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Ward Melville

Nikki Ortega grabs the ball off the draw and crosses into Ward Melville’s zone. Photo by Desirée Keegan

These Mad Dogs are showing their teeth.

In a dogfight between two of the top teams in Division I Monday, visiting Ward Melville dominated the beginning of the first half, edging ahead to a 4-1 lead, but the Middle Country girls’ lacrosse team found its groove and bounced back to prove why it’s undefeated.

With the 17-12 comeback win, the Mad Dogs improved to 6-0 to remain in sole possession of first place, while the Patriots dropped to 4-2.

“We have a big week ahead of us so to get one out of the way is a good feeling,” Middle Country head coach Lindsay Dolson said. “We kept our calm. We knew that we could score. We had a bunch of pipes in the first couple of minutes so that took a little wind out of our sails, but they did a great job coming back.”

Amanda Masullo races toward the cage for Middle Country. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Amanda Masullo races toward the cage for Middle Country. Photo by Desirée Keegan

After Ward Melville jumped out to a 3-0 lead, Middle Country senior midfielder and attack Nikki Ortega scored off a foul for the team’s first point with 15:21 left in the first half.

The Patriots tacked on another goal before Ortega’s younger sister, Jamie, a sophomore midfielder, netted back-to-back goals to pull within one, 4-3.

“We knew that we were down, but we always tell each other not to freak out; to talk to each other,” Jamie Ortega said. “I was frustrated because I knew we were the better team, so us down got me motivated.”

The teams traded goals, and after being down 5-4, Middle Country tied it up 5-5 with 4:39 left until the halftime break.

With the offensive sides strong on both ends of the field, the two teams traded another goal apiece to bring the score to 6-6 at the end of the first, and continued to trade goals until the game was tied 9-9.
From there, the Mad Dogs raced ahead to a 14-9 lead before Ward Melville senior attack Alex Vignona scored from 10 yards out, and followed her showing with an assist, as she passed the ball to sophomore attack Kaitlin Thornton who scored overhead in front of the net to close the gap to 14-11.

Jamie Ortega netted one next, taking the ball all the way up the field and, from the right side, crossing the ball in front of the net and into the left corner with 4:08 remaining in the game. Middle Country scored again, and Ward Melville sophomore midfielder Madison Hobbes scored her team’s final point before Nikki Ortega passed the ball to eighth-grade defender Sophie Alois off a shooting space foul with 16 seconds on the clock, for the final goal of the game.

Jamie Ortega maintains possession of the ball with a Ward Melville defender on her back. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Jamie Ortega maintains possession of the ball with a Ward Melville defender on her back. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“We knew this was our time, this was our game and we had to step it up, and that’s what we did,” Middle Country junior defender Jordynn Aiello said. “I knew stepping on this field today we were going to come out with this win no matter what. One thing I love about my team is that we stay calm under pressure; we don’t break.”

While the team ran into trouble winning possession off the draw and the defense struggled with the slides, defenders, like Aiello, forced some crucial turnovers.

Vignona, Nemirov, Thornton, Hobbes and junior attack Holly Regan scored two goals apiece for the Patriots, while sophomore midfielder Hannah Hobbes and senior midfielder Cat Smith rounded out the scoring with a goal each.

“I never thought we’d get this far and I knew that they were going to give us a hard game,” Jamie Ortega said of Ward Melville. “I knew that if we came back and played how we usually play we’d end up on top.”

The sophomore midfielder led the Mad Dogs with six goals while her older sister Nikki finished with four.  Sophomore midfielder Amanda Masullo tacked on three goals, while her twin sister Rachel, Alois, senior midfielder Allison DiPaola and sophomore attack Ava Barry added a goal apiece.

“She did a great job,” Dolson said of Jamie Ortega. “I spoke to her before the game and I said ‘Jamie, I feel it. You’re going to have a day today.’ And she did.”

Ortega said her team works well to pass each other the ball and stay connected, and Aiello said Middle Country’s ability to work together should take them far.

“There are no individuals on this field, it’s a team, and everybody has a job on this team and we get it done,” she said.  “I have a lot of faith in my team, I believe in us and I believe that if we continue to work on enhancing and perfecting our game, we’ll be unstoppable.”

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Dan DeCastro rips one deep into the outfield. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Having beaten Longwood the day before by just one run, the Ward Melville baseball team invaded the Lions’ territory Tuesday and let its pitching and batting do the talking to prove the Patriots’ worth. When the dust settled, the Patriots handed Longwood a 12-2 loss in the second matchup of a three-game series.

Alex Betz hurls a pitch from the mound. Photo by Bill Landon
Alex Betz hurls a pitch from the mound. Photo by Bill Landon

Ward Melville sophomore pitcher Ben Brown led the way with an impressive performance on the mound to earn the win in his first varsity start. Longwood struggled with the entire Patriots pitching staff, managing just six hits. The Lions were also plagued by four errors over seven innings.

