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Kevin Gersbeck

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Miller Place's Jack Walsh celebrates a goal. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Not even halfway through the season, the Miller Place boys’ lacrosse team already has the same amount of wins that it ended with last year, turning its program worst record in 2016 into the best start in team history this year.

On April 10, in a battle of undefeated teams, the Panthers produced their seventh straight win, a 10-8 edging of Mount Sinai, to remain perfect at 7-0, with a 5-0 streak in Division II. Last season, Miller Place finished with a 7-9 overall record.

Miller Place’s Anthony Beck moves the ball into Mount Sinai’s zone. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“We knew they were going to come prepared for us and play tough, so we stuck to our game plan and made them try to beat us,” Miller Place senior midfielder Anthony Beck said. “It feels good to come out and take the battle of undefeated teams, and take the win from a crosstown rival.”

Miller Place junior attack Anthony Seymour put the Panthers on the board less than a minute into the game with a quick shot to the top left corner, and Beck followed him up with a shot straight up the middle after the ball was rotated around the cage while Miller Place looked for an opening.

“We pushed the ball really well, we possessed for the most part and we played as a team,” Beck said. “We didn’t try to do too much and we stuck together.”

The Panthers continued to pounce with a balanced attack, as next to light up the scoreboard was junior attack Patrick Doyen off a pass from Seymour.

Miller Place forced several turnovers, and Mount Sinai called for two timeouts in the first to try and shift the tempo. With 3:35 on the clock, Mount Sinai senior midfielder Jason Shlonsky rocketed a rebound past an unprepared Matt Leen for the Mustangs’ first point.

Beck added another unassisted goal for a 4-1 advantage at the end of the first 12 minutes.

Miller Place’s Jack Walsh and Mount Sinai’s Jason Shlonsky fight for a loose ball. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“It’s been unbelievable how we’ve came together since the first day of practice,” Beck said. “This is a group we’ve been waiting for. We’ve been playing really well together.”

Miller Place senior attack Jack Walsh scored next, laying out across the front of the net and scoring while in mid air. Head coach Keith Lizzi said with the loss of senior midfielder Kevin Gersbeck to injury, he told his team everyone needs to up their game to fill the hole, and they’re doing it.

“Jack stepped up — and he’s been doing that all year — he’s one of the top scorers in the county,” Lizzi said. “And Anthony Beck has just been so consistent between the faceoffs, defense and offense. He’s our No. 1 utility guy out on the field.”

Mount Sinai seniors Nicholas Cesario and Nicholas Rose closed the gap, before Beck, grabbing possession off the faceoff, re-extended the margin with his hat trick goal, bringing the score to 6-3 at the halftime break.

“It felt good to dominate the faceoff ‘x,’ get my team some extra possessions and score some goals,” he said. “We’re undefeated right now, we’re taking it one game at a time and we hope to keep it that way.”

Miller Place had a slower second half. They were outscored by Mount Sinai 5-4, but always remained a few goals ahead. Leen, the senior goalkeeper who finished with 12 saves, helped preserve the lead and Walsh also chipped in with two goals and two assists.

“It’s my last year, so I’m trying to get out and do as much as I can,” Walsh said. “We were a little sloppy at times, but we’re all best friends, so there’s a lot of chemistry here.”

Mount Sinai’s Jason Shlonsky races ahead of a swam of Miller Place defenders. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Mount Sinai wasn’t without its shining stars in its hard-fought comeback effort. Shlonsky finished with three goals, senior midfielder Robert DeMeo added two goals and two assists, and junior attack Joe Pirreca finished as the assist leader, scoring once and aiding in three others.

Lizzi said although it hasn’t been easy to complete, an already total turnaround from last year, the main motivation has been the Panthers desire for revenge from last year. They’ve already beaten some of those teams this year, like Comsewogue, Sayville and Elwood-John Glenn.

“We’re trying to take it one game at a time, and although the pressure continues to build, this is a group that’s handled it,” he said, adding that with seven Division I college commits and three-year starters the experience has paid back dividends.

Harborfields is next on the schedule, and revenge is on tap after Miller Place lost to the Tornadoes in double overtime last year. The Panthers will travel April 12 to compete in the 11 a.m. matchup.

“Certain games you have circled on the calendar, and this year, that’s one of them,” Lizzi said. “We won a lot of tight games this year that we lost last year, so these kids are playing with a little chip on their shoulder — with something to prove.”

Miller Place's Tyler Ammirato lunges into the end zone. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

You can’t catch Tyler Ammirato, or block Kevin Gersbeck.

