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Half Hollow Hills West

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By Bill Landon

Ward Melville’s girls tennis team’s unbeaten, 14-0, regular season record is unmatched by any of the 52 varsity squads in Suffolk County. Add to that four playoff victories, the last one leading to a Suffolk County championship title, and the Patriots are in rarefied air.

Head coach Erick Sussin said the remarkable winning streak is a once-in-a-lifetime achievement.

“No other team in Suffolk County has gone undefeated, in all leagues — all the others have at least one loss,” he said. “Now every team plays different schedules and sometimes you’re comparing apples and oranges, but we did have a tough schedule and not to drop a match.”

The Patriots tasted defeat for the first time when they fell to Port Washington, 5-2, in a rain delayed Long Island championship finale at Half Hollow Hills West Nov. 1.

Ward Melville junior Denise Lai had her hands full at first singles, but ultimately prevailed against seventh-grader Thea Rabman 6-3, 4-6, 6-3. Section XI had a surprise in store for the three-year varsity player after the match. Lai, who was been name All-State the last two seasons, learned she had captured the sportsmanship award for the season, as voted by Suffolk County coaches.

“There’s no doubt about, its humbling,” Lai said, overwhelmed. “I’m just happy I’m acknowledged for how nice I am.”

Sussin was quick to point out what his junior standout has meant to the team.

“Denise is not just our captain, she’s the team leader at the highest position,” the coach said. “She’s been top notch all year and she plays well under pressure. She represents our team at first singles.”

Ward Melville junior Anna Ma, a three-year varsity player who usually competes in first doubles, found herself competing in fourth singles and won her match 7-5, 6-3.

Sussin said his strategy for the match was to get to four wins as soon as possible. To try to do this, he continued to move some of his star doubles players to singles spots, like Keren Collins, who ultimately won the county championship for her team.

The senior, who usually pairs with Ma, competed in third singles throughout the postseason.

“We know that in our [matchups] we can get four points in other ways,” Sussin said. “They prefer doubles, and in doubles their hands get better, their volleys get better, and you can use that in singles play.”

Collins said she had confidence in her team throughout the playoffs no matter where her teammates were slotted.

“It didn’t matter who we were playing, everyone in every position had the ability to get it done —we all did our part we just kept pushing through,” Collins said. “We had confidence going out there each time, knowing we could do it. And every time we won, we’d have a quick 10-second celebration and move on to the next match. We set our goals and we conquered them.”

Julia Hu attributed her team’s remarkable season and its rise to Long Island level to the depth of Ward Melville’s roster.

“Reaching this game says so much about how deeply talented our team is from our first singles to our third doubles,” Hu said. “Our girls are so disciplined with their training throughout the year, and with their effort and support of the entire team — we all contributed to that 18-0 record.”

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Hansen, Hudzik head girls and boys teams to victory

Lauren Hansen maintains possession during a previous game. File photo by Desirée Keegan

It was a winning weekend for Ward Melville.

First, the No. 2 girls’ basketball team trampled No. 18 North Babylon, with sophomore Lauren Hansen putting up a game-high 35 points in 20 minutes Feb. 17. The Patriots demolished North Babylon 93-24.

“Lauren played great like always and her putting up 35 points in 20 minutes is something really special,” said senior Taylor Tripptree, who finished with 15 points.

Taylor Tripptree dribbles around a defender during a prior matchup. File photo by Desirée Keegan

Hansen scored more than half of the team’s first-quarter points, banking 15 of the 24, while the Patriots held their opponent to just five points.

Twelve different Patriots managed to show up on the score sheet, including a few junior varsity players who got the call to join the varsity squad, which impressed the veteran Tripptree.

Junior Bre Cohn chipped in 12 points, which would have been enough to lead North Babylon in scoring.

But to Hansen, who made eight shots from beyond the arc, the first-round win is only the first step.

“We’re looking to win the whole thing,” she said. “We have to stay locked in each moment in practice and in preparation for the very next game.”

She said she liked the way her team bounced back from its 38-33 loss to Brentwood in the last regular season game.

“It was what we had to do,” Hansen said. “I give a lot of credit to my teammates. Without them, it wouldn’t be possible. I thought a lot about what I could’ve done better individually after the loss to Brentwood, and I let the loss soak in and the feeling of it, and I did a much better job in preparation before I even put the jersey on for game day. In practice, and out of it.”

She said her team will use the first-round win as motivation when it moves on to No. 7 Half Hollow Hills West for a home game Feb. 22 at 6 p.m.