Ward Melville blew the game open in the second inning, scoring six runs on an RBI double by Dominic Lamonica, a two-run double by Troy Davern, and Nick Rizzi drove in a run and with the help of two Longwood errors to give the Patriots a 6-0 lead.

“Today our hitters did a good job in their approach; we got a lot of clutch hits,” Ward Melville head coach Lou Petrucci said. “Dominic Lamonica had a big double in the second inning; Jeff Towle, Troy Davern and the middle-of-the-lineup guys did a good job.”

The Lions tried to claw their way back and scored two runs in the bottom of the third.

Towle took control of the fourth inning, blasting a shot to deep center field, giving both Nick Vitale and Joe Flynn the opportunity to come home for an 8-2 advantage.

“Today, as a team, we had great bats all around putting the ball in play, making them work, putting pressure on their defense and that helped us out today,” Towle said. “[Longwood is] a solid team, but the ball didn’t roll their way. That could’ve happened to us, but we hit the ball hard.”

Flynn was also excited to see the team putting the ball in play.

“Today we came out swinging with the right mind-set; we had to put the ball in play and do whatever we have to do to win,” he said. “We’re not a strong hitting team and we’ve relied on pitching in the past, and that’s what we’re going to do this year, but today we came out with the bats and did a great job.”

Troy Davern makes a grab for the out. Photo by Bill Landon
Troy Davern makes a grab for the out. Photo by Bill Landon

The Patriots crossed the plate once more in the inning, to surge ahead 9-2.

Petrucci said he was pleased with his entire lineup.

“The top of the order guys — Joe Flynn got on base; Nick Vitale had a great day today — those guys got on base and did a good job for us,” he said. “The big hitters drove them in with clutch hits and we had more base runners and took advantage of that opportunity.”

The Patriots found the scoreboard once in the top of the sixth and twice in the seventh to put the game away.

Brown said his team misjudged Longwood in the first game of the series.

“I think we came out with a lot of intensity,” he said. “We took this team a little lightly yesterday. We really played hard, we had really good at bats, so that was the difference today.”

With the win, Ward Melville improved to 3-0. The Patriots conclude their three-game series with Longwood on Thursday at home, with the first pitch scheduled for noon.

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Kollin McDonald, fourth from left in top row with trophy, and his teammates and coaches after the game against Longwood on Friday, where he received the game ball and MVP trophy. Photo from Tom Femminella

Sometimes it’s not the wins or losses that matter most in a game, it’s the bonds formed when playing.

For Ward Melville senior Kollin McDonald, he realized how strong that bond was with his basketball teammates after the loss of his mother last week.

The guard darted to the hospital last Monday after receiving a text message that his mother was rushed there. Mary McDonald had cancer for seven years, starting with breast cancer, and after she was in remission was told it had come back more aggressively, and spread throughout her body.

Kollin McDonald and his mother Mary, while pumpkin picking this year. Photo from Kollin McDonald

The team attended the wake, and head coach Tom Femminella said despite it being an emotional evening, he thought it made it a little easier for his athlete to have his team’s support.

“As a coach in any sport you press the kids on family — family is important,” he said. “When you’re actually there and someone needs you when the chips aredown, it shows a lot of resolve that will hopefully transfer onto the court and will make these kids closer for the season and hopefully for the rest of their lives.”

Femminella invited McDonald’s close friend and teammate Chris Woods to ask McDonald if he would play as a starter in Friday’s game — the same day as his mother’s funeral.

“For him it was the most exciting news,” Woods said. “His family was all excited once they heard too, and they came after the funeral to the game.”

Being that McDonald is not normally a starter, it was a memorable moment for him walking out on the court.

“It was honestly an honor to be asked to play ” McDonald said. “It was more of a ‘getting past and moving on’ thing because once I got asked, I was very emotional, but I knew at that point that we were a strong team and that they had my back with anything.”

McDonald said the memories of his mother and thinking about her every day is what gets him through, but it is also the love from his coach and teammates, and it showed that night on the court.

The senior started off the evening with two rebounds in a 50-40 win over Longwood, and it ignited the team.

“Those were probably the two most aggressive rebounds I’ve ever had — ever, in any game I’ve ever played,” he said with a laugh. “It was very emotional watching the tape afterward because I knew [those rebounds] were for my mom, and it was a great feeling.”

Kollin McDonald and his mother Mary after his sixth-grade graduation. Photo from Kollin McDonald

The team wore pink socks in support of breast cancer awareness to the game and will continue to wear them through the rest of the season, Femminella said, adding that he will also be wearing special sneakers to support his player.

“It was more important that he was getting back to a little bit of normalcy,” Femminella said. “And then we brought him the trophy and the game ball, and he got the MVP [title] because he was the MVP. He inspired the rest of the kids. If he can be there and he can show this effort and be strong, why can’t they?”

Woods also said it was great to see his friend and teammate in high spirits.

“He had a big smile on his face and was able to go out there and start the game,” Woods said, adding that he and his teammates were also grinning from ear-to-ear and leaping off the bench when McDonald scored. “It helped him get his mind off of things to get him out there. It was the best feeling for all of us when he got those rebounds — he played his heart out.”

