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Matt Grillo scores twice, Dylan Pallonetti and Liam Davenport add a goal and an assist each in Patriots' 19th Long Island championship title win

By Bill Landon

The competition to become Class A’s Long Island champion came down to a battle for the ground balls, and as Ward Melville’s defense scooped them up, with it, came the title.

Long-stick midfielder Ethan Larson grabbed five ground balls and long-stick midfielder Pat O’Neill had three in the Patriots’ 8-5 win against Massapequa at Hofstra University June 2. Defenseman Alex Mazzone took hold of two grounders and caused two turnovers. All were crucial given Massapequa (17-2) won 11 of 17 faceoffs.

Being up by just a single goal to start the second half isn’t something the Patriots are used to, minus their one-goal loss to Half Hollows Hills East April 18. Senior Matt Grillo (two goals) said he thought the team was on edge given the unfamiliarity with being in a tight game after halftime, but said one of O’Neill’s possessions gave Ward Melville the spark it needed to ignite a string of scores.

O’Neill grabbed a ground-ball win on the opening faceoff 11 seconds into the second half, darted in on Massapequa goalie Mike Venezia, who shined with 14 saves, made a stick fake and scored. The junior’s goal gave Ward Melville a 3-1 lead.

“That really gave us the energy [we needed], fired us up,” Grillo said.  “We were tired, and the sun was getting the best of us, but we hydrated, we stretched, we just got our legs loose and we came out hot. We just didn’t turn back from there.”

Liam Davenport beat Venezia with a bouncer off a feed from Dylan Pallonetti to give Ward Melville a 4-1 lead with 10:33 left in the third, but Venezia robbed Pallonetti and Grillo from close range that quarter and made a stunner of a save on Grillo early in the fourth to keep the game close.

Ward Melville head coach Jay Negus tipped his hat to Venezia, who held the Patriots to 8-for-40 on shooting.

Ryan Pallonetti, Dylan’s older brother, scored to bring the game to 7-4 with 7:14 left, but again Massapequa had an answer. Venezia initially made the stop on Dylan Pallonetti’s shot, but when he spun his stick to try to trigger a fast break, he inadvertently flicked the ball back into the box.

“To be quite honest we were real sloppy in the first half on both ends,” Negus said. “We were missing some ground balls on the defensive end, but in the second half we made the adjustment. They really attacked the ground balls — I thought our poles did an excellent job then keeping their heads up and working to move in transition. Even the short-stick guys did a great job at picking up the ground balls — they were running all over and on a hot day like this, you can wear another team out. We like to play fast.”

Ward Melville will face Section II’s Niskayuna at Adelphi University in the state semifinals Wednesday, June 6 at 6:30 p.m.

Mad Dogs win program’s first state semifinal game, fall in overtime in Class A state final

The Middle Country girls lacrosse team at a banquet upstate following the team's first Class A state semifinal win. Photo from Amanda Masullo

It wasn’t the ending the Middle Country girls lacrosse team had hoped for, but the Mad Dogs returned from the trip upstate with a few more firsts for the program.

The team had already nabbed the elusive Suffolk County Class A title with a 13-3 win over Northport, and another first with a Long Island championship crown following a 10-9 edging of Massapequa.

As a result, the Mad Dogs had the opportunity to take their first trip upstate. In the semifinals against North Rockland, the team continued its magical run, and the Masullo twins led the way. Amanda scored six goals and Rachel had four goals and two assists in a decisive 20-7 win at SUNY-Cortland June 9.

Amanda Masullo. File photo by Bill Landon

“Helping my team win the semifinal game, and doing it along with my twin sister was a great experience, and it made me so proud of my team,” said Rachel Masullo, who added she knew she and her twin had to step up their game in the wake of Jamie Ortega and Ava Barry being face-guarded for much of the game. “Assisting my teammates is also a great feeling though, knowing that I was a part of our push forward on the field.”

She said she enjoyed sharing the moments she and her sister had together on the field, often assisting on each other’s goals.

“It’s easy for me and Amanda to connect on the field, because we’re always together and we know what each other is going to do,” Masullo said. “Making it this far with my team was what we’ve been striving for all these years, and to make it as a senior and to have my best friends by my side made it that much better.”

Amanda Masullo also had words regarding her sister.

“She’s the one that makes me work harder, and be better,” she said. “I’m so grateful for that.”