Mat Hudzik moves the ball up the court during a previous contest. File photo by Desirée Keegan

“The game made a statement, showing that we are definitely on a mission,” Hansen said. “We call this a second season, and we’re focused on not dwelling on our accomplishments or obstacles in the regular season. Going into the second round I think it’s definitely time to amp our intensity up even more, and accomplish all that we have set out to do.”

The next day, the No. 6 boys’ basketball team hosted No. 11 East Islip and also made short work of its opponent, with the Patriots bouncing the Redmen out of the postseason with a 66-34 victory.

Ward Melville nearly doubled East Islip’s first-quarter score, leading 17-9 after eight minutes.

“I think we had a big first quarter because we were all excited to go out in front of our home crowd and win for them,” said senior Dom Pryor, who finished with a double-double on 14 points and 14 rebounds. “What really helped us get the win was our coaching staff making sure we were all prepared before the game even started. Coach made it specific that we were not doing anything different than we have all year, and that we just needed to play like we always do.”

Dom Pryor leaps up for the layup during a previous game. File photo by Desirée Keegan

Like the girls, the boys also put forth a total team effort with nine different scorers.

“I thought we all came together as a team and executed in all parts of the game,” Pryor said. “It’s always more comfortable when you have so many threats on offense, especially ones that are rarely off their game.”

Classmate Matt Hudzik liked what he was seeing from his teammate.

“Dom works really hard,” Hudzik said. “He is everywhere on the court, is really good at playing defense and grabbing rebounds and loose balls.”

Hudzik led all scorers with 21 points —18 on 3-pointers — and senior Alex Sobel banked six field goals and a free throw for 13 points.

“My outside shot was feeling good and my teammates just kept finding me on the wing,” Hudzik said. “Before the game, we just talked about everyone doing their job. If everyone on the team does what they are supposed to, we play to the best of our ability.”

Ward Melville will travel to No. 3 Half Hollow Hills East Feb. 21 for a 2 p.m. tipoff.

Pryor said he sees smooth sailing in Ward Melville’s future.

“I feel very confident in our next match up,” he said. “I don’t think any team can keep up with our offensive threats, and when we play defense like we did today, I don’t think there’s a team that can stop us.”

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Logan Doran brings home Dominic Lamonica just before the tag to give the Patriots an opening-round playoff win

By Bill Landon

With both teams tied at four runs apiece, it wasn’t until the bottom of the ninth inning when Ward Melville’s Logan Doran smacked an infield grounder that sent teammate Dominic Lamonica racing and diving for home plate just ahead of the tag, to win the opening round of the Class AA playoffs, 5-4, against Half Hollow Hills West Monday afternoon.

“This is a great bunch of kids they play hard all the time and that’s a great baseball team over there — Hills West, they’re well-coached by a Hall of Fame coach, but our kids did a great job,” said Ward Melville head coach Lou Petrucci. “We battled back and we didn’t panic when we were down 3-1, and the kids got some clutch hits.”

Ward Melville’s Lamonica also struck first for his team, when he hit the ball to right field, driving in Brandon Lee for a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the third inning.

After starting pitcher Ben Brown let up just one hit in the first three innings, Hills West made him pay in the top of the fourth.

With a runner on first, Hills West drove the ball deep to center field that bounced over the fence, triggering a ground-rule double that put both runners in scoring position. A single to right field plated both runners, to give the Colts a 2-1 lead, but Lee followed with a pick-off at second for the second out to stop the bleeding. It didn’t last for long though, as the Colts smacked a shot to deep right field for a sliding triple, and the next batter drove the runner home.

“We’ve had games like this one all year long — fighting right to the end — so when we come into big moments like this we’re more prepared than other teams,” Lamonica said. “[Hills West is] a great team. Their pitching was phenomenal — they have one of the best pitchers in Suffolk County. We were able to barrel a few balls off of him, get a few runs and they were able to do the same against Ben [Brown].”

The Patriots went back to work in the bottom of the fourth, and Troy Davern started it off when he ripped an infield heater, and after a defensive bobble, beat the throw to first. Tom Hudzik stepped into the batters’ box next and drilled a long ball to right center field that bounced over the fence for the second ground-rule double of the game — moving Davern over to third. Nick Rizzi’s bat spoke next, and he hit an infield grounder that seemed to be a sure out, but Hills West made a throwing error to first, which plated Davern and Hudzik to tie the game 3-3. Rizzi stole second base, but was left stranded when the Colts retired the side.

With a runner on first, Hills West hit a stand-up double that put the runners in scoring position. The Colts finished the job with a rip to shallow left field that knocked in the opponent on third, to give the team a 4-3 edge in the top of the fifth.

