Tags Posts tagged with "Smithtown West"

Smithtown West

Smithtown East's Stella Mazzitelli celebrates her game-winning overtime goal. Photo by Desirée Keegan

A scoring drought dating back to the last game of last season — 400 minutes of game time — hung over Smithtown East’s girls soccer team, so when sophomore striker Stella Mazzitelli got the ball on a breakaway with the score tied 0-0 in overtime, she admitted she was worried.

“I was nervous,” she said. “But we were hyped up. We really wanted this win and it felt really good to finally score our first goal of the season.”

Following Mazzitelli’s goal with 8:09 left in the first 10-minute overtime session, sophomore forward Ava Bongiorno headed in a corner kick at the 1:58 mark for a 2-0 lead, and ultimately, a Bulls win over Centereach Sept. 11.

Smithtown East’s Alexis Desmond races ahead of Centereach’s Sophia Catapano for the ball. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“We haven’t really connected as a team, but today I feel like we all worked together — it felt like we were whole,” senior center defender and striker Danielle Bartsch said. “And I feel it’s only uphill from here.”

The beginning of the game produced a familiar result for Smithtown East. Centereach dominated the time of possession in the opening half, but was unable to put away its chances. In the second half, Centereach freshman Nicole Fabris continued to fire away, but her shots went wide. Her last shot, with 25 seconds left in regulation, rebounded off the crossbar and out of play.

“Centereach is always a good team,” Smithtown East head coach Bill Hamilton said. “They play hard. I call them a hard-luck team, because they’re better than their record usually shows. This was an important game for us to get back on track, so it’s I’m excited.”

The game served as a boost for the Bulls’ confidence, which had wavered due to losses to top League III teams Newfield and crosstown rival Smithtown West.

“I needed this to be our breakout day so they know they can play,” Hamilton said. “Losing to them wasn’t catastrophic, but we need to do a better job the next time we play them. The girls were questioning themselves, wondering why they can’t score, but they can, they just need to keep trying.”

The Bulls came out pressuring in the second half. With the game still scoreless, they knew there was still a chance.

“We passed a lot, which we were struggling to do well in the first half, and we communicated,” Mazzitelli said. “We put a lot of hard work into it and deserved to win.”

Centereach’s Lindsay Scally battles Smithtown East’s Lauren Roback for possession of the ball. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Between the 27- and 16-minute marks, Smithtown East made six breaks through the box in an effort to score. Hamilton attributed the chances to a change in formation following a 3-0 loss to Smithtown West Sept. 8.

“We were running a totally different field position,” he said. “They’re learning it, and I feel it gives us more offensive opportunities. We started to connect the passes we were just missing.”

His two sophomores were just what the team needed to ignite the spark, and Hamilton said he believes more goals are on the way Sept. 13 against Copiague. While Bongiorno was on the team as a freshman, Mazzitelli was a transfer student last year, and found herself on the junior varsity team.

“Before today we were playing with one person up top and five people at midfield, and we just never got the numbers forward that we needed to make a better offensive push, but when we practice they can kick a house down,” Hamilton said. “They’re up there for a reason, and we did a nice job on the pass that went to Stella to spring her for her first goal. She did a nice job of not kicking it to the goalie — finding a corner to put it in. She’s tough. It’s a case of them having to do it enough times to realize they can do this.”

Bartsch said the energy remained high and the team’s mindset remained positive heading into overtime, something she enjoyed seeing from her fellow Bulls.

“From the beginning of the game we all had good spirits, we had good vibes going, we were all positively cheering everyone on, working together and we got good results from it,” she said. “We have to work on sequences up the field and finishing, but we got two goals today, and I see more coming in the future.”

By Bill Landon

Smithtown West had a score to settle, as the girls volleyball team opened the season on the road at Newfield, the team that knocked them out of the postseason last year. For the Bulls, redemption was sweet as the girls swept the Wolverines in three straight sets Sept. 5, 25-10, 25-22, 25-23.

“We know they’re a tough team, they’re scrappy defensively and they’re not going to give up,” said Smithtown West head coach Deron Brown. “We came out really strong in the first set — we put a big number on the board to start.”