The Miller Place seniors raced toward victory for their team, touching the end zone five times in a 42-12 victory over Port Jefferson in the Division IV qualifying round Nov. 4.

The No. 3-seeded Panthers will travel to No. 2 Shoreham-Wading River Nov. 11 for a 6 p.m. semifinal matchup.

Miller Place's Kevin Gersbeck jets down the left sideline. Photo by Bill Landon
Miller Place’s Kevin Gersbeck jets down the left sideline. Photo by Bill Landon

“I thought our kids prepared well all week,” Miller Place head coach Greg Murphy said of the days leading up to the seeding-round match. “They did exactly what we thought they were going to do; they performed well.”

After just 12 minutes, Miller Place had a four-score advantage over the Royals.

First, Gersbeck, a wide receiver, returned the ball 72 yards on the opening kickoff for the early score, and Ammirato, a running back, tacked on the second when he broke outside and ran 15 yards with five minutes remaining in the opening quarter. Senior wide receiver and defensive back Eric Cisneros did what he’s done all season, and split the uprights both times to help his team to a 14-0 lead.

Port Jefferson’s running backs tested Miller Place’s defensive line, but time and time again found nothing.

Miller Place junior quarterback Anthony Seymour bowled his way up the middle with 2:44 left on a quarterback keeper for the third touchdown of the game, and the Royals were forced to punt the ball away on their next possession. Gersbeck struck again when he shed two tacklers and bolted down the left sideline. Cisneros, who was perfect on the evening, put Miller Place out front 28-0.

“They’re a tough team — they always put their heart out there,” Gersbeck said of Port Jefferson. “Our hard work and our preparation — we were focused in practice all week so that was a big part of our win.”

Port Jefferson's Brian Mark makes a leaping catch. Photo by Bill Landon
Port Jefferson’s Brian Mark makes a leaping catch. Photo by Bill Landon

The Panthers’ offensive attack featured several players under center. On the next possession, Ammirato took the snap on a keeper, and grounded out 14 yards for the first touchdown of the second quarter.

“They came out and punched us in the face on defense a little bit, but we knew that was coming,” Ammirato said. “They played tough, but I think we wore them down a little bit. We definitely got our job done.”

Again, the Royals struggled for traction and went three and out.

“They’re a very good football team over there, they have excellent athletes — they have some size and they’re coached very well, so I’m not surprised that they came out ready to play,” Port Jefferson head coach Andrew Cosci said. “I don’t think we played our best game. We played better as the game went on, but after that first quarter, it made it tough to come back.”

Cisneros set up the next score after a catch and run where he was forced out at the 1-yard line, and again, it was Ammirato who finished it, giving the team a 42-0 lead heading into the locker room at halftime.

“Looking at Port Jeff on film, I thought they had some good kids — decent size — but with their lack of numbers, I thought we could wear them down through attrition with the kids we have,” Murphy said. “We took advantage of that first half and we played Miller Place football.”

Forced to go to the air, Port Jefferson junior quarterback Jack Collins started to thread the needle, finding receivers over the middle to move the chains for the Royals. It was their first sustained drive of the game, but Miller Place senior linebacker Shane White put an end to it when he stepped in front of an intended receiver and intercepted the pass.

Miller Place's Anthony Filippetti intercepts the ball. Photo by Bill Landon
Miller Place’s Anthony Filippetti intercepts the ball. Photo by Bill Landon

Murphy had rested his starters to open the second half, and although the Royals were on the move again, the drive was halted when junior safety Anthony Filippetti caught a floater for the Panthers’ second interception of the game. He returned the ball 32 yards.

Miller Place sophomore quarterback Tom Nealis handed the ball off to his running backs to keep the play inbounds while taking time off the clock, but Port Jefferson averted a shutout with just over eight minutes left to play when Collins took matters into his own hands and bulled his way up the middle on short yardage. Port Jefferson failed to complete the 2-point conversion when Miller Place sophomore defensive back Jon Scarlatos stuffed the runner, but with seconds left in the game, Collins threw a strike to senior tight end Brian Mark who scored a 32-yard touchdown as time ran out.

Ammirato said despite the margin of victory, his team still has work to do.

“We’ll study film, practice hard, and go over our game plan every day [for next week],” he said leading up to the game against Shoreham-Wading River. “Our defense has struggled a little all year, but we’ve finally turned that around.”

The Panthers lost to the Wildcats, 27-14, Oct. 14, so Miller Place is looking to improve from its one of just two division losses this season.