The Patriots missed the opportunity to take the lead, and went down swinging with two runners on base. But Ward Melville was able to plate one more in the bottom of the sixth inning to make it a new game, and Tom Hudzik’s twin brother Matt took over the mound looking for the win.

“I’ve been in this situation multiple times this season, and every time I go [out there] I just have to throw strikes,” Matt Hudzik said. “I’ve got seven guys behind me that I know will make plays for me.”

Ward Melville missed another opportunity when the Patriots drew a walk to load the bases in the top of the eighth, and went down swinging.

After Matt Hudzik pitched three scoreless innings, the game came down to the bottom of the ninth.

“Matt Hudzik has been stalwart — he’s got five wins [now] out of the bullpen,” Petrucci said. “It was a great [showing by] Matt Hudzik and Ben Brown, who kept us in the game.”

Lamonica led off the inning with a routine pop-up that nobody called for, and the wind blew the ball as it dropped down for a charity single. Davern followed by drawing a walk, and after a strikeout, both runners advanced on a wild pitch. With runners on second and third now, Doran stepped into the batters’ box with two outs.

“I was in the same situation in the last game I played, and I didn’t get it done,” Doran said. “But I knew I’d get it done today in a big game.”

Lamonica, with a healthy lead, waited as Doran battled in the box, fouling several pitches before the count was full. Then, Doran drilled a ground ball up the middle to the shortstop, who fielded it cleanly and threw to home plate. But Lamonica had the lead, and beat the throw home for the game-winning run as the players rush to the diamond to pile up in celebration.

“You really don’t know the magnitude of the situation you’re in until you’re out of it,” Matt Hudzik said. “And it’s a great feeling once you’re out of it.”

No. 6 Ward Melville advances to take on No. 3 Smithtown East on the road May 17, at 4:15 p.m.

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Harborfields' Robert Pecorelli nails a 3-pointer in the Suffolk County Section XI championship game at Stony Brook University on Feb. 27. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

For the first time in 20 games, the Harborfields’ boys’ basketball team met its match.

Harborfields' Danny Morgan drives the baseline. Photo by Bill Landon
Harborfields’ Danny Morgan drives the baseline. Photo by Bill Landon

With the Class A champion Harborfields ahead 56-55 with 5.2 seconds left in regulation, the Class AA champion Half Hollow Hills West, went to the free-throw line and swished both opportunities to capture the overall Suffolk County championship title, 57-56, at Stony Brook’ University’s Island Federal Credit Union Arena Friday night.

“It’s been all year that our guys don’t stop fighting and they have a way of just staying in the game, even against a team like Half Hollow Hills West,” Harborfields head coach John Tampori said. “We were able to stay right with them.”

It was a push-and-shove game from the opening tipoff, and neither team was able to break the game open. After Harborfields senior guard Robert Pecorelli launched a deep shot that hit the basket at the buzzer, the game was tied 18-18 at the end of the first eight minutes.

Harborfields senior guard Malcolm Wynter swished his second 3-pointer to open the second quarter, which retied the game at 21-21.

Hills West turned up the heat and edged ahead with a buzzer-beater of its own to end the half up 32-24.

Harborfields' Malcolm Wynter stares down the Half Hollow Hills West defense. Photo by Bill Landon
Harborfields’ Malcolm Wynter stares down the Half Hollow Hills West defense. Photo by Bill Landon

Harborfields’ 3-point game caught fire in the third period when Pecorelli banked his fourth trifecta of the game, Wynter drained his third and senior guard Danny Morgan netted his second, as the momentum began to shift.

On Hills West’s next possession, Morgan snatched the inbounds pass, and bolted through the paint for a layup that again tied the game, this time, at 41-41 with less than two minutes left in the period.

Trailing by a point in the fourth, Harborfields senior forward Nick Mitchell got the call off an inside pass, did a spin move in the paint and found the rim to put his team back in front, 50-49, with 5:19 left in regulation. Hills West countered though, to retake a one-point lead.

Wynter’s lightning-fast defensive play matched his high-scoring offense, as the senior sensed where the Hills West’s no-look passes were going. On a seemingly simple inbounds pass, Wynter flashed in front for the steal and went to the rim for the score to retake the lead for his team.

Harborfields' Nick Mitchell scores two points. Photo by Bill Landon
Harborfields’ Nick Mitchell scores two points. Photo by Bill Landon

Hills West retaliated with two consecutive scores to take a 55-52 lead with just over a minute left, but Mitchell went to the stripe shooting two and split his appearance to make it a two-point game. Wynter struck again with a monster 3-pointer, his fourth of the night, to retake the lead by one with 58 seconds left in regulation.