“I was happy with how we picked ourselves up in the second game. We got aggressive and had good communication out on the court.”

— Christy Innes

Anchoring the outside hitting game for Smithtown West were senior Peri Allen from the right side and freshman Sally Tietjen from the left.

“Last year — they crushed us in three,” said Allen, who notched 16 digs and eight kills. “So to win today in three proved that we [are capable] of beating them, so it was a big win for us.”

For Tietjen, the scoring was almost reversed, recording 15 kills and eight digs for the formidable scoring duo up front.

The Bulls barreled through the Newfield  in the first set, and despite being ahead 13-6 in the second set, Newfield slowly chipped away at the deficit. As the momentum shifted the Wolverines’ way, with the help of some Smithtown West miscues, Newfield rallied to close the gap to 22-19, forcing Smithtown West to call timeout. Out of the break, the Wolverines scored two unanswered points to trail by one before the Bulls closed the door, 25-22.

Newfield head coach Christy Innes said she anticipated a tough match and said her team had to shake off the first set and focus on playing mistake free the rest of the way.

“[Smithtown West] did very well today — they played a very aggressive game, but we expected that,” the coach said. “I was happy with how we picked ourselves up in the second game. We got aggressive and had good communication out on the court.”

“In that third set I just wanted to make sure we kept pushing through. We fell behind a little bit and this happened to us last year, so we had to really fight through that game, and we pushed hard.

Sally Tietjen

The Wolverines once again got off to a slow start to open the third set, falling behind 5-0 before they could answer. Madison Wenzel set to her outside hitters — senior Naomi Ruffalo-Roman and junior Olivia Bond — as the three battled at the net to claw their way back, tying the set 14-14. It was a see-saw battle the rest of the way with Newfield taking its first lead of the day, edging ahead 15-14, but the Bulls rallied back too, to make it a new game at 18-18.

“In that third set I just wanted to make sure we kept pushing through,” Tietjen said. “We fell behind a little bit and this happened to us last year, so we had to really fight through that game, and we pushed hard. We were so determined to beat them after last year, so we didn’t let up.”

The Wolverines scored, but the Bulls answered. An out-of-bounds serve gave the lead back to Newfield for 20-19 advantage, and both teams traded points before Smithtown West scored the final two to win.

Newfield is back on the court Sept. 7 when the team travels to Riverhead for a 4 p.m. match.

“They pulled together,” Innes said. “They got aggressive, had good communication and they played well in the last two games. We’ll be back at practice tomorrow and work on the individual skills stuff for each girl and we’ll focus on cleaning up the technique.”

Smithtown West will host crosstown foe Smithtown East Sept. 7 at 5:45 p.m.

“Our lineup is not really set yet — we’re still trying different kids in different spots — but everybody responded well,” Brown said. “They went out on the court with energy and they stayed positive, even when the match got tight.”

H.E.L.P. International student-athletes boast new uniforms donated from Smithtown school district. Photo from Kimberly Williams

By Desirée Keegan

Athletes in the Smithtown school district have something in common with students in Uganda thanks to the efforts of several educators from across Long Island.

Carisa Eye, a Smithtown High School East varsity field hockey assistant coach and Nesaquake Middle School lacrosse head coach, is the latest educator to get inspired to give uniforms to the H.E.L.P. International school in Masese, Uganda.

Smithtown physical education teacher Carisa Eye helped send over the most recent batch of uniforms to Uganda. Photo from Kimberly Williams

“The things we take for granted over here like uniforms, that are so easily available to us in our school district, are things that kids don’t get in other parts of the world,” Eye said. “The little things go a long way. It makes you feel good to see these kids in our jerseys, and it shows it doesn’t take much to make someone’s day. I want my athletes to understand that.”

Eye originally asked Smithtown administration to coordinate a donation to send to Ghana, after a friend and former Smithtown student, who teaches in the William Floyd school district, asked for help through Facebook. Eye was able to collect a boxful of uniforms with the help of Smithtown athletic director Pat Smith, but her friend could only take some of what she was given. She came across another Facebook post, a press release regarding Smithtown West marine science teacher Kimberly Williams and the work she’d done with her sister-in-law Carolyn Ferguson, and Eye asked Smith to connect her to Williams.

