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quarterfinals

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By Bill Landon

Middle Country’s girls lacrosse team came up short at the buzzer in a Class A quarterfinal game that saw nine lead changes. No. 5-seeded Riverhead’s defense held down the fort in the final 30 seconds against the No. 4 Mad Dogs to pull away with a 13-12 win.

“It was a tough one today,” Middle Country head coach Lindsay Dolson said. “We made some mistakes that we didn’t need to make.”

Down 6-4 at halftime, Middle Country junior Sophie Alois scored her third goal of the game to make it a new one, knotting the score at 6-all three minutes into the second half. After a Riverhead goal, Middle Country senior Emily Diaz dished the ball to Alois, and then to senior Sydney Juvelier 35 seconds later to help the Mad Dogs retake the lead.

The Blue Waves tied it up again before Middle Country did in return, and Diaz scored on a penalty shot with 14:07 remaining to give the Mad Dogs what would be their final lead of the game.

Riverhead rattled off four unanswered goals to take a 12-9 lead and ran crucial seconds off the clock by stalling until the four-minute mark.

With 3:37 left in regulation, Alois split the pipes unassisted and scored her fifth goal of the game a minute later off a feed from junior Jennifer Barry. Middle Country won the ensuing draw and this time, it was the seventh-grader Kate Timarky who wouldn’t be denied, as her solo shot found the back of the net to retie the game, 12-12, with a minute-and-a-half left in regulation.

After a shot on goal by the Blue Waves, controversy ensued and the game’s three officials conferenced on the field. After a minute of deliberation, the trio ruled it a good goal and Riverhead retook the lead 13-12 with 30 seconds left.

Middle Country won the final draw and called timeout with 22 seconds remaining as the Mad Dogs planned their final shot, but failed to get the ball near the cage as time expired.

It was a stinging defeat for the defending Long Island champions.

“When we were down by three we didn’t panic — we have plans for that, and we finished with good draw controls and were able to [retie the game],” Dolson said. “I thanked the seniors for their hard work their dedication — they will be greatly missed and we wish them good luck next year.”

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Alex Sober scored a career-high 31 points in Ward Melville’s quarterfinal loss. Photo by John Dielman

By Jim Ferchland

With their first league championship in 28 years, the Patriots’ magical season came to a close. It was a rematch for Ward Melville (17-5) against top dog Half Hollow Hills East (19-2) in the second round of the playoffs on Feb. 20. The Thunderbirds were responsible for ending the Patriots season in 2017. This year, it was the same outcome.

Senior and Quinnipiac University signee Savion Lewis racked up 40 points for Hills East. Meanwhile, senior Alex Sobel countered with a career-high 31 points for Ward Melville, but it wasn’t enough as they came up short 84-72 in the Class AA quarterfinal.

Ray Grabowski finished with 17 points in his final game with the Patriots. Photo by John Dielman

“I expected to win,” Sobel said. “I played well, but it just wasn’t enough. My career-high doesn’t even matter.”

The Patriots had difficulty taking care of the ball, turning it over 17 times, 12 of those coming in the first half.

“We knew that they would get a lot of points in transition,” Sobel said. “That’s what they did. If we didn’t turn the ball over as much, we would have won the game.”

Ward Melville head coach Alex Piccirillo, who brought his team to the postseason all three of his seasons, said it was tough to contain Lewis.

“Savion is the best player in the county,” he said. “He’s going to be voted on that. We knew he was going to get his points.”

Ward Melville Junior Ray Grabowski recorded 17 points and eight rebounds in the loss. Senior Brendan Martin finished his final game with 10 points, five assists and seven turnovers.

Junior guard Robert Soto had nine points, five rebounds and had six turnovers. Despite the loss, Grabowski said the team fought hard.

“I thought everyone played well,” Grabowski said. “I thought Sobel played a great game. It was just a very good team we were up against and there’s not much you can do.”

Ward Melville outscored Hills East in the fourth quarter, 25-22.

“It’s a playoff game in a great playoff atmosphere,” Piccirillo said. “We knew that it was going to be tough. It was either going to take a stop or a big shot to be made for it to swing our way and we just couldn’t get enough momentum to keep it in our direction.”