Trailing by one with 5.2 seconds left, Hills West senior Richard Altenord went to the charity stripe shooting two. The senior calmly sank both for a one-point advantage as Harborfields called time out.

“Hills West — they’re real good,” Tampori said. “Anyone who beats Brentwood and Northport is really good.”

With time for one final offensive possession, Harborfields did what it has done all season, and put the ball in Wynter’s hands. The senior raced to the top of the key in a desperate attempt to find the net, but the buzzer sounded before the point guard could get the shot off.

Harborfields' Alex Bloom scores a layup. Photo by Bill Landon
Harborfields’ Alex Bloom scores a layup. Photo by Bill Landon

“We got a little unlucky,” Tampori said. “They had the last possession and they got a foul called and that was the difference in the game.”

Wynter lead his team in scoring with 20 points, Pecorelli put up 12 and Morgan added 10.

Harborfields sets its sights higher when the Tornadoes travel to Long Island University Post for the Long Island Championship on March 6, where they’ll face Elmont for a second time this season. The Tornadoes defeated the Nassau champions 61-60 on Jan. 16 in a nonleague matchup. Tipoff for the championship game on Sunday is scheduled for 1 p.m.

The Tigers’ tallest player was short on time, and it wasn’t enough to dig his team out of the hole that knocked them out of the playoffs.

The No. 3-seeded Half Hollow Hills West boys’ basketball team took advantage of No. 2 Northport’s early foul trouble, which left star senior center Lukas Jarrett benched for most of the first half with two personal fouls. By the time he returned to the Stony Brook University court for the second half of the Suffolk County Class AA semifinal matchup, the Tigers’ 31-20 deficit only continued to grow.

Northport had finished the season undefeated in League II, at 14-0, and only suffered one loss this season, a 70-48 defeat at Baldwin. The Tigers’ 72-47 loss on Sunday evening proved to be a similar-looking one, with the Colts coming up with big blocks and an array of 3-pointers to stifle Northport. The difference this time, though, was that the 6-foot, 7-inch Jarrett was not around to counter with many blocks of his own, and although the Tigers scored six 3-pointers, the Colts’ Matt Asenjo had six alone, followed by Kian Dalyrimple with five. The two combined for 41 points — almost as much as Northport’s entire team.

When Jarrett returned, he came through with a block to go along with a field goal and two free-throw points. Northport senior guard Sean O’Shea, who had been strong on offense the entire season, took over in Jarrett’s absence, scoring six points in each half for a team-high 12 points. Jarrett finished with nine points. Guards Brennan Whelan, a senior; Kevin Cryer-Hassett and Ryan Magnuson, both juniors; and Justin Carrano, a sophomore, tacked on five points apiece.

Northport was able to close the gap back to 11 points with O’Shea’s field goal at the 6:27 mark of the third, but by the end of those eight minutes the Tigers were down 49-30. Half Hollow Hills West led by as much as 30 points, after a trifecta put the team up 70-40 with 2:35 left in regulation, but O’Shea’s free-throw point, Cryer-Hassett’s 3-point play and junior guard Brett Vansteenbergen’s 3-pointer helped narrow that lead to give the game its final score.

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Kiera Ahern reaches for the ball on a fast break. Photo by Desirée Keegan

The success of the starters is rubbing off on the Kings Park bench.

In the girls’ basketball team’s monster 90-35 win over Eastport-South Manor Tuesday, every single one of the Kingsmen put points on the scoreboard, aiding in the team remaining undefeated with a 10-0 record in League IV. Kings Park is also on an eight-game winning streak.

“I tell the girls I don’t care who’s on the floor whether you’re our best player or a starter or the 12th girl at the bottom of the bench, when you get out there you play hard and these girls did it,” Kings Park head coach Tom Edmundson said. “We didn’t have any girls left off the scoring table. We had 11 3-pointers, two girls who never scored before hit 3-pointers tonight, so it’s great when everyone can contribute the way we did. It was outstanding.”

Kings Park junior guard and forward Tiffany Slicklein scored the first 14 points of her game-high 21 in the first quarter, all of which were the first points for her team. She also finished with 16 rebounds and seven assists.

Tiffany Slicklein muscles her way up to the rim. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Tiffany Slicklein muscles her way up to the rim. Photo by Desirée Keegan

The Kingsmen used fast breaks and a full-court press to force turnovers and steal passes, and converted nearly every opportunity into quick points.

“We stress defense all the time,” Slicklein said. “Our defense leads to our offense and that clearly happened today.”

By the end of the first eight minutes, Kings Park jumped out to a whopping 30-11 lead.

