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Commack Cougars

Evan Kay and Brendan Fenlon try for loose ball in Commack’s 44-41 victory on Feb. 2. Photo by Steven Zaitz

By Steven Zaitz

It was only the second day of February, but ‘March Madness’ is already running white hot for both the Commack Cougar and Northport Tiger boys basketball teams.

In one of the loudest, most intense, and competitive games this season, Commack held on for dear life to beat their crosstown rival Northport, 44-41, last Friday night. The game featured six lead changes and neither team ever led by more than six, as raucous fans from both schools went bonkers with every loose ball, lead change, hustle play, and made basket.

This contest also featured two of the best guards on Long Island — the 6’0” senior Nick Waga for the Cougars and the 5’11” senior JoJo Cipollino for the Tigers — and this head-to-head battle did not disappoint. The two squared off in their own personal showdown that climaxed with each coming up big in the dying moments of the game.

But who would have the final say?

Cougars and Tigers battle to the finish on Feb. 2. Photo by Steven Zaitz

As is the case with most thrillers, this 32-minute slugfest had plenty of plot twists, triumphs, blunders, unbridled joy, and bitter regret —all bathed in the backdrop of the ultra-competitive Suffolk League II playoff picture, with the Tigers sitting just behind the Cougars in the standings.

“It was one of the craziest atmospheres I’ve ever played in,” Waga said, who scored 14 points and grabbed eight rebounds. “It felt like a playoff game, and it was awesome to see both student sections packed because it made it feel like every possession mattered.”

Waga was a key cog in last year’s Cougar machine that made it to the Suffolk County finals at Stony Brook University, so he knows a thing or two about playing in a playoff atmosphere. He is a four-year letterman under head coach Peter Smith and has come of age in the Commack basketball program.

“Nick is a great leader,” Smith said. “He’s been on the team since his freshman year, and watching him develop as the player and leader that he has become has been a lot of fun.”

This night of high school basketball was a reminder of how much fun this game can be. The Commack faithful, many of whom were dressed up in full superhero and Ninja Turtle costumes, were at fever pitch even before the opening tap, screaming and waving home white towels as if they were connected to a hidden power source underneath the bleachers. 

Although they had sans towels, Northport’s fan base was just as loud when things went in their team’s favor and Cipollino was a major source of this. Like Waga, he has developed into a star. Jojo is still lightning quick with his first step, despite adding inches and muscle to his frame this season from last, and he is even more fearless going to the basket; no matter how many taller defenders are waiting for him in the paint.

“It was one of the loudest games I’ve played in, and that was great, but we couldn’t get the job done in the end,” an exhausted Cipollino said. 

While disappointed, Northport head coach Andrew D’Eloia, whose team has a record of 9-5, sees the bigger picture.

“We are very close to being in a position to win these types of games,” D’Eloia said. “It comes down to one or two plays, and to their credit, they made them down the stretch. They play the game the right way; they share the ball, they play defense, and we try to teach our kids the same thing at Northport, and that’s why the games are often so close between Commack and Northport.”

Despite the late fireworks, both teams suffered through a sleepy first quarter, shooting below 20% from the field. Northport led 5-4 after eight minutes.

Cougars and Tigers battle to the finish on Feb. 2. Photo by Steven Zaitz

Commack leveraged a 6-0 run to end the first half, and they took an 18-13 lead into the break. Cougar star quarterback Jeremy Weiss, who plays power forward for Smith, had an athletic rebound and put-back to spark the run with three minutes left. The Commack portion of the crowd was content to cheer his name for the remainder of the quarter.

Northport sliced the lead to one entering the fourth quarter. At the very end of the period, senior guard Liam Sevey collected the rebound of a last-second, half-court heave from teammate Owen Boyland and was able to barely beat the buzzer to pull the Tigers to within one at 27-26.

“That was a great example of game awareness, hustle, and playing to whistle by Liam,” D’Eloia said.

Enter another hustler into the mix, Commack senior swingman Evan Kay, who would figure prominently in the final quarter.

With four minutes left in the game and Commack up by three, Kay fought for a loose ball with Cipollino and Tiger forward Brendan Fenlon. All three would pile on top of each other, but the possession arrow pointed to Commack. Waga hit a three moments later to make it 39-33.