Although Ortega, the nation’s No. 1 lacrosse prospect who is bound for the University of South Carolina and also became New York’s all-time leading scorer during the Long Island championship win, was the main focus of the North Rockland defense, she still managed to make her presence felt, netting five goals and adding three assists. But the Masullos quickly put Middle Country ahead of North Rockland (18-3).

Rachel Masullo. File photo by Bill Landon

“We always have plays to get me open,” Ortega said of being heavily guarded. “Usually I can get out of them, so I’m pretty used to it by now.”

Consecutive goals from Amanda Masullo late in the first half pushed the lead to 8-1, including a score in which she picked up a ground ball and sprinted around nearly the entire defense for a close look at the cage. Then, when North Rockland threatened by closing the deficit to four goals at 9-5, Rachel Masullo scored twice to push the lead back to six.

Those two tallies started a run in which Middle Country scored 10 of the final 12 goals. Barry scored each of her three goals in that span. Her second goal gave Middle Country a 16-6 lead with 12:44 remaining, prompting the running clock that comes with a 10-goal advantage.

“Our defense was very strong this weekend,” Rachel Masullo said. “And Jamie, Ava and Jen [Barry, Ava’s younger sister] dominated on the draw, which made it that much easier.”

Following the win, Middle Country battled Pittsford, another team that had yet to win a state title. Ortega sent a rocket shot on a player-up situation for the equalizer late in the game, and won the ensuing draw for the Mad Dogs, who held on for a final shot, but Pittsford’s Michelle Messenger saved a skip-shot with four seconds left to ensure overtime. Middle Country ended up losing, 10-9, in overtime.

“The game’s never over until the buzzer goes off,” said Ortega, who had four goals and an assist and finished her varsity career with 588 points, more than any girls lacrosse player in state history. “We know how fast we can score a goal. It could be 10 seconds.”

Jamie Ortega. Photo by Bill Landon

The run to tie wouldn’t have been possible without the help of all of the Middle Country starters. Pittsford led 5-2 before a 5-0 run spanning the end of the first half and the beginning of the second, bookended by Ortega goals that gave Middle Country a 7-5 lead. Ava Barry scored twice and assisted on both of Ortega’s goals — the second tied the game — and Sophie Alois, who scored the opening goal of the game, gave the Mad Dogs the lead for the second time, scoring the opening goal of the second half to bring the score to 6-5.

“I think it was a mood changer to score the opening goal of each half,” Alois said. “Our coach always says that energy is contagious, and today, my teammates all created an encouraging and energetic environment that everyone fed off of. I was just happy to add onto it.”

Alois said her team knew the pressure was on, and Pittsford answered with a 4-0 spurt of its own for the 9-7 lead that added extra weight back onto the Mad Dogs’ shoulders.

“We emphasized remaining calm, dodging and moving the ball quickly,” Alois said. “It’s easy to throw the ball away or rush a play when pressure is present. When I got the ball, I knew the importance of every possession. With this in mind, I made sure to fake my shot and place it to ensure a point for my team.”

Rachel Masullo fed Barry to pull within one, 9-8, and Ortega tied things up to force two three-minute overtime sessions. With the game still tied 9-9 at the end of the first three minutes, the teams switched sides, and a Pittsford (20-1) free position shot that was initially saved rolled in with 1:55 left to end the game.

Ava Barry. Photo by Bill Landon

“I think our mentality really helped spark a comeback,” Alois said. “Every timeout or stoppage of play, we all gave each other constant reminders that the game wasn’t over and that anything was possible. We kept playing until the final seconds.”

Following the final seconds, Ortega was still shaken up by the loss.

“I didn’t want my last game ever to represent Middle Country to end like that,” she said. “I just knew my team needed me and I needed to be there for them. Now that it’s over, it feels like a piece of me is gone, but I couldn’t be happier on how far we went and how hard we worked and pushed each other. These last few years have really been a journey.”

After the dust settled, Rachel Masullo said she thought some sloppy plays and minor mistakes contributed to the team’s collapse. Her sister said the team wasn’t used to battling against a tough defense, adding she was disappointed the team couldn’t pull through for who she thought really deserved it.

“No matter how much we were down, or how much time we had left, whether it be 10 minutes or two, our coaches never let us give up,” Amanda Masullo said. “The whole team not only wanted to win for each other, but for them, because they really deserve it. I’m just upset that we couldn’t pull through for them.”

Sophie Alois carries the ball to the crease. Photo by Bill Landon

Rachel Masullo said she thought the motivation and determination the team showed in battling back is what Middle Country athletics is all about, and she’s proud of how she’ll be leaving the program.