McDonald said it’s meant everything to have his school’s support.

“Having a group of guys to talk to at any point and any time in my life,” he said, “it’s a great feeling.”

McDonald thanked his teammates and coaches for their support after what he said is his most memorable game , adding that he thought wearing the pink socks for the rest of the season is a nice way for them to support him and his family for the remainder of the year.

“We’re taking this tough event as a bonding moment for all of us,” Woods said. “I think Kollin is going through a tough time, but the pink socks represent how we’ve all become brothers, and we’re all going to be there for each other no matter what happens.”

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Steve Matz with proud parents Ron and Lori, all flashing million dollar smiles, shortly after signing with the New York Mets last year. File photo

by Daniel Dunaief

Like other Ward Melville High School students who graduated last year, Steve Matz left his home in Stony Brook and took the next step in his life. Living in a hotel in Florida, Matz has changed locales, but hasn’t altered his intense focus on a skill that helped the 6 foot, 2 inch stand out on Long Island.

One of the newest members of the New York Mets, Matz, a lifelong Mets fan, is living within easy walking distance of minor league fields where promising players come to soak up guidance from wizened coaches, hone their already-prolific skills, and prepare for the intense competition to join their major league team.

So far so good for Matz, who knows he has a long climb to the mound at Citi Field, but who is already thrilled to be taking the first few steps toward that goal.

“Compared to Ward Melville, this blows it away,” Matz said of his first few weeks at the Mets minor league complex. “The grass and the mound are perfect.”

A left-handed pitcher whose fastball has been clocked at 95 miles per hour, Matz is working to improve his other pitches, including a curveball and changeup.

“The curveball [is a pitch that I] still have to work on,” Matz offered. “It’s a learning curve. I used to throw in the bullpen to keep my arm loose: now, I throw to work on things.”

For Steve’s parents Lori and Ron Matz, this is an especially big year. Not only is Steve living away from home with the Mets, but their older son Jon is also attending school away from Long Island.

Lori Matz said it was tough to “lose a little bit of that control with both of them gone. That’s what we raised them for, to be independent, well-rounded adults.”

At the beginning of spring training, Steve offered to make the 19-hour drive down to Port St. Lucie by himself in his new Ford truck he purchased with his signing bonus, but his parents would have no part of that. After they drove to Florida together, Steve’s parents felt encouraged by the discipline and structure in the minor league system. Some of the rules include fines for being out after curfew.

“It’s almost a little more regimented than on a college campus,” Lori Matz said.

Steve’s passion for baseball started when he was young.

“When Steve was 2 years old, I started having a catch with him,” Ron Matz said. The elder Matz could tell even then that his middle child — Steve has a 14-year-old sister Jill — had talent. “He had a natural form. You can’t teach that.”

Ron Matz coached his son Steve until he was about 13 years old. When Steve was around 10, he pitched a no-hitter. When he got in the car after the game, he was annoyed.

“I said, ‘Steve, you just finished a no-hitter, what’s the matter?” Ron recalled.

His son’s response? “I struck out once.”

Steve’s skills and interest grew in tandem. Ron Matz said that he’d have to drag his son out of bed on a Saturday morning if he had to take an SAT prep course, but if he had a practice or a game, “he’d be sitting in the den, waiting for me before I got up.”

Steve’s parents said his average grade at Ward Melville was around 90. He was motivated to maintain good grades so that he could keep the door open for school or professional baseball.

When their son was drafted first by the Mets last year, it was especially exciting to Ron and Lori, lifelong Mets fans who were high school sweethearts. Indeed, Lori Matz spoke by phone to The Village Times Herald minutes before a rain-delayed Mets game began. Lori said for the last year she has worn her late mother’s wedding ring on her pinky. Her mother, who passed away six years ago, was “a huge Mets fan and a huge Steve fan. I almost feel like, for him to be picked out of the thirty teams, she had a hand in it.”

For Steve’s parents, the journey to the minor leagues has already provided a wealth of new baseball experiences. On the day Steve signed his contract, the Mets brought him to Citi Field. He and his parents were escorted to owner Fred Wilpon’s office.

“We took this beautiful elevator to Wilpon’s suite,” Ron Matz said. “Fred comes up to us and says, ‘I want you to meet a friend of mine. Meet Sandy Koufax. Our legs were shaking. I was like, ‘hey, this isn’t happening.’”

Last year’s winner of the Carl Yastrzemski award — an annual honor given to the best high school baseball player in Suffolk County — Steve Matz is dedicating himself to the pursuit of his baseball dream. Steve is in good company as a Yastrzemski award winner: Boomer Esiason, the former quarterback for the Bengals and Jets and current sports broadcaster, received the same honor.

“Waking up every day and playing ball, going to the field with your buddies, that’s just awesome,” Steve declared. “There are so many good players around you, it definitely makes you want to work harder and really get better.”

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