“We do have a bunch of older uniforms we don’t use, and this is a great way of putting them to use for a good cause,” Smith said. “It’s really nice to see some of our teachers wanting to get on board and we hope the kids, who know what we’re doing, can appreciate what we have here.”

The athletic director hopes the district can continue its involvement with H.E.L.P.

“Seeing the photos they look like a team — they were arm-in-arm and you can tell it made such a difference,” he said. “It’s a great thing for us to be involved in. If we can continue to do this for underprivileged kids, we will, and I hope we can.”

While the idea originated with Ferguson’s former Rockville Centre assistant superintendent Delia Garrity, who helped form the school in Uganda with her husband Peter in 2010, she said she was thrilled to hear of the spread of generosity.

Some of the Smithtown uniform donations from physical education teacher Carisa Eye went to students in Ghana. Photo from Carisa Eye

“It’s all word of mouth, which is amazing,” said Ferguson, a Rockville Centre physical education teacher. “The reach has been incredible.”

Garrity, who just returned from one of her trips to Uganda, said her student-athletes’ transformation has been palpable since being outfitted in the gear.

“When we began our athletic program, our children wore whatever clothing they had — which was not much,” she said. “They played with bare feet and kicked a dilapidated soccer ball. A soccer ball was used for volleyball with players hitting the ball over an imaginary net. When we received donations of athletic supplies and uniforms from Rockville Centre and Smithtown schools, among others, our kids were over the top with joy.”

She described some of the changes she’d seen in the young athletes since they were given the uniforms.

“They have more confidence, more belief in themselves as a team, more motivation to practice and a stronger work ethic,” she said. “Our teams win most local tournaments in soccer, volleyball, netball and track and field. Other schools do not want to play against H.E.L.P. Primary in the opening rounds of any tournament because it’s become a powerhouse.”

H.E.L.P. International school’s soccer team in Uganda received the first Smithtown uniform donation in 2015. Photo above from Delia Garrity

The idea of Smithtown contributing to the cause began when Ferguson was talking with Williams during a Christmas dinner. Also in charge of equipment and uniforms in her district, Ferguson detailed how she’d helped Garrity collect jerseys since 2013. Moved by her sister-in-law’s involvement, Williams asked for a donation from Smith, and the first batch was sent over from Smithtown in 2015.

“I think if someone is getting rid of something it should go somewhere before the garbage,” Williams said. “When resources are so limited, there’s always someone who needs it, and I work hard to make sure my kids understand that. Whether it’s uniforms or composition notebooks.”

Ferguson said the jerseys mean more to the children in Uganda than just the ability to play sports.

“Wearing the same uniform gives them pride and it encourages them to keep going,” she said. “That sense of community that perhaps they don’t normally have.”

Eye said the program also gives her pride in where she grew up and now works.

H.E.L.P. International student-athletes boast new uniforms donated from Smithtown school district. Photo from Kimberly Williams

“I love my teams and I love my town,” she said. “Smithtown has always been supportive, especially of athletics, so it didn’t surprise me when I sent an email and they got back to me right away. They’re always willing to help.”

She said she was moved seeing photos of the smiling faces of Ugandan children donning the red and blue.

“It makes me cry,” Eye said. “They wash their uniforms and lay them out to dry on rocks like prized possessions. I’m going to try to keep donating every year and have my teams participate.”

Williams already handed over another box to Ferguson that has been sitting and waiting on her dining room table. Ferguson will pass the donations, which came from one of William’s former students who teaches in Maryland, over to Garrity to take on her next trip, and the cycle will continue.

“It’s connecting kids through the uniforms,” Williams said. “Smithtown is developing the whole athlete — not just their sports abilities. That makes me thrilled to be part of this.”

For more information on H.E.L.P. International or to find out how to get involved, visit help-uganda.com.

This version corrects the URL for the H.E.L.P. Primary School’s website.

by -
0 570

Smithtown East will face Ward Melville in Suffolk County championship May 31

 

Jason Lambert told his team to weather the storm.

Not only literally, as rain fell through the thick fog during Smithtown East’s Class A semifinal game May 25 against their in-district rivals, but because he knew that Smithtown West was going to push for a comeback.