Cipollino countered with a triple from the elbow, and it was the Northport cheering section’s turn to scream their heads off. Kay, who was scoreless in the first three quarters, made his second bucket of the fourth, to give the Cougars a five-point lead with less than three minutes to go. Kay pumped his fist in the air as he ran back down on defense and the Cougar crowd had a new hero to holler for.

“Evan has been a great addition to our team because he brings a lot of energy off the bench,” Smith said. “He has a ‘no-lose’ type of mentality to everything he does, and he brings that extra dynamic and fight to our team. It’s something that every team needs, and Evan gives it to us every night.”

Kay, who played for Smith as a sophomore but decided to rest last winter for baseball, really didn’t seem to mind the fans in the Northport section showering him with disparaging chants about his physique.

“I play with a lot of passion, and to have the fans notice me from both sides, means a lot to me,” Kay said. “I heard the Northport people chanting ‘Eat a Salad’ and I feed off stuff like that. It just fueled me even more because I knew that I was having an impact on the game and helping us win.”

Nick Waga led the Commack Cougars to victory over Northport on Feb 2. Photo by Steven Zaitz

But Kay and Commack were not sitting down for a celebratory post-game meal just yet.

With 1:45 to play in the game, Cipollino stole the ball as a result of Northport’s press, drove to the hoop, and was fouled by 6’5” Cougar forward Devin Spahn. It made the score 42-41.

After the basket, the usually stoic Cipollino slammed the padded wall behind the basket and screamed with primal delight. He was mobbed by his teammates and serenaded by the Northport student section, just feet away.

“I really wanted to get this win and at that moment, the emotions came out of me,” Cipollino said, who led all scorers with 19. “It was a great game.”

Cipollino’s three-point play brought the Tigers to within one point and Northport continued to apply pressure in the backcourt. They created another loose ball and it squirted to Fenlon at three-quarter court and he quickly fired a pass to Boylan, who would have had an uncontested layup. But the pass was too far in front of Boylan. It sailed underneath the basket and out of bounds, and the ball went back to Commack, who was extremely fortunate to still have the lead.

“I just misjudged the pass, and it’s going to stick with me for a while,” said a distraught Fenlon, who played another solid game with six points, seven rebounds, and four blocked shots. “It changed the game, but I have to use it as motivation and not make the same mistakes in the future when it matters most.”

Always the teacher, D’Eloia was philosophical in his post-game remarks.

Evan Kay and Brendan Fenlon try for loose ball in Commack’s 44-41 victory on Feb. 2. Photo by Steven Zaitz

“I told Brendan and all of the guys that everyone who steps on the floor is charged with finding something they could have done a little better throughout a game, and it’s never about one single play,” D’Eloia said. “A close-out, a sharper pass, getting to a loose ball. When you’re playing in a game like that, those little plays that you make, or don’t make, can put you either up by three or down by three. Tonight, they made more of those plays down the stretch.”

There was still time in the game, and it was Kay and Waga helping to make such plays to close it out. Kay killed some clock and drew a non-shooting foul. Waga snatched an offensive rebound and was fouled. He sank two free throws, and a prayer by Cipollino to tie at the final horn went unanswered. Commack was the team left standing and is now 12-3 on the year.

“I shoot with confidence because I know the hard work I put in during the off-season,” Waga said, who shared an embrace with his parents at center court right after the final horn. “I live for these types of moments when the pressure is high, and I feel like it brings out the best in a person.”

If this game is any indication, and with the Suffolk County playoffs just around the corner, the best is likely yet to come.

Commack High School hosted a ceremony on Tuesday that honored military veterans and active armed service personnel prior to the Commack-William Floyd boys lacrosse game. About two dozen men and women, active and retired, from all branches of service were on hand as Commack School Superintendent Jordan Cox led the procession.

After a Marine Corps Color Guard marched and saluted the flag, Cox introduced speakers Ray Tierney, Suffolk County district attorney, pictured below; Commack High School alumnus and Huntington Town Supervisor Ed Smyth (a U.S. Marine Corps veteran); and Edward Wehrheim, Smithtown town supervisor (a U.S. Navy and Vietnam veteran). 

