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Chris Witherspoon

Smithtown East's Joe Neto scored five 3-pointers in a win over Centereach. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Smithtown East senior Joe Neto has a sweet outside shot.

The guard finished with five 3-pointers and a commanding 19 points to lead the Bulls over the visiting Centereach Cougars in a 54-36 League III opener Dec. 19.

Alex Zampieron goes up under the basket. Photo by Bill Landon

The Cougars were able to pull as close as within five points late in the fourth quarter, but a 14-9 fourth quarter sealed the deal.

“They were putting a little more pressure on me, forcing the ball out of my hands, but in the second half our spacing was great, our pace was great and everyone was moving the ball really well,” Neto said. “We found the open guy — we made a bunch of open shots and we made our layups.”

With 5:25 left in the first half, Neto hit back-to-back triples to put his team out front 21-7. Centereach called timeout, and made a defensive adjustment out of the huddle that helped the Cougars hold Smithtown East scoreless until the final second before the break, when Neto launched his second nearly half-court shot of the game for his fourth 3-pointer to that point. Smithtown East held a 10-point advantage, 24-14, heading into the locker room.

Centereach head coach Ed Miller said the guarded effort wasn’t what he expected.

“We actually just kind of woke up and started playing the defense we should have been playing,” Miller said. “We made a couple of adjustments where we should have been, positionwise, and the kids followed through on it.”

Centereach’s Chris Witherspoon leaps for a layup. Photo by Bill Landon

Three minutes into the third quarter Centereach senior Chris Witherspoon hit a field goal and a pair of treys to close the gap to six points. Smithtown East retook to the court following an immediate timeout call, and with a different offensive look. Then 6-foot, 3-inch senior Alex Zampieron got the call, grabbing low passes and battling in the paint for each point. When he didn’t score, he drew a foul and made his time at the charity stripe count. He finished with a team-high seven points in the third to Witherspoon’s eight.

“When he got the ball he was making strong moves, and finishing,” said Smithtown East head coach Keith Reyling. “It wasn’t pretty, so even if we don’t play our best game we can still be successful. Sometimes
we don’t play the game like we practiced, and we go off script a little bit and that’s when things get away from us.”

Smithtown East opened the final quarter with a 13-point lead and again Neto swished his final 3-pointer of the game. Zampieron followed Neto with nine points in the win, and junior Chris Goria tacked on six.

Witherspoon topped Centereach’s scoring chart with 16 points. Next in line was sophomore Matt Robbert with five.

Centereach hosts North Babylon today, Dec. 21, at 4 p.m.

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Jesse DiStasio stretches his arms over the goal line for the game-winning touchdown. Photo by Jim Ferchland

By Jim Ferchland

Centereach’s football team scored four touchdowns in 18 minutes to erase a 28-0 West Islip lead and send the game into overtime Oct. 28. After West Islip was held to a field goal, Centereach senior Jesse DiStasio scored the game-winning touchdown in a 34-31 come-from-behind thriller.

Jay Morwood tosses a pass. Photo by Jim Ferchland

After a 32-yard field goal by West Islip’s Bobby Dicapua, Centereach had an opportunity to win the game with a touchdown. Senior quarterback Jay Moorwood rushed out of the pocket avoiding pressure and connected with DiStasio, who was running on a deep slant and caught the pass at the 2-yard line before lunging with outstretched arms over the goal line for the 20-yard touchdown.

“The defender stopped me short,” DiStasio said. “I stretched over and I just started crying. I couldn’t believe it; I just saw everybody running to me. It was the best feeling of my life.”

West Islip led 28-7 heading into the fourth quarter. Morwood’s athleticism, vision and elusiveness outside the pocket made him a threat West Islip couldn’t contain. After throwing three interceptions, Morwood’s performance emerged in the fourth quarter with three crucial touchdowns. He finished with 276 passing yards on 19 completions with four touchdowns.

“I had all the confidence in the world in my team,” Morwood said on that final overtime possession. “I knew we were scoring. No one was stopping us. It didn’t matter who was getting the ball. I knew we were going to score no matter what.”

Jesse DiStasio celebrates the win with his teammates. Photo by Jim Ferchland

West Islip quarterback Mike LaDonna supplied all the offense for the Lions with his legs. He had 22 carries for 191 yards on the ground with four touchdowns.

“I’ve never been a part of playing or coaching a better comeback in the second half of a game,” Centereach head coach Adam Barrett said. “We kind of wanted to forget that first half. It was one of the best games I’ve ever been apart of.”

Centereach junior wide receiver and kick returner Devin Demetres ignited a spark after West Islip went up four scores. He broke free of multiple tackles on a 98-yard kick return and took the ball back for a touchdown, and the Cougars continued to plant their foot on the gas peddle.

Morwood took the offense under his wing with his scrambling ability and accuracy. He connected with his 6-foot, 2-inch senior wide receiver Chris Witherspoon on a 23-yard touchdown in the far right corner of the end zone to cut the deficit to 15, and launched the ball to Demetres into double coverage, which was was tipped by a West Islip defender before landing in Demetres’ hands for a 65-yard touchdown to make it 28-20.

“Jay made a great throw and the defense undercut it,” said Demetres, who had four receptions for 110 yards. “They cut it it too much and I knew they were going to tip it up, so I just kept my focus on the ball.”

Devin Demetres races into the end zone for a touchdown. Photo by Jim Ferchland

Senior running back Alec Kiernan, who carried Centereach’s offense all season long, was shut down by West Islip’s defense, which even forced a fumble on him. Although he was not a contributor on offense, he made a big defensive play on West Islip’s next drive.

Kiernan intercepted a pass with 4:20 left to play, and took the ball into Lions territory.

“We had the momentum before that play,” Kiernan said. “That play definitely set up a beautiful drive by Jay [Morwood]. We knew we had a chance.”

The interception resulted in Morwood’s touchdown to Demetres from 11 yards out with 2:38 left. Centereach converted on a two-point conversion to tie the game 28-28.

“It’s not a one person game,” Kiernan said of the comeback. “It’s a team game. We love each other and that’s how our team plays.”

Centereach finishes the regular season at 7-1 in Division I. Ranked No. 3 in the postseason, the Cougars will host No. 6 Bay Shore at 2 p.m. in the No. 4 qualifying round game.

“Every coach wants to go 8-0 every year and win the championship,” Barrett said. “Since I got to Centereach four years ago, we were always building. For the way the program was, we’re just getting better every year and continue to be successful.”