East was leading West 7-2 heading into the fourth quarter, and despite West scoring three goals to cut down the margin, Connor DeSimone drained time off the clock, and held it during the final seconds to secure a 7-5 win for East.

The senior said his team knew it had to adopt a different strategy to seal the deal.

“That was definitely the game plan coming in — we were going to hold the ball,” he said. “We knew that if the ball was in our stick, we couldn’t lose. So we didn’t mind holding the ball during five or six minutes of good possession at a time without scoring.”

Lambert said the other main objective was to value the ball, and he liked that his team accomplished that goal — using it to capitalize on early scoring chances.

DeSimone and senior Luke Eschabach went back-to-back with unassisted goals, and then assisted on each other’s shots in East’s 4-1 first quarter.

“We’ve been playing together since we were 5 years old and we always find each other through the field,” Eschbach said. “He knows where I am, I know where he is without even looking, and he always finds the void.”

DeSimone said he knows his longtime teammate’s skills and wants to find him when he can.

“He’s an awesome shooter, a great player, and I know when I find him on the through ball, he’s going to put it in the back of the net like we’ve been doing all year,” he said.

DeSimone said the team was concerned about West’s faceoff man Conor Calderone and goalkeeper Ryan Erler.

“We weren’t letting [Ryan] Erler make the saves, who played great today,” he said, although Erler still made 12 stops, including back to back saves in the game’s final seconds. “I knew possession was crucial. They out-possessed us by two times the amount we had the ball, so knowing that we knew we had to value the ball, we had to take the best shot, not the first shot.”

Both teams went scoreless over a 20-minute span, before DeSimone found senior Dominic Pizzulli.

“We weren’t nervous at all,” DeSimone said of the drought. “It’s one play at a time. We’re not looking for home runs — there’s no superheroes on the team — if we all look out for each other and play team ball it’s going to be hard to beat us.”

Danny Riley scored twice for West, sandwiched around a goal by Jimmy Caddigan, to make it 7-5 with 7:23 left.

“We just had to make sure to manage their comeback and not give them all the momentum,” Lambert said.

West’s Brian Herber won the ensuing faceoff, and East went back to draining the clock.

“Sometimes we have letdowns, but this team knows we have ups and downs, and every single person on this team never gives up on each other,” Eschbach said. “We always stay positive, so when we lose a couple of ground balls, get a flag here and there to go a man down, we always come back and pull through.”

DeSimone said he was most excited to avenge last season’s semifinal loss to Connetquot, and is just happy to have another day of practice. Eschbach said he’d love nothing more than another county championship win over Ward Melville, like the Bulls had two years ago.

“I wanted to get here so bad my senior year,” he said. “We need to possess the ball — not throw it away — and play strong defense. If our defense plays the way it did today, I think we’ll have a very strong shot at taking that game.”

Smithtown East will face Ward Melville May 31 at Stony Brook University at 3 p.m. The winner will move on to the Long Island championship game at Stony Brook University June 3 at 10 a.m.

by -
0 616

The East Bulls will battle crosstown foe Smithtown West in semis May 25

By Bill Landon

Being down early doesn’t faze the Smithtown East boys’ lacrosse team. And despite the 4-0 lead visiting Connetquot had in the opening round of the Class AA playoffs May 19, the Bulls bounced back for a 12-10 victory to advance to the semifinals.

Connor Desimone rockets a shot into Connetquot’s goal. Photo by Bill Landon

“That’s kind of been our M.O. this year — we’ve allowed our opponent to jump up on us early in games and these guys have done a good job all year staying together, [being] positive and chipping away at it,” Smithtown East head coach Jason Lambert said. “When we got down 4-0, I said, ‘hey guys, we’ve been here before, we’ve done this before — we’ll come back.’ And with our seniors and the leadership we have here, there’s never panic with this group.”

Smithtown East didn’t find the cage until two minutes into the second quarter, when senior midfielder and co-captain Luke Eschbach slammed home a solo shot. Senior Michael Latini attacked next, with 5:05 left in the first half, to cut the lead in half. Senior faceoff specialist Brian Herber won the ensuing battle at the ‘X,’ and dished the ball to classmate and co-captain Connor Desimone who buried his shot 20 seconds later to pull within one, 4-3.