Suffolk County Legislators Manual Esteban and Robert Trotta were in attendance, as was Councilman Thomas Lohmann and a few members of the Suffolk County Police Department who have served.

Commack won the game 9-8 on a goal by midfielder James Pagano in overtime.

All photos by Steven Zaitz

Sometimes the third time is not the charm.

The Commack boys basketball team, bidding for its first Suffolk County AA Championship in school history, lost to the Brentwood Indians on Saturday night, 68-46. The game was played in front of about 1,500 fans at Stony Brook University’s Island Federal Arena.

Despite having beaten Brentwood twice in the regular season, Commack could not close the deal and found themselves down by 10 points just five minutes into the game. They never fully recovered.

The Indians clogged up passing lanes and caused myriad turnovers that led to easy baskets, as sophomore guard Jeremiah Webb and junior forward Marquese Dennis led Brentwood with 14 points each. Junior guard Tyrell Davender had 13.

Commack, who came into the final game having beaten top-seeded Smithtown West in the semifinals, cut the lead from 12 to 6 in the final two minutes of the first half. But they could not seize upon that momentum coming out of the tunnel to start the third period.

The Cougars mustered only a single point in the first five minutes of the second half until Cougar guard Mike Gitz hit a three-pointer from the wing. But during this stretch, Brentwood had built a 38-22 lead. And when 5-foot-10 guard Josh Ramos from Brentwood rattled in a long ball from the right corner with four and a half left in the game, the Commack stands began to empty. The score was 51-29 in favor of the Indians.

Gitz led the Cougars with 16 but most of those came when the game was out of reach for Commack. Star guard Nick Waga was held to two field goals and just six points on the evening.

It was the fourth Suffolk AA crown for head coach Anthony Jimenez and Brentwood since 2014. Usually a highly seeded team, the seventh-ranked Indians had to knock off No. 2 Bayshore and No. 3 Bellport to reach the final. They finished with an overall record of 17-7. Commack finishes at 20-4.

Pictured clockwise from above, Cougars’ Nick Waga drives to hole but is called for an offensive foul; Commack’s Mike Gitz; and Cougars’ Chris McHugh (34) goes in for a contested layup as Freddy Diogene defends.

By Steven Zaitz

Northport’s All-American field hockey goalkeeper Natalie McKenna needed a little change of scenery on Tuesday, Oct. 11.

So, with her Lady Tigers comfortably ahead of the Commack Cougars, she took off her mask and goalie pads and moved out of her cage to play a little forward.

“My teammates were trying to get me the ball,” McKenna said. “It would have been nice to have scored. Maybe next time.”

Her twin sister Olivia did score — three times as a matter of fact — in Northport’s 12th win of the season. They have now won 45 straight games dating back to the 2020 season after winning Oct. 11, 6-0. Commack drops to 3-9.

“I was trying to get Natalie the ball,” Olivia said. “I wanted her to score more than I wanted myself to score.”

Julia Cavallo, Sophia Cox and Emma McLam also scored for the Lady Tigers who peppered Cougar goalkeeper Sophia Newman with 31 shots on goal, six of which were taken by Natalie in the final eight minutes of the game. Sydney Wotzak had two assists as did McLam. Emma Fabrizio and Mackenzie Maniscalco had one assist each for Northport.

But the offensive ‘star’ was Natalie who was a menacing presence in front of Newman’s net as soon as she took her pads off.  Northport’s bench and the fans in the stands were ready to explode in the event that she scored. It was not meant to be on this day.

“Every goalie I’ve ever coached wants to play up and score,” said Northport assistant coach Libby Courtemanche. “She had a few good chances.”

Perhaps Natalie will get another chance as the Lady Tigers continue their quest for a second consecutive New York State title against Riverhead on Oct. 13 at home. The Lady Waves are 2-11. The Cougars will play Half Hollow Hills the same day at Commack.