“We started the game with our full-court pressure to try to get them off their game, and every time we get a rebound or a steal, we want to go,” Edmundson said. “There’s nothing better than having the ball and scoring within three seconds while the other team may have the ball and it takes them 25 seconds to score.”

Kings Park continued to limit its opponents’ opportunities at a basket while tacking on close to as many points as it did in the first, to take a 51-16 lead into the halftime break.

Also doing a stellar job for the Kingsmen was senior guard Kiera Ahern, who collected 14 points in the first half on two 3-pointers, three field goals and two free throws. Ahern ended the evening with a career-best 20 points, seven rebounds and three assists.

“She’s so smart out there,” Edmundson said of Ahern. “She doesn’t get the recognition a lot of the time because she doesn’t put up big points, but she really in so many ways is the glue to this team. I’m just beyond thrilled that she had a game like this.”

Eastport-South Manor was able to keep up with Kings Park and maintain a quick style of play, but that fizzled out during the second half as the speed wore down the players over time.

After Kings Park held its opponent to three points over the first six minutes of the third quarter, Edmundson dove deeper into his bench to give the other players some time. The Kingsmen used this to their advantage as several girls scored for the first time, and five girls came off the bench — seniors Francesca Timpone and Shannon Donovan with juniors Lauren DeLillo, Toni Labrador and Shannon Savage — all to score 3-pointers.

Selena Ubriaco passes the ball. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Selena Ubriaco passes the ball. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“It’s nice when you know you have support when you’re coming off the floor that someone else is going to step onto the court and step up and make shots,” Slicklein said.

The bench remained on the court for the final eight minutes of the game, and put up 24 points while holding Eastport-South Manor to 12.

“It’s a great time for us to show off our team skills,” Ahern said. “We’re hoping to win the league, so by making this another statement game it’s a great opportunity to show those teams — and those in the other leagues — that we’re a good team and a tough competitor.”

With the girls playing a makeup game on Monday on account of the weather and with Tuesday’s game being the girls’ “coaches vs. cancer” game, there were a lot of distractions, and Edmundson liked that his team was able to remain focused.

“To play the way they did is a testament to their ability,” he said. “We definitely have the talent, the heart and the dedication to make a county run — we just have to go out there and do it.”

For players like Ahern, she used what the night represented as motivation to shine.

“I played in memory of my uncle and a girl who passed away in our town a couple of years ago and a junior varsity coach,” she said. “I was playing for those who died and survived cancer, so it’s a wonderful feeling to be able to play for them.”

Kings Park is three wins above Hauppauge and Half Hollow Hills West, so if the team can continue its winning ways, the Kingsmen should remain in the top spot. But the girls’ goal is to remain undefeated.

“We’re very confident but we don’t want to get too cocky, so we just want to play our best every day and bring our best to every game,” Slicklein said. “If we continue to do that, I think we’re going to like the outcome.”

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By Bill Landon

It wasn’t like the Newfield football team to trail in a game, but like the first and only other time they found themselves behind this season, it didn’t last.

Both times were against the Colts of Half Hollow Hills West. The first time was when the two teams faced off in September, when the Wolverines went on to outscore their opponent, 41-13. But this time, the teams were on a bigger stage — the Suffolk County Division II championship. Continuing its quest for a perfect season, Newfield propelled past a 20-18 deficit late in the second quarter to help the team claim its second county title since 2011, with a 58-34 victory at Stony Brook University’s LaValle Stadium Friday night.

“From the beginning of the season you work as hard as you can to get here,” Newfield senior Austin Gubelman said. “It’s a surreal feeling, it really is.”

Gubelman, a tight end, scored first on a short run, and after a failed two-point conversion attempt, Hills West cut the Wolverines’ lead in half with a field goal. Newfield senior Elijah Riley, a wide receiver who has been a one-man wrecking machine this postseason with eight touchdowns in the last three games, scored his first of four touchdowns off a handoff he took more than 50 yards for the 12-3 advantage, after another failed two-point conversion attempt, to end the scoring in the first.

The two teams totaled 952 yards, with 516 coming from Newfield. Riley alone finished the game with 146 yards on 11 carries.

With junior Justin Ottenwalder catching a pass up the middle and carrying it 71 yards for a touchdown run, the halfback, who caught three passes for 154 yards and gained 62 yards on eight carries, helped the Wolverines remain in front. But the Colts responded with another field goal and an interception on a screen pass that was returned for a touchdown. With the extra-point attempt successful, Newfield’s opponent took a 20-18 lead with 1:51 left in the half.

Just like in that September matchup, the Wolverines wouldn’t stay behind for long.

