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Landslide victories help Eagles to seventh straight league crown

Rocky Point's Corey Connolly takes down his Amityville opponent. Photo by Jim Ferchland

By Jim Ferchland

These Eagles are flying high.

Like the opportunistic foragers they represent, Rocky Point’s wrestlers saw how close they were to another undefeated league season, and grabbed it by easily outscoring Amityville and Westhampton Beach to finish the season 6-0.

Rocky Point’s Ryan Callahan claims a victory. Photo by Jim Ferchland

“Our team has been grinding throughout the year,” senior captain Ryan Callahan said. “We’ve had a lot of tough matches; we’ve had some tough teams we’ve battled, but every team will get their bumps and bruises.”

Amityville had to bow out of six matches — weight classes 99 to 132 — giving Rocky Point a 36-point lead right out of the gate on the way to a 74-9 victory Jan. 10. Sal Aprile pinned Amityville’s Nestor Rivera in the 182-pound weight class to give Rocky Point 67 consecutive points.

“It’s a rarity, but not so much with Amityville,” Rocky Point head coach Darren Goldstein said of the multiple forfeits.

Callahan (22-4 at 138 pounds) and Don Hammarth (16-1 at 145 pounds) won by technical falls, outscoring their opponents by 15 points for automatic wins.

Callahan said Goldstein has taught him everything he knows about wrestling.

“I’ve been around him since I was 5 years old,” Callahan said. “He taught me everything about the sport; everything about competing. He taught me great sportsmanship and to enjoy sports.”

Rob Pliska gave the Eagles four points with a major decision over Amityville’s Angel Zavala, 8-0, at 152 pounds, and Corey Connolly won 5-0 at 160 pounds.

Rocky Point’s Don Hammarth controls his Amityville challenger. Photo by Jim Ferchland

The Eagles only continued their winning ways at Westhampton Jan. 11 with another dominant win.

Mickey Gold, Justin Amendola, Anthony Sciotto and Darren Ketcham each pinned their challengers, which alone would have handed Rocky Point sole possession of the League VI title. Rocky Point won the dual meet 67-12.

Callahan and Connolly teched their opponents, and Hammarth pulled out an 11-3 major decision.

“We’ve had a share of the league title for the last seven years straight,” Goldstein said. “We are proud, but we set big goals in the beginning. We work year round.”

Rocky Point finishes the regular season 11-1 overall, with the sole loss being to League V’s Eastport-South Manor the first meet of the season. Goldstein is proud to see how his grapplers bounced back, giving it their all at each meet after. He’s looking forward to seeing what his Eagles can do in the Suffolk County brackets.

“We didn’t wrestle our best to Eastport-South Manor, but we’ve been rolling ever since,” Goldstein said. “When the county dual comes, you can’t run away.”

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By Bill Landon

Miller Place’s football team may have fallen just short of a Long Island championship title, but the Panthers have a lot to be proud of.

Despite losing the heart and soul of its running game at the start of the season, the team propelled itself in a positive trajectory for senior Tyler Ammirato. The Panthers finished second in the Division IV standings at 7-1 behind undefeated Babylon.

Miller Place’s football program shook off the semifinal round jinx by shutting out Shoreham-Wading River to advance to the Suffolk County championship game. It was the second time the Panthers beat Shoreham this season in pursuit of the program’s first county title, which was won with a 33-25 besting of Babylon Nov. 16.

“This team had its backs against the wall from the beginning … but we just kept plugging along,” Miller Place head coach Greg Murphy said. “To get to this point, it’s a true measure of their character.”

Taking care of the running duties all season long was senior quarterback Anthony Seymour, who struck first for the Panthers in a 29-27 loss to Seaford in the Long Island finals Nov. 24 on a keeper up the middle for a 4-yard touchdown with a chance to tie the game. With the point-after kick attempt hitting off the left goalpost, the team was down by one to start scoring for the first, 7-6.

Defense had been the Panthers’ strength this year, and the group came up big with an interception in the end zone by Sebastian Cannon, but Seaford returned the favor on Miller Place’s first play from scrimmage.

Ammirato, who returned to the team midseason, scored the next points by punching into the end zone in the second quarter, and caught a pass for a 2-point conversion to end scoring for the third, which closed the gap to leave the Panthers trailing by two, 22-20 after a Seymour-to-Tom Nealis touchdown pass.

