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Ray Grabowski

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By Bill Landon

Ward Melville boys basketball lost a heartbreaker in the final seconds of a League I matchup against Central Islip on the road Jan. 4 despite leading by nine points earlier in the game. The Musketeers battled their way back to tie the game at 66 when Central Islip junior guard Ty-Shon Pannell drained a 3-pointer from well beyond the arc with 2.1 seconds left in regulation.

The Patriots in-bounded the ball and took the Hail Mary shot without success, dropping the league game, 69-66.

Robert Soto led the way for the Patriots with three field goals, a trey and nine free throws for 18 points. Ray Grabowski followed with two triples, two field goals and four points from the charity stripe netting 14 points.

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By Bill Landon

The Patriots drew with eight points late in the game but dropped their season opener 61-50 against visiting Bay Shore Nov. 30.

Robert Soto led his team in scoring netting 15 points along with a pair of treys. Ray Grabowski followed with 12 points, and Chris Foglia banked seven.

Ward Melville will be back in action Dec. 3 where they’ll host Centereach in another nonleague contest in a Coaches vs. Cancer matchup at home. Tip-off is scheduled for 4:15 pm.

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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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Robert Soto leaps up to the basket between two defenders. Photo by Jim Ferchland

By Jim Ferchland

Junior Ray Grabowski was attacking the basket at will, leading the charge for Ward Melville with 24 points.

Ray Grabowski reaches for the rim. Photo by Jim Ferchland

His counterparts Brendan Martin and Robert Soto each contributed 13 points in a comfortable 67-46 road win over Sachem North Feb. 6. The Patriots advance to 10-3 in League I while Sachem North falls to the very bottom of League I at 1-12. Ward Melville and Longwood sit in the No. 2 spot, one win behind Brentwood (11-2) in first place.

“League I is an absolute jungle,” Ward Melville head coach Alex Piccirillo said. “Any time you can go on the road and win, it’s amazing. We work hard. We planned for this. That’s what we do.”

Grabowski said he felt pretty good with his offensive game. He made three 3-pointers and six field goals. He also made seven trips to the foul line.

“I was hitting shots when I was open,” Grabowski said. “I realized right away that I was bigger than every single one of those kids and took them to the hoop every single time.”

At the end of the first half, Ward Melville was up 24-18. The Patriots poured it in from outside the perimeter in the second half, knocking down seven 3-pointers. They outscored the Flaming arrows 43-28 in the final 16 minutes.

“We were able to push the ball more and gets the shots that we wanted,” Piccirillo said, noting his team eventually found the pace of play it’s accustomed to. “We did a much better job in the second half.”

Brendan Martin calls a play as he moves the ball into Sachem North territory. Photo by Jim Ferchland

Without 6-foot, 9-inch leading scorer Alex Sobel, out with an ankle injury since Jan. 26, the team hasn’t seemed to miss a beat, going 2-1 in the last three games.

“We just play the same way,” Piccirillo said. “It’s a team game. We continue to do what we do. We’re going to rebound, defend, box out and we’re going be physical.”

Ward Melville’s point guard Martin only scored two points in the first half, but found his sweet spot in the second, also knocking down three triples.

“My teammates and my coaches told me to keep on shooting it,” Martin said. “I came out and made three in a row, so it felt pretty good.”

Even with the team in good standing without Sobel, Martin said he hopes to be competing alongside his comrade again this season.

“Sobel is a Top 5 player in the county,” he said. “We miss him a lot, and hopefully we’ll have him back before the playoffs.”

Sachem North junior Bradley Anacreon lead the Flaming arrows with 15 points. He was the only player in double figures.

Ward Melville is scheduled to play at home against Sachem East Feb. 9 at 6:15 p.m.

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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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