At the 3:15 mark of the second quarter the Thunderbirds struck again, but so did a lightning bolt, which suspended the game for 30 minutes. Connetquot picked up where it left off when play resumed, to double Smithtown East’s score, 6-3.

“That half hour stop was almost a blessing in disguise,” Lambert said. “It allowed us to gather ourselves, talk to the kids and tell them exactly what we were seeing, and hear what they were seeing.”

Desimone passed to Latini, who on the cut shot the ball behind his back, catching the keeper off guard to make it a 6-4 game.

Brian Herber wins a faceoff and fires at the net. Photo by Bill Landon

“I’ve done it in practice and I’ve never tried it in a game,” Latini said. “But I always wanted to try it, and today, it went in.”

After another Herber faceoff win, Latini scooped up the flick, and senior Dominic Pizzulli drilled his shot into the netting as the Bulls trailed 6-5. The four-goal deficit early in the game had little effect on Herber or the rest of his team.

“I was a little nervous,” Herber said. “But I know this team and knew we would definitely come back — we always do.”

With 26 seconds left before the break, Desimone leaped from behind the cage dove in front to bury his shot and make it a new game.

Smithtown East goalkeeper Thomas Harkin, who had eight saves on the day, commended his opponent for the tough battle.

“They brought a lot of ball movement, they moved well inside — they are very good at doing that, but we prepared for that,” Harkin said. “We knew we had to step it up, wake up a bit. We knew the next ground ball, the next pass, the next shot, the next anything, it’s ours.”

Two minutes into the second half, Desimone gave his teammate’s words meaning when he scored his hat trick goal to give his team its first lead, 7-6.

Thomas Harkin makes one of eight saves. Photo by Bill Landon

“Our guys have a ton of heart, starting with our goalie,” Desimone said.

Smithtown East’s lead wouldn’t last long though, as the Thunderbirds scored three unanswered goals for a 9-7 advantage with 2:30 left in the third.

Senior Bobby Burns put an end to the Connetquot rally, and Herber’s faceoff win led to the game-tying goal by senior Mike Marino. Marino tied the game again minutes later, 10-10, and the Bulls’ defense stood strong in the final eight minutes, cutting off all lanes to the cage.

“[Anthony] Voelker played great on [Connetquot junior attack George Wichelns],” Herber said. “He’s a big part of Connetquot’s team and [Brian] Cosgrove was playing great off ball, which really slowed them down.”

Desimone passed to Eschbach for the game-winning goal, and Desimone put the game away soon after.

“It all starts in our cage with our goalie Thomas Harkin — he’s been great all year, and our faceoff kid Brian Herber battling giving us chances, giving us the ball, giving us the opportunity to play offense,” Lambert said. “It was a total team effort, but those two guys, they’re the backbone of our team.”

Smithtown East will face crosstown rival Smithtown West in the semifinals May 25 at 6:30 p.m.

Shannon Brazier scores. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Undefeated Ward Melville has a target on its back, and the girls lacrosse team’s 17-4 crushing of Smithtown West May 8 only made it larger.

Hannah Lorenzen prepares to make a pass to the front of the cage. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“Everyone is out to get us,” Ward Melville head coach Kerri Kilkenny said. “I think this was probably one of our best games that we’ve played this season — connecting every pass, strong in transition, looking for each other. They were looking one step ahead. We knew where everyone was going to be and a good majority of our goals were assisted, which shows how well we’ve jelled and come together as a team.”

Senior Hannah Lorenzen scored three of the first five goals for the Patriots, who continued to win draw after draw to gain crucial time of possession against the No. 3 Bulls.

“They just passed to me and I was able to finish,” Lorenzen said. “I think the draw is a big part of it. We get possession and it leads to more opportunities to score.”

Sophomore goalkeeper Samantha Tarpey’s saves in the first half also played a large role in the team’s success.

“Making those saves keeps me going and my confidence up,” she said. “It keeps team morale high.”

As the team dominated through the final minutes of the first half, three other Patriots got on the board, and Lorenzen added her fourth goal of the game, before Smithtown West scored three straight.