Senior wide receiver Anthony Filippetti pulled down a 22-yard strike from Seymour and went the distance in response to another Seaford touchdown, and kicker Cameron Hammer split the uprights as Miller Place remained trailing by two with 8:50 left to play. The Panthers came up with another stop, but an interception with 1:46 left in regulation sealed their fate.

“These kids have gotten a taste of what it’s like to be a part of something you preach about since August — that goal was to get to the Long Island championship,” Murphy said. “They got here, they experienced all of it and hopefully that’s the motivation for the title going forward — to know that they can do it.”

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Patriots claim county crown for first time in three years

Ward Melville’s swim team may have thought it was a rebuilding year, but the Patriots proved they’re faster builders than some might have expected.

After claiming the Suffolk County crown 23 years in a row, the Patriots had placed fourth and fifth at the last two county meets. This year, Ward Melville returned to form, taking home the League II title with a perfect 6-0 record, and retrieving the county championship at Suffolk County Community College’s Brentwood campus Nov. 4 with 269 points, well ahead of Connetquot with 231 points and Northport-Commack with 225.

“I don’t think going into the season we were looking at a possible county championship to be honest,” Ward Melville head coach Chris Gordon said. “We have a very young team and we thought we were rebuilding, but these girls surprised me. We still had depth, which has always been a team strength at Ward Melville, but some of these young girls shined.”

The team’s 200-yard medley relay opened the meet and finished first in 1 minute, 47.86 seconds to beat a 2012 school record. First off the block was senior Victoria Bogdanski.

“We have a very young team and we thought we were rebuilding, but these girls surprised me.”

—Chris Gordon

“I just thought about trying my best and being there for my team,” she said. “We didn’t know we were close to the record, so once we finished the race, we were all so excited. We all had this motivation and excitement that carried through the meet.”

Riley Gavigan, Sydney Boals and Kaitlyn Ehlers finished out the relay with personal-best times. Gavigan said she too was only thinking about her team.

“I wanted to score points, so I was going as fast as I could,” she said. “I knew I wouldn’t just let down myself, I’d be letting down my whole team. We had to be in the right mindset, and we got each other pumped and ready to win.”

Gavigan qualified for three individual events, the 100 breaststroke, 100 backstroke and 200 individual medley but could only compete in two, forgoing the backstroke.

The sophomore placed second in both, finishing the individual medley in 2:08.22 and breaststroke in a school-record time of 1:04.98, just a hair off first-place finisher Margaret Purcell of Southampton, who won in 1:04.34. Gavigan said she was not expecting to break a Ward Melville record that had stood since 1990 in the individual medley, the only record Gordon had not seen broken during his tenure.

“I want to improve every year,” she said. “So heading into the meet I had tunnel vision. I was focused on myself and not everyone else around me.”

Sydney’s not the kind that backs down — she’s no wilting flower, she likes to meet the challenge and she wants to see the best swimmer. Riley is quieter, not as vocally out there, but she works hard and leads by example.”

— Chris Gordon

Boals qualified to compete in four events — the 100 and 200 freestyles, 200 individual medley and 100 breaststroke — deciding to take part in both freestyles. She placed first in the 100 in 53.13 seconds and second in the 200 in 1:54.14.

“I was shocked I won the 100 freestyle — those girls were a lot older than me,” she said. “I’m usually a mid-distance competitor, so I was excited to get that time.”

She broke a 2009 record in the 100 freestyle at the league meet and outdid her time on the county stage. She said it only motivates her to dig deeper.

“We knew we had to show we were ready and we weren’t afraid of losing,” Boals said. “Now I know I can get even faster than I am now.”

Gordon said Boals and Gavigan mean a lot to the team, and noted their impact on the other girls.

“They’re both mentally tough kids and they like to compete and they like to race,” he said. “Sydney’s not the kind that backs down — she’s no wilting flower, she likes to meet the challenge and she wants to see the best swimmer. Riley is quieter, not as vocally out there, but she works hard and leads by example. Whatever I ask her to do, there’s never a problem. It’s never an issue.”

Ward Melville’s 400 freestyle relay team, which comprised Gavigan, Boals, Ehlers and Kylie Kramer, also qualified. The quartet finished third with a time of 3:40.13. Ehlers also finished ninth in the 100 butterfly; Kramer finished sixth in the 500 freestyle; and the 200 freestyle of Kramer, Hope Farrell, Frances Clever and Sophia Swanson finished third in 1:45.02. Bogdanski reached the finish line eighth in the 100 backstroke.

