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Trevor Cronin

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By Jim Ferchland

The league-title winning drought is finally over for the Ward Melville Patriots.

With a 64-51 win over Sachem East Feb. 9, the boys basketball team nabbed a share of the bragging rights for the first time since 1990.

With only five players scoring, Ward Melville was efficient enough to hold down Sachem East in its final regular season game. Brentwood played Longwood the same night and lost, 53-49, leaving the Indians, Lions and Patriots all tied at 11-3 in League I play. Ward Melville had the best overall record at 16-4.

“All we talk about is putting a dot up on the wall. At times this year, we didn’t know if it was going to happen. We came together and it all kinda fell into place.”

— Alex Piccirillo

“It’s all we’ve talked about in the offseason,” Ward Melville head coach Alex Piccirillo said about winning the league title. “We’ve gone all spring, all summer, all fall; we’ve played 100 games. All we talk about is putting a dot up on the wall. At times this year, we didn’t know if it was going to happen. We came together and it all kinda fell into place.”

Senior Trevor Cronin, who averaged four to six points per game this year, finished Feb. 9 a game-high 18 points, 16 of them coming in the second half.

“If you’re going to leave him open, that’s what he’ll do to you,” Piccirillo said of Cronin. “He’s worked his tail off and got tremendously better. He just works hard and does whatever we ask him to do.”

For Cronin, who barely touched the ball two years ago as a sophomore on the junior varsity team, he wasn’t the only one reviving the game’s vitality.

“My teammates have been there for me all year,” Cronin said. “When they needed me to pick them up, I was there to pick them up today. It’s all about my teammates.”

In the collaborative effort, senior Brendan Martin poured in 16 points with a team-high four 3-pointers.  Junior Robert Soto contributed 15, and junior Ray Grabowski came through with a double-double on 11 points and 10 rebounds. Leading scorer Alex Sobel came back after missing three games with an ankle injury and scored four points.

Sobel said he felt a lot better being back on the court.

“It feels good,” Sobel said. “It wasn’t a very statistical game for me tonight, but it’s perfect because I have a week now to get ready for our next game. I expect to be 100 percent ready by the playoffs.”

Piccirillo said it was great to see Sobel back on the floor despite not putting up his usual numbers — he was averaging 16 points, 15 rebounds and almost five blocks a game this season prior to his injury.

“That’s what we want here for Ward Melville basketball — big team guys with everyone playing well together. That’s exactly what happened today.”

— Brendan Martin

“He blocks shots, he hinders guys from shooting layups,” the coach said. “He just changes the game.”

Sachem East seniors Ryan Panno and Ryan Sheehy combined for 30 points. Panno led with 18 points. Junior Ryan Kennedy had nine points off of three triples.

In a tale of two halves, the Patriots got scorching hot in the second, outscoring the Flaming Arrows 43-28 after being down 23-21 at halftime. Ward Melville went on a 12-2 run to conclude the third quarter. It was a big spark plug to finish strong.

“We started knocking down threes and getting stops,” Martin said. “Our stops led to early offense — big rebounds by Alex Sobel making blocked shots. We pushed the ball on the fast break and it got the home crowd fired up, too.”

Martin said Ward Melville strives to have every player contribute. He said he’s hoping having the team at full strength with help the Patriots get there this postseason.

“That’s what we want here for Ward Melville basketball — big team guys with everyone playing well together,” Martin said. “That’s exactly what happened today.”

Cronin enjoyed finishing the season with a league-clinching victory in front of family and friends.

“It feels great,” Cronin said of the win. “Hopefully, we can go far in the playoffs.”

No. 8-seeded Ward Melville hosts No. 9 Half Hollow Hills West Feb. 17 at 1 p.m.

This version has been updated to include who Ward Melville will be facing in the first round of playoffs.

Patriots shut out Smithtown in double-elimination game

By Bill Landon

Logan Doran delivered.

The Ward Melville player homered in the first inning, and drove in two runs in the second to give the No. 1 Patriots baseball team a 3-0 home win over No. 9 Smithtown East May 23, to advance to the Class AA semifinals.

Doran said he was looking for his pitch to set the tone early.

“It was a 2-0 fastball, and I was looking fastball dead red,” he said. “I saw it high and in, and just took a big swing on it. I didn’t think it was out. I was just running and then I heard my first base coach say it’s out.”

Ward Melville threatened two batters later, when Joseph Rosselli singled into shallow left, and Michael Sepe found the gap with two outs, but Smithtown East pitcher Nick Harvey fanned the last batter to strand the runners.

With two outs, Smithtown East’s Marc Barbiglia singled in the top of the second, Ward Melville catcher Tom Hudzik fired the ball to his twin brother Matt at second base to catch him on a steal attempt. The strike arrived in plenty of time for Matt Hudzik to apply the tag.