Jillian Becker moves the ball through defenders. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Ward Melville sophomore Alexis Reinhardt closed out the half with the final goal to put her team up 10-3.

“We felt it was going to be a bit of a tougher matchup,” Kilkenny said. “I’m not downplaying my kids’ skills at all, because I feel when they play together they’re unstoppable. We controlled every step of this game, and I’m proud of them for that.”

With 13 players on the score sheet — Reinhardt, Shannon Berry and Shannon Brazier scoring two goals each — the chemistry between the team that put up 17 goals and 10 assists seems unmatched.

“We don’t have a few key players — our team is deep. We can all score; we can all play,” Lorenzen said. “We worked a lot on clearing and having people drive through and on our feeds off the draw. We moved the ball well in practice.”

Shannon Berry shoots. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Lorenzen is a part of six sets of sisters on the team, but to the senior, the entire team is her family.

“I think having those bonds and those connections help — we trust each other and believe in each other and the sisterly intuition is there,” she said. “But we all feel like sisters.”

Kilkenny said her team is right where it needs to be, and with its 15th straight win, she’s excited to see where the Patriots go.

“You don’t want to peak too soon, but we’re continuing that high level of play— the timing of this game is great,” she said. “We’re certainly enjoying the ride, but we keep ourselves down to Earth. They need to play each game like it could be their last.”

Lorenzen doesn’t see the season ending any time soon.

“We feel we have a little bit of an edge,” she said. “We might have a target on our back, but we can take the competition.”

by -
0 573
Greg Giordano moves the ball around a Bay Shore opponent. Photo by Desirée Keegan

By Desirée Keegan

Smithtown West will have a long offseason to swallow another early, albeit familiar playoff loss.

After finishing last season in the Suffolk County boys’ basketball Class AA semifinals, the Bulls were hoping to take it a step further.

Michael Gannon hurriedly looks to make a pass. Photo by Desirée Keegan

The team wanted a county title, but Bay Shore had other ideas in mind. Both years, as the No. 4 seed, Smithtown West found itself up against the top dog. Last year, the Bulls had trouble controlling a tough Brentwood team, losing 61-49. This time around, the team may have fallen behind early, but picked it back up to make it a close contest, falling this time in a close 66-59 battle Feb. 25 at Stony Brook University.

“We’ve been going for a long time,” Smithtown West head coach Mike Agostino said. “It’s more than just a season, it’s a 12-month commitment. Losing here, to this team, is nothing to be ashamed of. It’s just unfortunate that they were a little bit better today.”

The Bulls, who went undefeated in League III to claim their second straight conference title, fell behind 20-10 at the end of the first, despite senior Gordon Shouler swishing two 3-pointers in the opening quarter. By halftime, the deficit grew slightly, with the Marauders holding a 36-24 advantage.

Chris Crespo shoots from the free-throw line. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“They were hitting their shots and we weren’t,” junior Michael Gannon said. “They started off hitting three after three and jump shot after jump shot. And after the first quarter their shots weren’t really falling but at that point they had a good lead.”

Junior Chris Crespo took matters into his own hands to get the Bulls back in the game. He banked two shots from beyond the arc, a field goal and a free throw in the third quarter. Senior Kyle LaGuardia added two buckets to help the Bulls close the gap to 50-43 after eight minutes.

“Bay Shore was a tough team — no doubt about it,” Crespo said. “Very aggressive, and a good matchup for us I thought. What changed was we were getting stops defensively, and those stops turned to baskets, which gave us a huge momentum push.”

Senior Greg Giordano had the hot hand in the fourth, swishing two foul shots and scoring on a jumper before a field goal brought his team within four points, 55-51, its closest score since the first, and as close as the Bulls would come for the remainder of the game.

“The game was unlike any game I’ve ever played before,” Giordano said. “Especially at the end when the game was out of reach with a few seconds left, it just hit me that this is the last game I will play in a Smithtown West uniform, and that was just such an emotional feeling.”

Kyle LaGuardia makes a leaping cross-court pass catch. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Although the senior standout will be moving on after this year, he said he’s honored to be a part of some big Bulls moments.