Ward Melville kept pace with the visiting Commack Cougars, tied at 14 all going into the halftime break, but Commack dominated the third quarter, outscoring the Patriots to surge to a 12-point lead. The Patriots unable to answer the Commack offense onslaught fell to the Cougars, 48-35, in the League II matchup Jan. 24.

Fiona Kernaghan led the way for the Cougars with 17 points, and Jordan DiPrima banked 13, while Deanna Pagliaro netted eight. The Patriots Julia Greek scored two triples, four from the floor and a free throw leading her team with 15 points.

The win lifts the Cougars to 8-2 in league, 11-5 overall, and the loss drops the Patriots to 6-4, 9-5 overall. 

At 3-1, the Centereach/Longwood boys fencing team hosted the 3-2 Commack Cougars (yes, Cougars vs. Cougars) where Commack edged Centereach, 16-11, in League 1 action Jan 30.

Centereach Coach Amanda Catapano was impressed with second-year captain Justin Martinez, a senior and a 6-year varsity fencer, who this season as in past years, is the team leader who is a hard worker and very passionate about the sport. Catapano liked what she saw out on the strip from foilist Nick Galdemis where the coach characterized the senior as the hardest working athletes the program has ever seen.

The loss drops the Centereach/Longwood Cougars to 3-2 with four matches remaining before post season play begins.

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Northport led by two in the closing seconds of the game Feb. 25 when Commack intentionally fouled Sean Walsh with six seconds left. Senior Walsh went to the line and swished both to seal the deal for the 49-45 victory in the Class AA semifinal at Longwood High School.

Walsh topped the scoring chart for the Tigers with five triples, two from the floor and his final appearance at the charity stripe for 21 points. Teammate Pat Healy finished with 10 points, and senior Larry Citrola chipped in nine.

Commack senior Spencer Malloy led his team with 17 points, and senior Nick Greco netted 15 to conclude the Cougars’ season at 11-2, 16-5 overall.

The win lifts No. 2 Northport to 13-0 in league, 20-1 overall, and advance to the county finals where they’ll face top seeded Brentwood at Farmingdale State College Feb. 28. Tickets are $10 cash at the door. Game time is 8:30 p.m.

 

 

By John Dielman

The Commack Cougars were no match for the Patriots at Ward Melville High School’s homecoming Oct. 19. The home team did not disappoint, delivering a 35-14 win on the big day.

The win topped off the homecoming carnival, and during the game, both the junior varsity and varsity cheerleaders performed as well as the school’s band.

The Patriots now are at 4-2 in Division I, while Commack is 3-3. The Ward Melville football team will travel to Sachem East Oct. 25. Game time is 6 p.m.

 

By Bill Landon

The Ward Melville Patriots boys lacrosse team led Commack from the opening faceoff taking a 10-4 lead at the half. The Cougars drew within three late in the third quarter before Ward Melville slammed the door outdistancing their opponents to take a 14-8 victory at home May 3.

Seniors Trey Berry and Dylan Pallonetti topped the scoring chart for the Patriots with Berry’s three goals and two assists, and Pallonetti finished with an assist and four goals.

Blake Behlen sat atop the leaderboard for the Cougars providing three assists and two goals, and teammate Joey Kim split the pipes three times.

On May 7, the Patriots beat William Floyd, 14-6. The win puts Ward Melville at 11-2, one game behind Smithtown West.

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By Bill Landon

The Commack Cougars girls lacrosse team stayed with Middle Country trading goals for an 8-8 tie at the half, but the Mad Dogs stretched their legs in the final period to surge ahead for a 17-12 road win April 4. After the game, the Mad Dogs remained unbeaten at 4-0 in Division I trailing Northport and Riverhead, but then beat Riverhead, 11-10, April 6 to head the table.

Middle Country senior midfielder Sophie Alois led the way for the Mad Dogs notching five goals and four assists. Eighth-grader Kate Timarky split the pipes three times with a pair of assists, while senior goalie Elizabeth Pomaro had five saves on the day.

Commack senior Katie Kelly found the back of the net four times for the Cougars with three assists and teammate Sam Pugh had an assist and stretched the net three times. Senior keeper Cat Deutsch had eight saves in net. The loss dropped Commack to 2-3 in the division, 4-3 overall.