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Noah Kepes

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Patriots avenge 11-10 loss to Smithtown East in 2015 Class A finals

 

Being down 5-1 in the Suffolk County Class A finals didn’t scare the Patriots — it fueled them.

According to senior Eddie Munoz, Ward Melville coaches say lacrosse is a game of runs, and all the team needed was a run to get back in it.

So Ward Melville’s Zach Hobbes scored twice in a four-run spurt across the end of the first half and beginning of the second, and Munoz capped it off with an unassisted goal to tie the game, en route to a 9-8 win for Ward Melville over Smithtown East May 31.

“Down 5-1 is tough to come back from, but we made our run at the right time,” Munoz said. “And we didn’t stop.”

After senior Mike Marino scored off an assist from senior Mike Latini for Smithtown East, Munoz was quick to help tie it up again, when he scored his hat trick goal off a pass from Hobbes. Senior Dominic Pryor scored next off a feed from classmate Andrew Lockhart, but Smithtown East senior Connor DeSimone tied it up for
the Bulls.

DeSimone was held off the scoreboard besides one assist, thanks to Ward Melville senior Andrew McKenna, who was tasked with guarding one of Long Island’s leading goal scorers.

“I know he’s a very good player, but I’ve [gone up against] a lot of good players,” McKenna said. “He’s one of Long Island’s best, but knowing I have a great defense around me and a great goalkeeper behind me in Perry Cassidy made me all the more confident.”

Watching his defenseman lean in to help with a dodge on the next play, Munoz said he decided to step into it, hoping Pryor would find him with a pass. With little time to think, Munoz decided to send the ball to senior Noah Kepes, who finished his shot to put Ward Melville back on top, 8-7.

“When Dom passed the ball, I knew I was a little far out, so I took one glance at the crease in my windup, I saw Noah there and I couldn’t not pass it to him,” Munoz said. “It was a great catch, a great handle and a great finish.”

Senior Jack Purdy tacked on an empty netter for what the Patriots thought would be an insurance goal, but Smithtown East’s Dominic Pizzulli found the netting with 22.1 seconds left, and Ward Melville’s defense was able to hold the Bulls off after senior Brian Herber’s faceoff win.

“We were resilient,” McKenna said. “Down 5-1 we still went out there and competed, gave 100 percent on every play and played good, hard, smart lacrosse.”

He said it’s been a dream ever since he was a kid to make it to this point in his senior year with his longtime Patriots surrounding him, and they agreed.

“We needed to get back here,” Munoz said. “I couldn’t let us lose today. This is a dream come true.”

Ward Melville will play Massapequa in the Long Island Championship June 3 at 10 a.m. at Stony Brook University.

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Ward Melville's Dom Pryor reaches for the rim. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Ward Melville led from the opening tipoff, and despite a late push by Commack’s boys’ basketball team, which pulled within nine points late in the third quarter, the Patriots maintained the advantage and won 57-41. With the win, the Patriots remain tied atop the League I leaderboard.

The Patriots came out fast, and quickly jumped out to a 13-4 lead midway through the first quarter, prompting a Commack timeout. Ward Melville’s defense swarmed, looking as if there was an extra man on the court. The shot clock worked against the Cougars, which struggled to let the ball loose in time.

Ward Melville senior Noah Kepes had the hot hand early, scoring three three-pointers in the opening quarter, and classmate Dom Pryor pitched in two field goals and a three-pointer of his own, to help the Patriots to a 20-6 lead at the end of eight minutes.

Kepes said his team’s focus is always defense first.

Ward Melville’s Alex Sobel scores. Photo by Bill Landon

“We’re just hungry on defense,” he said. “Everyday in practice we work on these drills — whoever’s on the floor first is going to get the ball first, so it’s that kind of the mentality. When they began to make their push coach told us they were going to do that, and how you react to that push is who’s going to come out with the win.”

Commack countered with four unanswered points, but again the shot clock expired, turning the ball over to the Patriots.

With just over three minutes left in the half, Commack senior Christian Volatile fell. Injured on the play, he sat out the remainder of the game.

Commack sophomore Aiden Keenan went the free-throw line shooting two and banked both points, but the Patriots answered back and then some, when senior Matt Hudzik drained a three, as Ward Melville edged ahead 25-14 by halftime.

The Patriots’ defense remained unrelenting. The Cougars still couldn’t get the ball to the rim, and turned the ball over as the 35-second shot clock expired.

Ward Melville head coach Alex Piccirillo said he likes what he saw.

“On the defensive end we communicated well, we rotated well, we switched on screens; so we did everything we needed to do on that end,” Piccirillo said. “We struggled offensively from time to time, every team will go on a scoring run, it’s how we weather it and how we stop it that’s important.”

The fouls began to eat up the final minutes of the third quarter, and momentum shifted Commack’s way.

Keenan sank four field goals and a pair of free throws, and with help from senior Ryan Donohue, who added four points, the Cougars pulled within nine, 37-28.

“Ward Melville’s a good team and they’ve got a lot of guys who can knock down the outside shot, so we tried to plan for that, but unfortunately, we left some guys open in the first half,” Commack head coach Peter Smith said. “We adjusted nicely in the second quarter. We did OK in the third, but their defense is very good.”

It would be as close a Commack would come.

Commack’s Aiden Keenan dribbles the ball up the court. Photo by Bill Landon

At 6 feet, 7 inches, the big man for the Patriots, junior Alex Sobel, battled in the paint muscling his way to the rim, scoring three times. Sobel went to the charity stripe three times too, and never missed.

“We knew they’re a good team, especially the last two years,” Sobel said of Commack. “We came out strong and held a little gap. We got a little worried when they got close in third quarter, but we picked it up and closed the game out strong.”

Hudzik hit a field goal, Pryor swished a three-pointer and sophomore Ray Grabowski banked a field goal along with a free-throw point to close out the scoring for the Patriots.

With the win, Ward Melville improves to 9-2 overall and 5-0 in league play, sharing the top spot with Brentwood.

Sobel topped the scoreboard for the Ward Melville with 20 points and Kepes tacked on 15. Keenan led the scoring for Commack with 12 points and Donohue finished with nine.

With the loss, Commack drops to 5-5 overall and 1-4 in the league.

“We’ll put this game behind us quickly,” Smith said. “We have practice tomorrow and we have to rebound. We need to get a home win against Pat-Med.”

Commack hosts Patchogue-Medford Jan. 12 at 5:45 p.m. Ward Melville will travel to William Floyd Jan. 13. Tipoff is scheduled for 4:30 p.m.

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.”

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