“I have grown up right next to Smithtown West, and when I was in elementary school, I went to all the booster camps, would see the older guys and hoped that one day I could be like them,” he said. “It has been a dream come true to not only play for Smithtown West, but to be able to cement our team’s legacy with two numbers on the banner. I wouldn’t trade my playing experience for anything.”

Despite graduating nine major contributors, Smithtown West’s two scoring leaders in the loss, Crespo and Gannon, will return next season. Crespo finished with a team-high 18 points with four 3-pointers, and Gannon was close behind with 15.

“It was a testament to these guys, because we pulled within four at one point, and they kept battling — I’m proud of them,” Agostino said. “This wasn’t our goal, but I’m not disappointed in them at all. We wanted better results, but it wasn’t because of a lack of effort. They’re gladiators, and they fought tooth and nail to their last breath.”

by -
0 714
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.”

The 4x400-relay team of Mark Rafuse, Lawrence Leake, Kyree Johnson and Anthony Joseph (on far right) took gold at the Suffolk County state qualifier meet (Jonathan Smith and Brian Pierre have also competed on the relay team). Photo from Huntington school district

When Huntington head coach Ron Wilson and his winter boys’ track and field team stepped into the Suffolk County state qualifier meet at Suffolk County Community College in Brentwood, they had one thing on their mind: redemption.

Kyree Johnson crosses the finish line in the 4×400-meter relay. Photo from Huntington school district

And that’s exactly what they felt when they went home.

In the last couple weeks, the Blue Devils had experienced their fair share of shortcomings, notably during its Armory Track Invitational Feb. 3, when senior Shane McGuire, a leg of the team’s 4×400-meter relay, tore his hamstring. The next day, at the large school county championship, the Blue Devils’ top sprinter Kyree Johnson felt a tweak in his own hamstring before competing in the long jump and, at the request of Wilson, sat out of competing altogether.

The team ended up losing the county championship 52-51. Had Johnson jumped that day, they would’ve won, the coach said, but it wasn’t worth the risk.

It was that tight loss that hurt them most, dropping from first to fourth in local published polls — only fueling the fire that would light up the track in Brentwood Feb. 13.

“Before we started, I said to the boys, ‘alright fellas, everyone thinks we’re not as good as we used to be, but we need to go out here and prove them wrong,’” Wilson said. “At the meet, we let everything take care of itself and when we finally started running, I was like ‘redemption at last.’”

That redemption came in the form of collaborative speed and agility.

Smithtown West’s Michael Grabowski with his first-place plaque. Photo by Kevin Redding

Johnson, whose week of resting paid off, placed first in both the 55-meter dash, with a personal best time of 6.41 seconds, and 300 dash, with a meet-record time of 34.8, qualifying him to compete in the state championships March 4 at Ocean Breeze Athletic Complex on Staten Island.

“After I won the 55-meter dash and saw my time of 6.41, that made me realize that I’m not hurt anymore,” Johnson said. “I just relaxed and stayed calm, and looked at it like every other meet … because if I didn’t, I’d start making myself nervous, so I just kept thinking ‘it’s just another regular meet.’”

Running the anchor leg, he also helped the Blue Devils take home gold in the 4×400 relay in a time of 3 minutes, 32.15 seconds, along with teammates Lawrence Leake, a senior, Mark Rafuse, an eighth-grader, and Anthony Joseph, a senior. The Huntington teammates will be joining Johnson at the state championship March 4.

Leake, who, according to Wilson, is one of the toughest and hardest working young men he’s ever coached, also placed first in a competition of his own. He took gold in the 600 run and broke the meet record with a time of 1:21.70. The record was previously held by Brentwood’s Greg Santiago, who finished in 1:21.99 in 2000.

Smithtown East’s Daniel Claxton leaps over the bar during a previous competiton. File photo from Daniel Claxton

“During the race, I figured everyone else was going to get out pretty hard the first two laps to make sure I wasn’t going to catch them, so I just stayed close and in striking distance until the last lap and put the pedal to the metal and let it go,” Leake said. “It feels pretty good to have a record beat all by myself.”