“We had 15 girls make the state qualifying meet, and 23 out of the 27 spots that we competed in we had best times or best dive scores.”

— Chris Gordon

“We had 15 girls make the state qualifying meet, and 23 out of the 27 spots that we competed in we had best times or best dive scores,” Gordon said. “At this point in the season, for them to be swimming as fast as they are and as young as they are, it’s exciting. We will be graduating 10 or 12 seniors, but right now we’re gathering steam and all of the sudden everyone is dropping time and everyone is doing really well.”

The season started off with a bump in the road for the Patriots. Ward Melville lost its opening nonleague meet to a tough Connetquot team, now the county runner-up for the last three seasons, but bounced back to top rival Half Hollow Hills, the defending county champion from last year.

“We worked our hearts out and tried to do our best,” Boals said. “We wanted the seniors to leave with a county championship. We wanted them to have fun and coach to be proud and once we beat Half Hollow Hills and we won the league, we knew we had counties in the bag.”

Gavigan said the momentum will propel the team toward success this weekend in the state finals Nov. 17 and 18 at Ithaca College.

“We were the No. 3 seed heading into counties, so it was good to win and show the other teams that we’re right there with them,” she said. “We’re in the right mindset to place well at states.”

If the county meet was any indication, Gordon said, the girls are peaking at the right time.

“They work very hard, they get along very well in and out of the pool and they’re just a great bunch of girls,” he said. “Some of their siblings have been past members of the team, so there’s some legacy there and they take this seriously. They’re very dedicated, which I appreciate. I’m hoping everyone has a little more left in the tank to go a little faster this weekend.”

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Rocky Point's field hockey team celebrates its first Suffolk County championship title since 2014. After losing to Miller Place in the county finals the last two years, Rocky Point shut out the Panthers 4-0 Oct. 28. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Rocky Point head coach Katie Bittner felt different about this county playoff game.

For the first time after her pregame ritual, which involves showing a picture slideshow to her field hockey team, she wasn’t crying.

Bella Fusco passes the ball up the field. Photo by Bill Landon

“I always tell them I get very nervous before games, and I always get very scared before a county game because it could mean goodbye,” the coach said. “But they looked at me after we did our picture slideshow and they said, ‘Look, she’s not crying.’ And I wasn’t crying, because today I knew wouldn’t be goodbye.”

Bella Fusco fulfilled Bittner’s prophecy, finding the back of the cage twice in her Rocky Point field hockey team’s 4-0 blanking of Miller Place for the Suffolk County Class B crown Oct. 28.

“We wanted it a lot more — we’ve been working for so long, we work hard, we practice, we run a lot to stay in shape, and we just deserved it,” Fusco said. “We’re all a big family so to move on [to the Long Island Championship], nothing could be sweeter.”

Fusco, a sophomore at top-seeded Rocky Point, scored her first goal nine minutes into the contest off a pass from Sara Giammarella. The senior set the tone 40 seconds later, when she rocked the back of the box with a hard hit off of a feed from senior Christiana Bellissimo for a 2-0 lead at the 20:20 mark. But Giammarella was quick not to take all of the credit.

“It’s our defense,” she said of what helped her Eagles soar. “Nicki Taveras holds our backs on the defensive side; she’s a wall, no one can get past her. And Lizzy Wiener, she’s awesome, just fantastic.”

Miller Place’s Nicole Beck and Rocky Point’s Sara Giammarella fight for the ball. Photo by Bill Landon

Rocky Point proved faster to the ball, passed cleanly and pressured the No. 2 Panthers, which struggled to get the ball past midfield.

With 12:51 left in the first half, Fusco struck on a crossing pass from senior Emily Molinaro for a 3-0 advantage at the break.

Deflated, opportunity came knocking for Miller Place when Rocky Point went a down a player with 24 minutes left in regulation, but was unable to capitalize.

Senior forward Hannah Luchsinger scored the final goal on a solo shot to close out the scoring for the Eagles, which had previously lost to Miller Place in the last two county finals matchups.

“I have 10 seniors who want it [more than anything else],” Bittner said. “I have 10 seniors who have gone to the county championship the past three years and have not won it, so all I saw today was heart.”

Rocky Point will face Garden City in the Long Island championship Nov. 1 at Newfield High School at 6:30 p.m. The Eagles last faced the Trojans when the team made it to the regional game in 2014.

Rocky Point’s field hockey team shut out Miller Place 4-0 for the team’s first Suffolk County Class B title since 2014. Photo by Bill Landon

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