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Chris Crespo moves the ball along the sideline. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Yes, you can call it a comeback.

Everything the Smithtown West boys’ basketball team had worked for led to this moment. The Bulls were faced with adversity for what seemed to be the first time all season, but they wanted to be one of just two teams to make it back to the Final 4 for a second consecutive year. Up against another league leader Feb. 21, head coach Mike Agostino said he might not have had the right game plan.

Gerg Giordano muscles his way to the basket. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“They were really well-coached, well-prepared,” he said of No. 5-seeded and League IV leader Deer Park. “We might not have had it right, but we found a way to survive.”

No. 4 Smithtown West fell behind, and fast, losing the lead at the two-minute mark of the first quarter, and didn’t’ regain it until the fourth. In the end, junior Chris Crespo’s eight fourth-quarter points, junior Michael Gannon’s six and senior Greg Giordano’s five gave the Bulls its 50-47 come-from-behind win.

“Inside their heart and what they’re made of, it’s bigger than coaching,” Agostino said. “These kids have character, and they’re not afraid of the big moment. They’re going to go out and challenge anyone and every time they play it’s a full effort.”

On paper, it may look like Smithtown West had an easy road, going undefeated in League III and coming into the Class AA quarterfinals with a 20-1 record.

Giordano and senior Nick Ferolito gave the team a 4-0 lead after both teams went scoreless for most of the first three minutes. At the six-minute mark, a Deer Park field goal and 3-pointer put the team out front 9-5.

By halftime, the Bulls’ four-point deficit grew to six, 23-17, but the team was in as deep as an eight-point hole when a technical following a field goal gave Deer Park three more chances to grab points. The team hit two of three free throws for a 15-7 advantage with 7:20 left in the second.

Kyle LaGuardia leaps to the rim. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“We were down the whole game, we were fighting back the whole time, but we all had each other’s backs,” said Giordano, who scored a game-high 22 points. “Coach kept telling us to stick to our game plan, eventually our shots were going to fall, and they did. We played good defense and that kept us in the game.”

Smithtown West chipped away at the lead with four different players lighting up the scoreboard, but Deer Park continued to have an answer. With 1:39 left in the third, another 3-pointer put Deer Park ahead 30-23, but a Giordano 3-pointer, Kyle LaGuardia layup and a floater by Giordano closed the gap, 32-30, at the end of the eight minutes.

Crespo opened the fourth quarter with a game-tying bucket, and the crowd erupted.

“It feels great not just for the team, but the community, too,” he said. “A lot of them are backing us here.”

The game would then be decided largely at the free-throw line.

Gannon made two at the 5:56 mark to give his team its first lead since the game’s opening minutes. Deer Park quickly tied the game, but Crespo came through again. He scored eight of his 11 points in the final stanza and also finished with seven assists.

“It was a hard-fought battle,” Crespo said. “Despite being down we always feel confident. We don’t feel rushed. We’re not frustrated or out of our element. We know that if we play within ourselves we know we’ll get good results.”

ichael Gannon prepares to make a pass. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Giordano added two free throws for a four-point lead with 35.9 seconds, 46-42, and Deer Park called timeout after timeout to try to find plays to score. All the team could muster was one free throw, and the Bulls were back to the line to add to its lead. Again, Gannon sank both of his opportunities with 12.5 seconds left in regulation to give the Bulls more breathing room.

“I’ve taken 1,000 free throws in my life, so hitting a few, I felt confident about knocking them down,” he said. He scored all six of his points in the third quarter, all from the charity stripe. He closed out the game making two more with 4.8 seconds on the clock.

“When you sit down in the beginning of the season, you know Stony Brook is at the end of a long road,” Agostino said. “Now, to finally get there, it’s really exciting.”

The Bulls will take on the No. 1 seed in the semifinals for the second straight year. They’ll face Bay Shore at Stony Brook University Feb. 25 at 2:30 p.m.

Giordano said for now he’s soaking in the moment. He said the team is excited to get back to where they lost last year.

“It was surreal — this is the last game on my Smithtown West home court and it was amazing to see all the guys come together and be able to make some big plays at the end to come out with the win,” he said. “It shows with the group of guys we have — we’re all so tight, so close, we all work in practice each day — how much we can pick each other up in times like these.”