“This program has made me into not only a better lacrosse player, but a better person all around,” she said. “I won’t ever forget what this team has taught me these past five years, and I definitely made memories that will last a lifetime.”

Amanda Masullo said teams better continue to watch out for Middle Country.

“I’ve seen us go from the team who everyone knew they could beat, the team that would go crazy when we finally won a game, to the team who no other team wanted to play because they were afraid,” she said. “That’s something that amazes me, and thinking about it, it makes me realize that me and the other seniors have something to do with that. I’m grateful to have been able to play alongside these other amazing girls, and I will never forget how far we’ve come, and the history we made along the way.”

Middle Country’s Rachel Masullo hoists up her team’s new hardware after Middle Country outscored Northport 13-3 ofr the program’s first Suffolk County championship. Photo by Desirée Keegan

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Patriots power through Massapequa for second straight Long Island title

Call him Perry the protector.

In the final three minutes of the third quarter, with Ward Melville’s boys’ lacrosse team up 5-4 over Nassau County champion Massapequa, Perry Cassidy made three saves, and opened the fourth quarter with another, before his team scored three goals in three minutes en route to an 8-5 Class A Long Island championship victory. The Long Island championship win for Ward Melville was its second straight and 18th in program history.

“I was trying to do anything to keep our team in it,” said Cassidy of his back-to-back-to-back saves on the left corner to end the third. He made 10 stops in the win. “I didn’t want to go home not being able to play with my brothers again.”

At the 6:14 mark of the stanza, senior Andrew Lockhart put the Patriots ahead for the first time, 5-4, when he cut to the crease and received a backdoor pass from sophomore Dylan Pallonetti.

“We talked about it,” Pallonetti said of connecting with Lockhart. “We said we were going to watch each other on the crease, and back-doored them two times, and got them.”

Pallonetti also assisted on Lockhart’s game-tying behind-the-back goal at the 6:38 mark of the second quarter, to knot things up 3-3.

“I love playing with Dylan, he’s a great player and we have great chemistry,” Lockhart said. “He did all the work — gave me the ball where he knew I could shoot and score.”

Up to that point, Ward Melville had been playing catch up, with Pallonetti and senior Zach Hobbes (three goals) scoring the first two goals to tie the game at 2-2 to end the first quarter. Hobbes had another tying goal with 9:21 left in the first half, to make the score 4-all.

Ward Melville knew it was only a matter of time before a high-powered Massapequa offense would make another move. But Cassidy was up to the task.

“I always have the best shooters trying to score on me during warm-ups,” Cassidy said. “I felt good.”

He said the sideline chants and cheers motivated him to keep protecting the cage, along with the motivation to remain on the playoff ride for as long as possible. Lockhart said it was the saves that fueled a three-goal run from the 10-minute to six-minute mark of the fourth, with the game-winner coming off the first of those goals, from senior Liam Davenport with 9:41 left to play.

“Perry stood on his head like he’s been doing all season,” Lockhart said. “He kept us in the game, which got us pumped for our second-half run.”

He added that for him, being able to put on the practice pinnie on Monday was all the motivation he needed.

“All of us seniors have been talking about this moment since we were kids,” Lockhart said. “And we’re dictating the terms to our opponents.”

Ward Melville will prepare for the Class A state semifinals at the University at Albany June 7 at 4 p.m. But Cassidy said the team doesn’t need a run-through.

“We’re ready,” he said.

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The Port Jefferson girls’ basketball team following its Class C state semifinal win over South Seneca. Photo by Danielle Turner

Despite coming up just short of their ultimate goal, the 2016-17 Port Jefferson girls’ basketball season won’t soon be forgotten.

It wasn’t securing the final win that mattered. As the dust settled after Watkins Glen scored a buzzer-beating layup to edge out the Royals, 65-63, in the Class C state finals, the legacy the five senior starters will leave behind and their incredible run, will remain on everyone’s mind.

Every win since the Royals’ 46-43 nail-biter over Pierson-Bridgehampton has been historic. With that victory, Port Jefferson brought home the first Suffolk County championship crown in 90 years. The team then outscored East Rockaway, 67-49, for the Long Island title in school history. The Royals have continued to improve on a 6-9 2013-14 record over the last three seasons, but made a giant leap this year. Port Jefferson won a regional title in the school’s first appearance in the state tournament March 9 and followed it up with a state semifinal victory March 18, to reach the finals.