“We’ve even been preparing for Shoreham this week in practice, and we’ve been looking for redemption against them since we lost,” Gersbeck said. “It’s going to be a big game.”

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By Bill Landon

It was a catfight between undefeated teams.

The battle of Panthers teams wasn’t decided until the final 40 seconds of the game, and despite Miller Place junior running back Tyler Ammirato leading the way for his football team during its homecoming matchup Oct. 1 against Babylon — scoring all four touchdowns for his team — anything can happen on the gridiron. With 40 seconds left on the clock, a Miller Place fourth-down pass was broken up, Babylon gained possession and took two knees to seal the deal, 29-25.

In his first start at quarterback, junior Anthony Seymour looked like he had been at the helm all season long. He took over under center to replace injured senior Christian McPartland, who broke his arm during the Panthers’ 54-0 blanking of McGann-Mercy Sept. 23.

Ammirato took charge with the ground-and-pound offense, and struck first when he punched through Babylon’s defensive line and bounced outside, traveling 41 yards for the touchdown. With the extra-point kick by senior Eric Cisneros good, the Panthers found themselves ahead 7-0 two minutes in.

Miller Place followed the touchdown by squandering several opportunities to score, like when on a bad snap, Babylon coughed up the ball and junior defensive lineman Joe Panico recovered the ball on the 31-yard line. Or on its’ next possession, when Miller Place was forced to punt and the Babylon punt returner called for a fair catch but bobbled the ball and the Panthers recovered on the Babylon 26-yard line.

“We left some plays on the field, so we’re going to learn from it. We’ll look at film and we’ll get better, and we’ll move on.”

—Greg Murphy

“We left some plays on the field, so we’re going to learn from it,” Miller Place’s first-year head coach Greg Murphy said. “We’ll look at film and we’ll get better, and we’ll move on. Our backup quarterback was tested today, and Anthony [Seymour] stepped it up and he played well today.”

Babylon marched down the field on its next possession. And as the team continued to move the chains, timeout was called with five seconds left in the first half, with the ball at Miller Place’s 3-yard line. Looking to even the score, Babylon plowed up the middle on a handoff, but junior defensive end Alex Herbst plugged the hole to send Babylon into the halftime break scoreless.

As a result of a sustained drive six minutes into the third quarter, Babylon found the end zone on a 5-yard pass to even the score 7-7.

On the ensuing kickoff, Ammirato went coast to coast on a 75-yard kickoff return to put his team out front 13-7 with 6:05 left on the clock. The point-after attempt failed.

Although neither team scored for the remainder of the stanza, Babylon showed why it hasn’t lost a game this season, They marched down the field again to open the final quarter with a 7-yard touchdown run to give the team its first lead of the game, 14-13.

Miller Place found itself in a fourth-and-1 position, and went for it. To no surprise, Ammirato got the call, bounced outside and jetted into the end zone untouched. Although a 2-point conversion attempt failed, Miller Place was back in front, 19-14.

“[Tyler Ammirato] is a warrior — he’s the heart and soul of this team,” Murphy said. “This was a hard-hitting game, and we knew it would be. Babylon’s a good team with numerous Long Island championships — they’ve been there, they have the swag; so we knew we had to play a perfect game.”

“We played well in key moments — we flustered a little bit [in others], but we’ll be back.”

—Tyler Ammirato

With 7:54 left in regulation Babylon grabbed a 36-yard screen pass for the score. With a successful 2-point conversion, Babylon retook the lead, 22-19.

Miller Place leaned on its premier running back, and Ammirato took the team to the Babylon 8-yard line on a handoff with just over four minutes left in the contest. Ammirato finished the job by punching into the end zone on a 3-yard run for his fourth touchdown of the afternoon. The team lined up for the two-point play, but were stopped again.The Panthers lead 25-22.

On the following possession, Babylon pounded the ball up the center of the field when the quarterback connected with his running back on a swing pass, and the receiver found an opening down the sideline following the 62-yard pass completion, and scored with three minutes left. With the extra-point kick, Babylon regained the advantage,29-25.

The clock was working against Miller Place, so when Seymour spotted senior wide receiver Kevin Gersbeck sprinting down the right sideline, he made sure to hit his mark. Seymour hit Gersbeck in stride, and the Panthers were in business at the 28-yard line with 1:16 left.

Four plays later, on fourth down with 40 seconds left in regulation, Seymour attempted to pass the ball over the middle to Cisneros, but Babylon’s defense broke up the play.

“They were a very tough team, but we knew that coming in,” Ammirato said. “We played well in key moments — we flustered a little bit [in others], but we’ll be back.”

