going back in our direction, we made a few layups, got out fast and we were good to go.”

The Patriots spread the wealth in the final quarter, with seven players chipping in points.

“We shoot the ball pretty well,” Piccirillo said. “If our big guys are good, they go, if not, we kick it out and get good looks at threes.”

Two of the team’s nine trifectas were scored in the fourth quarter.

Matt Hudzik swishes a free-throw attempt. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“This is a good group of guys, they can all score, they can all defend, so I’m feeling pretty positive about it,” Piccirillo said.

Hudzik said despite the offense, he’d like to see more from the Patriots on the defensive side.

“We were a little quiet on defense, and we need to get pumped up, get each other going,” he said. “We need to come out with more intensity, but we fought back when we needed to. We know our potential, we just need to play to it.”

Ward Melville’s basketball team has improved substantially over the last several years, and Piccirillo said he’s happy to see more kids buying into the program.

“I think five years ago we decided that we’re going to go all year round, we were going to get the younger guys involved and build the program,” he said. “We don’t take a month off, and they’ve bought into it. We have a nice group of kids, we put the athletes around them and they’re growing.”

Sobel said it’s nice to be a part of the program.

“It’s been great seeing our program grow,” he said. “We fought through adversity and this is the best team I’ve ever been a part of and we’re at our peak. We’re going to take this as far as we can.”

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Logan Doran brings home Dominic Lamonica just before the tag to give the Patriots an opening-round playoff win

By Bill Landon

With both teams tied at four runs apiece, it wasn’t until the bottom of the ninth inning when Ward Melville’s Logan Doran smacked an infield grounder that sent teammate Dominic Lamonica racing and diving for home plate just ahead of the tag, to win the opening round of the Class AA playoffs, 5-4, against Half Hollow Hills West Monday afternoon.

“This is a great bunch of kids they play hard all the time and that’s a great baseball team over there — Hills West, they’re well-coached by a Hall of Fame coach, but our kids did a great job,” said Ward Melville head coach Lou Petrucci. “We battled back and we didn’t panic when we were down 3-1, and the kids got some clutch hits.”

Ward Melville’s Lamonica also struck first for his team, when he hit the ball to right field, driving in Brandon Lee for a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the third inning.

After starting pitcher Ben Brown let up just one hit in the first three innings, Hills West made him pay in the top of the fourth.

With a runner on first, Hills West drove the ball deep to center field that bounced over the fence, triggering a ground-rule double that put both runners in scoring position. A single to right field plated both runners, to give the Colts a 2-1 lead, but Lee followed with a pick-off at second for the second out to stop the bleeding. It didn’t last for long though, as the Colts smacked a shot to deep right field for a sliding triple, and the next batter drove the runner home.

“We’ve had games like this one all year long — fighting right to the end — so when we come into big moments like this we’re more prepared than other teams,” Lamonica said. “[Hills West is] a great team. Their pitching was phenomenal — they have one of the best pitchers in Suffolk County. We were able to barrel a few balls off of him, get a few runs and they were able to do the same against Ben [Brown].”

The Patriots went back to work in the bottom of the fourth, and Troy Davern started it off when he ripped an infield heater, and after a defensive bobble, beat the throw to first. Tom Hudzik stepped into the batters’ box next and drilled a long ball to right center field that bounced over the fence for the second ground-rule double of the game — moving Davern over to third. Nick Rizzi’s bat spoke next, and he hit an infield grounder that seemed to be a sure out, but Hills West made a throwing error to first, which plated Davern and Hudzik to tie the game 3-3. Rizzi stole second base, but was left stranded when the Colts retired the side.

With a runner on first, Hills West hit a stand-up double that put the runners in scoring position. The Colts finished the job with a rip to shallow left field that knocked in the opponent on third, to give the team a 4-3 edge in the top of the fifth.

The Patriots missed the opportunity to take the lead, and went down swinging with two runners on base. But Ward Melville was able to plate one more in the bottom of the sixth inning to make it a new game, and Tom Hudzik’s twin brother Matt took over the mound looking for the win.

“I’ve been in this situation multiple times this season, and every time I go [out there] I just have to throw strikes,” Matt Hudzik said. “I’ve got seven guys behind me that I know will make plays for me.”

Ward Melville missed another opportunity when the Patriots drew a walk to load the bases in the top of the eighth, and went down swinging.

After Matt Hudzik pitched three scoreless innings, the game came down to the bottom of the ninth.

“Matt Hudzik has been stalwart — he’s got five wins [now] out of the bullpen,” Petrucci said. “It was a great [showing by] Matt Hudzik and Ben Brown, who kept us in the game.”

Lamonica led off the inning with a routine pop-up that nobody called for, and the wind blew the ball as it dropped down for a charity single. Davern followed by drawing a walk, and after a strikeout, both runners advanced on a wild pitch. With runners on second and third now, Doran stepped into the batters’ box with two outs.

“I was in the same situation in the last game I played, and I didn’t get it done,” Doran said. “But I knew I’d get it done today in a big game.”

Lamonica, with a healthy lead, waited as Doran battled in the box, fouling several pitches before the count was full. Then, Doran drilled a ground ball up the middle to the shortstop, who fielded it cleanly and threw to home plate. But Lamonica had the lead, and beat the throw home for the game-winning run as the players rush to the diamond to pile up in celebration.

“You really don’t know the magnitude of the situation you’re in until you’re out of it,” Matt Hudzik said. “And it’s a great feeling once you’re out of it.”

No. 6 Ward Melville advances to take on No. 3 Smithtown East on the road May 17, at 4:15 p.m.