The Royals were coming off a high heading into the state finals matchup March 19 against Watkins Glen. Port Jefferson had crushed South Seneca 71-53, which senior standout Courtney Lewis said was a big boost of confidence for the team.

“We had never played a team outside of Suffolk before this season, and I think winning by such a large margin on Saturday made us realize we could win,” she said. “We belonged upstate.”

After scoring 31 points in the semifinal game, Lewis tallied 11 of the team’s 15 first-quarter points to help the Royals to a 15-10 lead in the finals. By halftime, the advantage diminished just slightly, to 29-24, with the 2,000-point scorer adding five more points.

“I felt great going into the game,” she said. “I really felt like I could attack their man defense and our offensive plays worked well.”

Freshman Sam Ayotte filled in for Lewis in the third when she was in foul trouble, and she and senior Corinne Scannell came up big in Lewis’ absence. Ayotte capped off a 20-4 run with a 3-pointer from the right corner, extending Port Jefferson’s lead to 53-37 entering the fourth. She scored 12 points in the game, and Scannell added 11.

“Corinne Scannell was making her layups and foul shots, and freshman Sam Ayotte stepped up her game and was driving to the basket,” senior Jackie Brown said. “It gave us the energy we needed.”

But that energy came to a sudden halt, as Watkins Glen’s 28-10 fourth quarter was the difference.

“Our defense was most intense in the third quarter, and our foul situation really hurt us in the fourth,” Lewis said.

She returned to action 50 seconds into the fourth quarter with her team leading 56-42. By the 1:24 mark, Watkins Glen had pulled within two. Watkins Glen added a free throw, but senior Jillian Colucci hit one of two free-throw attempts with 33.1 seconds left to push the lead back to two points, 63-61. With 13.7 seconds on the clock, the game was tied 63-63. Port Jefferson had the ball but couldn’t take the lead. Watkins Glen gained control and Hannah Morse hit a layup at the buzzer, ending the Royals’ 20-5 season just short of a state championship.

“I feel great knowing that even though we didn’t win, we still will go down in history at our high school,” said Lewis, who knocked down a game-high 23 points. “Basketball has been such a big part of my life for as long as I can remember, and just playing with these girls and getting this far in the playoffs is the best way I could have imagined ending my high school career.”

Lewis, who first started on the team as a seventh-grader, was part of three losing season before the Royals started experiencing success.

“Playing on the team since seventh grade has been such a positive influence in my life, and a shaping one, too,” she said. “Basketball means so much to me and playing for Port Jeff was nothing short of a perfect experience, especially my senior season.”

Brown reflected on her time with her teammates.

The Royals game plan before the start of the fourth quarter in the state finals matchup against Watkins Glen. Photo by Danielle Turner

Senior Gillian Kenah is a threat on the boards, Brown said, always below the basket to “clean up the trash,” grab rebounds and score putbacks. Brown said Scannell’s bubbly spirit and positive attitude puts a smile on everyone on the team. The All-Tournament basketball selectee and recipient of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association’s Sportsmanship Award has a strong shot from all over the court.

Colucci, an All-Long Island and All-State soccer player who was named Suffolk County Player of the Year is quick on her feet, with a determination to win that, according to Brown, gets the girls fired up.

“She’s a game changer,” Brown said.

Lewis, as one of the only starters who focuses solely on basketball, has a great sense of the game.

“She is truly an amazing basketball player,” Brown said. “From CYO to senior year, she’s a talent. I could always count on her to get things done.”

The many multisport athletes on the team  only enhanced its winning attitude, with Colucci and Scannell bringing the soccer team’s state-championship mentality to the court the last two seasons. Brown, a field hockey standout, further added to the team’s athleticism.

The Royals have not only made an impression on the district, but also left newcomers like athletic director Danielle Turner in awe.

“I have been involved with countless teams in my career as a player, coach and observer; I can’t remember a team that I am more proud of,” she said. “Right before our eyes, these girls have changed basketball in Port Jefferson. Not only from an athletic standpoint, but from a cultural perspective. Their unwavering commitment to each other, their mental toughness and their maturity were evident throughout the season, and especially throughout their playoff run. It’s something that will be talked about for years to come.”

Brown hopes making history will inspire future teams to come.

“I’ve never been part of a championship team, so I’m honored to be a part of it with this group of girls,” she said. “This has been an incredible experience and I’m so proud of what this team has done over the past five months. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I’m also excited for the younger girls. It gives them motivation to go get it next year.”

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