With 20 seconds on the clock, Riley took matters into his own hands. He took a handoff up the middle and found nothing. Bouncing off the wall of defenders, the senior looked for an open hole on his first, second and third attempts before cutting to the outside and finding the corner of the end zone from four yards out to put his team out in front, 24-10. From there, the Wolverines never looked back.

Hills West was on the move to start the second half, but a deep throw to a wide receiver was snatched by Newfield senior safety Denzel Williams. From the 18-yard line, Williams returned the interception up field to the 31-yard line. He finished with 108 yards on nine carries.

Newfield senior Ryan Klemm, the team’s quarterback, dumped a screen pass off to Ottenwalder, who jetted down the left sideline, covering 69 yards for the score. With the extra-point attempt by senior kicker Jacob VanEssendelft successful, the Wolverines extended their lead to 31-20 with 7:22 left in the third.

Klemm said he knew his team had the ability to bounce back, and the Wolverines refocused their efforts after a losing record at the end of last year.

“We knew we had a really talented team and we worked very hard in the offseason,” the quarterback said. “It’s surreal right now. It’s an awesome feeling, and it hasn’t quite sunk in yet.”

The Colts fumbled on the ensuing kickoff, and Newfield junior Jesse McKeever scooped it up and took off for the end zone. The cornerback was stopped just shy of the goal line, and the Wolverines offensive unit went back to work. Gubelman got the call and plowed his way up the middle for his second touchdown in the game. With a missed point-after attempt, the tight end put his team out front, 37-20.

With just over five minutes remaining in the third quarter, Half Hollow Hills West quarterback Anthony Lucarelli found the end zone on a keeper and, with the point after, the Colts closed the gap a bit.

On the ensuing play from scrimmage, Newfield called on Williams, the Middle Country sprinter, who dashed 64 yards across the field, leading blockers all the way to the end zone. With the kick from VanEssendelft good, Newfield jumped out to a 44-27 advantage.

And after a Hills West three-and-out, Newfield struck again.

With just over a minute left in the third quarter, Riley eluded three tacklers and covered 46 yards for six points. VanEssendelft’s kick split the uprights to blow the game open, 51-27.

Hills West went to the air the rest of the way, and tried to force long passes to make up for lost time. Lucarelli went deep to his wide receiver, who appeared to make the catch but bobbled the ball. Just as deadly defensively at cornerback as he is on offense as a wide receiver, Riley snatched the ball out of the Colts player’s hands for the interception with just over three minutes left in the contest.

The dominant and forceful senior finished the turnover he created with a short plunge into the end zone for his final touchdown of the game. Along with VanEssendelft’s kick, Riley’s score increased his team’s lead to 58-27.

Newfield head coach Joe Piccininni rested his starters on both sides of the ball the rest of the way, and Hills West made the most of the change by scoring one final touchdown.

“Our mistakes were hurting us and we faced a lot of adversity, but we were able to come back tonight,” Piccininni said. “We faced a great football team tonight — they didn’t fall back and they didn’t falter.”

With that, the team was crowned Suffolk County champions, and Newfield will take its undefeated season to the gridiron of Hofstra University on Friday, for a 4:30 p.m. kick off against MacArthur in the Long Island championship game. Although this year looked uncertain after the Wolverines’ 3-6 season last year, Gubelman said he thought his team could do it all along.

“I’ve known my teammates my whole life — we’ve been playing together since we were 5 years old,” he said. “We practice hard the same way we always do, come out with one vision: [to win the] Long Island Championship.”

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Elijah Riley scores three touchdowns on 10 carries for 210 yards

Newfield wide receiver Elijah Riley rushes with the ball behind blocker Justin Ottenwalder in the Wolverines' 32-6 win over North Babylon in the Division II semifinals on Nov. 14. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Elijah Riley stole the show Saturday.

The Newfield football team continued its winning ways when the Wolverines defeated North Babylon, 32-6, in the semifinal round of the Division II playoffs Saturday.

Newfield wide receiver Elijah Riley lunges for extra yards in the Wolverines' 32-6 win over North Babylon in the Division II semifinals on Nov. 14. Photo by Bill Landon
Newfield wide receiver Elijah Riley lunges for extra yards in the Wolverines’ 32-6 win over North Babylon in the Division II semifinals on Nov. 14. Photo by Bill Landon

And the Wolverines wasted no time hitting the scoreboard.

Riley, a senior wide receiver, scored his first of three touchdowns on the afternoon on a hand-off, where he broke to the right sideline and took off for the end zone, covering 60 yards along the way. Through swirling wind, senior kicker Jacob VanEssendelft split the uprights and Newfield took an early 7-0 lead.