Smithtown West senior and state qualifier Michael Grabowski had a similar strategy on his dash to first place in the 3,200 run, which he finished in 9:29.19. Competing against  Jack Ryan of Westhampton Beach and Jonathan Lauer of Sachem North, Grabowski knew he had to play it smart by feeling the race out for the first five laps, and push it for the final sixth.

“I was comfortable with my pace and stuck with Lauer, until Ryan made a move and went past him with about 300 meters to go, and opened the race up,” he said. “As soon as Ryan went past Lauer, I followed Ryan and waited until the last lap and kicked. Once I started my kick, there was no going back and he didn’t really have a chance.”

Marius Sidlauskas of Smithtown East placed third in boys’ 1,600 with a time of 4:29.40; Daniel Claxton of Smithtown East placed first in boys’ high jump with a jump of 6 feet, 10 inches; Elijah Claiborne, Isaiah Claiborne, Tyler Dollhausen and Dan O’Connor of Northport placed first in boys’ 4×800 relay in 8:09.76; and Ryann Gaffney of Huntington placed fourth in girls’ 55 hurdles with a time of 8.75.

 

By Bill Landon

Colin Powell once said “success is the result of perfection, hard work, learning from failure, loyalty and persistence,” and the Smithtown West boys’ basketball team has used dedication and determination to attain another success this season. On Feb. 13, the Bulls outscored Centereach 59-29 on senior night in the last game of the regular season to remain perfect, at 14-0, in League III.

Smithtown West’s seniors started the game off strong, despite four not seeing much playing time this year. Will Kass started the three-point flurry with a shot that gave the Bulls an early 8-0 lead, but Centereach junior forward Chris Witherspoon drained back-to-back 3-pointers to make it a two-point game with just over two minutes left in the opening quarter. Centereach would come no closer.

Even with a different starting five, the Bulls found their rhythm early. Juniors Chris Crespo and Michael Gannon, and senior Gordon Shouler added shots from beyond the arc to help Smithtown West take a 34-13 advantage into halftime. In total, Smithtown West had eight 3-pointers from six different players.

“Our effort is what won this,” Crespo said. “Our seniors gave 100 percent effort and we executed all game. I’m really just in awe as to how we played together as a team tonight.”

Centereach senior Josue Chery opened the third quarter with a trey of his own, to bring the score to 34-16, but Smithtown West’s defensive pressure was more than the Cougars could handle. That pressure keyed in mainly on senior Jon Agostino, who is usually a double-digit scoring threat. Smithtown West held its coach’s nephew to just three points.

“I thought the defense was the best part of our game tonight,” Smithtown West head coach Mike Agostino said.

The Bulls continued to bank 3-pointer after 3-pointer, as senior Justin Durcan, Crespo and Gannon swished their shots to break the game open at the end of the third.

“I was just happy that all of our guys got to play,” Gannon said. “We have four seniors who don’t play as much and it was fun to watch them play well.”

Durcan finished atop the scoring sheet with 14 points. Crespo followed with 11 points, Gannon added nine and senior Chris VanderBrink tacked on seven.

“I think coming out hot and confident — even though we’re not the regular starters — that’s what made us so comfortable,” Durcan said. “It’s our preparation. We work hard every day in practice even if we don’t see much playing time, and I think we work harder in practice than any team in our league, and that helped us today.”

The loss eliminated Centereach from postseason play. The Cougars finished the season with a 9-11 overall mark and 6-8 record in league play.

The Bulls, who clinched the league title with their win over Copiague on Feb. 2, finished with the best boys’ basketball record in the county, at 19-1. Only one other team, Center Moriches, finished undefeated in conference play.

Heading into the postseason on a 15-game winning streak, Crespo said his team will maintain it’s winning attitude.

“Once we know who we’ll play,” he said, “the coaches are going to show us the personnel, what they run and what we have to do to defeat them.”

But Durcan said his team will remain composed as the No. 4 Bulls prepare to host No. 13 Lindenhurst Feb. 18 at 1 p.m.

“We’ve just got to stay poised and don’t expect to win, but the county championship is what we’re shooting for,” Durcan said. “Even though we’re up there [in the rankings], we’ve got to stay humble and hopefully our games will speak for themselves.”

Social

4,768FansLike
5Subscribers+1
968FollowersFollow
19SubscribersSubscribe