“They’re a hard-hitting team — they hit well last year and they came back and are hitting even better this year,” Tom Hudzik said. “It was Logan’s home run that got the momentum going.”

The Patriots went back to work in the bottom of the inning when Trevor Cronin singled to start things off. James Curcio followed with a fly ball to right field to put runners on the corners.

Again, Doran was the difference maker as he blasted the ball to right, plating Cronin and Curcio for a 3-0 lead.

“We played them [twice] and we knew what we were coming into,” Doran said. “We had to stay focused like we did the first two games. Just come out hot — that’s what we’ve been talking about. I think our team played great, and we just got to keep it rolling.”

The Patriots defense was just as potent as their bats, and the boys turned a double play in the top of the third for the first two outs. Later in the inning, with a runner on base, Hudzik sent another laser throw to his brother, who again waited for the runner to end the inning.

Ward Melville pitcher Max Nielson kept the Bulls at bay the rest of the way, spreading 76 pitches over the seven innings with four strikeouts and allowing just three hits in his shutout performance. It was the second playoff victory of his varsity career.

“The key to winning today was our defense,” Nielsen said. “But Logan’s base-hit knock sealed the deal.”

Ward Melville head coach Lou Petrucci also had high words of praise for Doran.

“He’s our captain ,and that’s what captains do,” he said. “That home run in the first gave us momentum.”

But he also gave other credit where due.

“Max pitched a heck of a game,” Petrucci said. “He kept their lead-off batter off base — he made quality pitches and you’ve got to give the guy credit.”

It was the third time these teams faced each other this postseason, each giving the other its first loss to send them into the double-elimination bracket.

“Bottom line is they played a little bit better than us, and they deserved to win,” Smithtown East head coach Ken Klee said of Ward Melville. “Our kids hung in there — we had a very nice season — and I’m proud of them.”

Ward Melville hosted the first of a three-game series on Wednesday against No. 4 West Islip, but results were not available by press time. The two teams will face off again on the Lions’ home turf May 25, at 4 p.m. The finals are set for May 31 at Stony Brook University, 3 p.m.

This version was updated to correctly identify the second baseman as Matt Hudzik.

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Chris Buehler hurls a pitch. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Just call on Joseph Rosselli to get the job done.

Tom Hudzik lays down the bunt while Joseph Rosselli races across home plate for a 2-0 lead. Photo by Bill Landon

Ahead 1-0, the race was on for the Ward Melville senior who was attempting a move that hadn’t been successfully completed since 2006. With a big leap off third, he rushed toward home following a successful Tom Hudzik bunt for a suicide squeeze that put the Patriots up 2-0 en route to a 4-2 win over Brentwood May 1.

“Coach Lou [Petrucci] brought us in and told us he wanted to attempt it,” Rosselli said. “The batter’s got to make contact with the ball because if he doesn’t, I’m out 100 times out of 100, so the pressure was on Tom Hudzik, and he came up big for us today.”

As the Brentwood catcher chased down the dribbler, Rosselli snuck across the plate, and although Hudzik was tagged out, his job was done.

Brentwood responded in the top of the second when Cooper Maselli blasted a home run over left center to make it a one-run game. A shot to center field that caused a collision placed the tying run at first, but starting left-handed pitcher Chris Buehler fanned the next two batters to extinguish the threat.

“I had my stuff, but I was leaving some pitches up,” Buehler said. “I got them down and then I felt I could go the distance. They had their ace throwing hard, good pitches — good curves, so we just had to get a couple of runs.”

James Curcio dives to make a catch in center field. Photo by Bill Landon

Petrucci had all the confidence in his starter.

“He’s a competitor and an outstanding young man,” the head coach said. “He’s not fazed by these big situations.”

Even after Brentwood made it a new game with a sacrifice fly in the top of the fourth, and Maselli threatened to make matters worse for Ward Melville with a shot to deep center that after some debate wound up a ground-rule double with no outs, Buehler made sure Maselli never made it further than third. Then, his Patriots worked to get those runs he was talking about.

“Chris Buehler struck out three good hitters,” Petrucci said. “He concentrated. He’s been a great force for us this year — he’s 4-0 so far — he’s our Monday guy.”

After a base hit by junior Trevor Cronin, sophomore Max Nielson smacked a ground-rule double of his own. With two outs, a walk was drawn to load the bases, and Rosselli moved into the batter’s box. The senior waited for his pitch, and jumped on a fastball. He sent it deep to right field for a two-run double and a 4-2 lead.

Brentwood made three running errors over the next two innings, and Ward Melville’s defense made its opponent pay each time to preserve the lead.

“Once we give our dominant pitching staff a lead, it’s almost always a solidified [win],” Rosselli said. “So once we got that 4-2 lead, everyone settled down a little We put our faith in our pitchers, and that’s what we’ve been doing all year.”

Vinny Pepitone grabs the ball before tagging out the runner. Photo by Bill Landon

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