North Babylon was unable to answer, and the team’s defense couldn’t stop senior quarterback Ryan Klemm next, who went to the air, finding senior tight end Austin Gubelman over the middle. On a second effort, Gubelman found the end zone for the score, and with the extra-point attempt wide left, helped put his team out in front 13-0 with 6:20 left in the opening quarter.

“We expected a very tough opponent — our defensive line started off with a big push on every play, it’s all on the defensive line,” Gubelman said. “[But] we didn’t play up to our best ability. Wer’e going to have to step it up with a good week of practice and we’re going to have to focus to get ready for Friday.”

The scoreboard went quiet until the opening play from scrimmage in the second half, where Riley struck again when he took off down the left sideline, outrunning any defender as he covered 63 yards for the score. With a failed two-point conversion attempt, the Wolverines settled for a 19-0 advantage.

New field quarterback Ryan Klemm throws the ball deep for a touchdown in the Wolverines' 32-6 win over North Babylon in the Division II semifinals on Nov. 14. Photo by Bill Landon
New field quarterback Ryan Klemm throws the ball deep for a touchdown in the Wolverines’ 32-6 win over North Babylon in the Division II semifinals on Nov. 14. Photo by Bill Landon

Riley said North Babylon was a more potent opponent this week than they were when the Wolverines faced the Bulldogs earlier in the regular season, because the team had fewer injured players.

“They were a better team this week with their three returning starters — we had to prepare like we did last time, but just harder,” said Riley, who finished the game with 210 yards on 10 carries. “Our defense and our offense finished it out and our special teams did a great job.”

On their ensuing possession, North Babylon mounted its first sustained offensive drive. On a third-and-8 from Newfield’s 40-yard line, North Babylon’s ball carrier, Nick Grassa, took a hit from Gubelman that knocked the ball loose. Newfield junior Justin Ottenwalder recovered it at the 33-yard line with 8:38 left in the third quarter, arresting the scoring threat.

“We knew it was going to be a hard game and we prepared for them,” said Ottenwalder, who rushed for 49 yards on two carries. “But I knew it was going to be a tough game because they’re a good team.”

Newfield wasted no time cashing in on the Bulldogs’ mistake, and Klemm, despite the gusty wind, went to the air again. The quarterback found Riley in stride on a post-pattern play, and the wide receiver rushed across the field 39 yards for his final touchdown of the game. The stirring wind pushed the extra-point attempt wide left, and Newfield surged ahead 25-0 in the closing minutes of the third quarter.

The Wolverines weren’t done yet though, and on the second play from scrimmage to open the final stanza, Ottenwalder got the call. On a hand-off up the middle, the junior made something out of nothing when he broke to the outside, eluding two would-be tacklers for a 36-yard touchdown run. With VanEssendelft’s kick, the two helped the team to a 32-0 lead.

New field's Jelani Greene plunges up the middle for extra yards in the Wolverines' 32-6 win over North Babylon in the Division II semifinals on Nov. 14. Photo by Bill Landon
New field’s Jelani Greene plunges up the middle for extra yards in the Wolverines’ 32-6 win over North Babylon in the Division II semifinals on Nov. 14. Photo by Bill Landon

The Bulldogs would not go down without a fight, and with just over four minutes remaining Jajuan Winters, on a handoff from quarterback Jared Ziegler, punched his way into the end zone from eight yards out to put North Babylon on the scoreboard. The point-after attempt failed.

Newfield senior Steven Hoynacky took over under center the rest of the way as head coach Joe Piccininni flushed his bench — ensuring everyone saw playoff action.

“North Babylon’s a great football team — they’re a ground and pound attack and they come at you and if you make a mistake against them, they’ll make you pay for it,” Piccininni said. “I’m so proud of our kids stepping up today. They maintained their composure and they just got it done.”

With the win, Newfield advances to the Suffolk County championship at Stony Brook University’s Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium, where the Wolverines will take on Half Hollow Hills West Friday at 7 p.m.

“We’ll take it one day at a time — prepare each day,” Piccininni said. “But our preparation will be the same.”

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Gorgeous weather and a huge crowd set the stage for a Homecoming Day at Huntington Saturday. The festivities capped off a week that included spirit days, a pep rally, float building and an evening dance in the school gym.

Hundreds of students of all ages turned out for a midday parade through the heart of the village and up New York Ave., accompanied by district trustees and administrators, parents, teachers, family members and alumni. The Blue Devils marching band played along the way, while its booming sounds drew folks out of shops.

“Homecoming in Huntington is a very special thing,” Principal Brenden Cusack said. “It’s a whole community event that brings everyone together. You can feel a true sense of Blue Devils pride throughout the week leading up to the big game. It’s a great experience.”

A crowd of nearly 2,000 watched the Huntington football team battle Suffolk County Division II top-seeded Half Hollow Hills West on Saturday following the parade. The Blue Devils scored first, when senior wide receiver Jahmik Curry received a 10-yard pass from senior quarterback Will Wright and the kick after failed, to raise the hopes of fans, and the teams were tied in the third, 14-14, before the Colts rallied for a 28-20 victory.

Halftime of the football game saw performances by the marching band and the Highsteppers. Royal Court members Vincent Fredericks, Spencer Pashkin, Infinite Tucker, Dan Mollitor, Sarah Fernandez, Cassandra Berwick, Holly LoTurco and Alexandra Berwick were introduced to the crowd before Mollitor and Alexandra Berwick were crowned homecoming king and queen.

“It’s an absolute honor to be named homecoming king by my class,” Mollitor said. “I’ve shared so many incredible moments with them and couldn’t ask to graduate with a better group of people. It will be sad to leave at the end of June. I’ve really enjoyed my time at Huntington High School.”

Senior running back Doug Taylor scored on a 50-yard run for the second touchdown of the day, and senior wide receiver Infinite Tucker received a pass from Wright to complete the 2-point conversion in the third. Half Hollow Hills West returned an interception 31 yards for the score, and senior wide receiver Exzayvian Crowell scored on a 1-yard run and the extra-point attempt was missed, bringing the final score to 28-20.

“It was just a beautiful day featuring a fantastic turnout for a spirited parade,” Superintendent James W. Polansky said. “Thank you to the many from all of our schools who participated. Our Blue Devils fought hard against a top county-ranked team and gained confidence in the process.”

Newfield's Kristen Prevosto challenges Half Hollow Hills West's Grace Walker as she reaches for the ball. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Many coaches say that the purpose of nonleague games is for one team to play a better team, or to “play up,” in an effort to raise their game and improve their play by facing a faster team with greater skillsets. Newfield girls’ soccer head coach Ann Marie Hassett agreed in the offseason to a nonleague matchup against Half Hollow Hills West, but this year she sensed something was different.

Newfield's Sierra Rosario battles a Half Hollow Hills West opponent for possession. Photo by Bill Landon
Newfield’s Sierra Rosario battles Half Hollow Hills West’s Nicole Gluckman for possession. Photo by Bill Landon

“This is the first year they’re not in our league, so when the coach called and asked if I wanted to play a nonleague game, I paused, because we’ve never beaten them in the eight years I’ve been here,” Hassett said. “But our team has come a long way. We’ve grown; we’ve played well together, so I thought that this time we could beat them.”

Her inclination was right, as on Saturday, for the first time in eight years, the Wolverines outlasted Hills West to claim a shutout victory, scoring three unanswered goals and using defensive play to keep their opponent on their heels.

Ten minutes in, Newfield sophomore midfielder Taylor Regensburger started the scoring when she drove her shot to the back of the net off a feed from eighth-grade midfielder Sierra Rosario, to take the lead 1-0.

Under a hot sun in a game riddled with injuries, Hills West struggled to get the ball to its forwards, as the Newfield defensive pressure was more than the team could handle.

With 11 minutes left in the first, senior forward Michelle Bartolo, a co-captain, set up the next score with a cross pass to Rosario, who chipped it in for the 2-0 advantage.

“It was a really good cross — a really good cross from Michelle,” Rosario said. “I just redirected it and it went in.”

Hassett said Bartolo was playing defense for the first time, and her senior captain did an amazing job in her defensive role.

Michelle Bartolo heads the ball for Newfield. Photo by Bill Landon
Michelle Bartolo heads the ball for Newfield. Photo by Bill Landon

“I was playing defense and there was a free ball so I crossed it in and [Rosario] kicked it in,” Bartolo said.

As time wound down in the final half, Newfield junior midfielder Kristen Prevosto, on a crossing pass, fed senior forward Cori Myers, who shot the ball into the corner of the net.

With their league opening loss to North Babylon in overtime, along with their blowout victory over Riverhead on Friday, the Wolverines improve to 2-1 overall. Newfield will take on Smithtown East next, in League III action at home on Thursday at 4 p.m.

Hassett said that the heavily favored North Babylon team was expected to easily outscore Newfield, but said her team held its own and took the game into overtime. The coach added that the win over Half Hollow Hills West was huge for her team, and said that other teams have taken notice.

“In years past other teams regarded Newfield as an easy win,” Hassett said. “And now, for the first time, other teams are talking about Newfield soccer.”