Babylon took over on down, and took two knees to hold on and win the game.

“I think not being able to transition coming out of halftime ate up the majority of the clock, and that was a big difference,” Murphy said. “[Babylon] put one in coming out of the half, but our kids responded well. It was just a great high school football game.”

Miller Place's Mike Bodnar maintains possession with a longstick midfielder pressuring to try and force a turnover. Photo by Desirée Keegan

The Panthers pounced early, and despite letting their advantage slip away, the Miller Place boys’ lacrosse team came away with a 7-4 win over Westhampton Beach Monday to improve to 11-2 in League III.

“Westhampton came here and they always play us tough,” Miller Place head coach Keith Lizzi said. “They come in, they run a tough defense and they had us thinking and trying to do different things every possession, but we were able to score in spurts and pull away at the end.”

Miller Place's Jake Buonaiuto makes his way past a swarm of Westhampton players. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Miller Place’s Jake Buonaiuto makes his way past a swarm of Westhampton players. Photo by Desirée Keegan

The first spurt came in the opening minutes of the first quarter. Miller Place senior midfielder and co-captain Brendan Callahan stuffed the ball in, less than a minute into the game, off an assist from senior midfielder and co-captain Thomas Liantonio. Just 30 seconds later, the team did it again. This time, sophomore midfielder Kevin Gersbeck scored off an assist from junior attack Chris Nielsen.

Next, it was senior attack and co-captain Jake Buonaiuto’s turn, when he scored unassisted for an early 3-0 lead.

Miller Place’s defense drove Westhampton to take difficult shots as the Panthers surrounded their opponents and forced turnovers, but with 5:56 left in the quarter, Westhampton put its first point on the board.

Liantonio scored a goal of his own next, after Buonaiuto picked up an offensive rebound and passed it out and across the field to the senior midfielder, who whipped it in for the 4-1 advantage to end the first 12 minutes of play.

“The quick goals were definitely a good momentum booster, but we didn’t really take it and run with it,” Liantonio said. “We stalled out.”

Forced turnovers and saves by Westhampton’s goalkeeper, who made 13 during the match, kept Miller Place scoreless in the second, while the Hurricanes tacked on one goal to cut the Panthers’ lead to 4-2, heading into the halftime break.

“In the opening minutes we came out hot and then we kind of settled in,” Lizzi said. “Their defense settled in I think, too, and it was just trying to figure each other out offensively and defensively.”

Westhampton was able to get the ball rolling, and in the opening minutes of the third stanza, the team scored two quick goals to tie the game, 4-4.

Kevin Gersbeck pulls back to fire the ball across the field for Miller Place. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Kevin Gersbeck pulls back to fire the ball across the field for Miller Place. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Miller Place won faceoffs and scooped up some ground balls, but bad passes that bounced out of bounds helped the Hurricanes regain possession.

“We got a little complacent,” Buonaiuto said. “We thought we could just score, score, score, but obviously, that didn’t happen. We just needed to relax, find and get back into our rhythm, and find our way, which we did.”

With 5:45 left in the third, Buonaiuto, from behind the cage, passed the ball to Gersbeck in front, whose shot was saved by the goalkeeper, but bounced back behind the net. Buonaiuto scooped it up and again passed it in front to Gersbeck, whose shot hit its mark this time, for a 5-4 advantage.

Miller Place made a few big saves to preserve the lead heading into the fourth, and the Panthers held the Hurricanes scoreless, while Buonaiuto and Liantonio connected for another goal. This time, Liantonio assisted after scooping up a ground ball in the Panthers’ zone and taking it all the way up the field before passing to Buonaiuto, who rocketed his shot into the back of the cage. With 2:51 left to play, Nielsen connected with Gersbeck for the final score of the game, and Gersbeck’s hat trick goal.

Junior goalkeeper Jake Bowrosen finished with seven saves, while classmate Joe Kessler made five.

“Defensively, we really had a good game I thought,” Lizzi said. “Both goalies played excellent and [senior] Christian Stalter played great at the faceoff ‘X.’”

With two regular-season matchups left before the playoffs, the Panthers will first travel to Harborfields Friday at 4:45 p.m. and follow by hosting Elwood-John Glenn on Tuesday, May 12, at 4:30 p.m. Miller Place is looking to take wins and momentum into the postseason.

“Our fundamentals weren’t there — passing and catching, we didn’t clear the ball well, didn’t catch, threw the ball out of bounds a lot and had a lot of turnovers today,” Liantonio said. “Every guy here brings something different to the team. We need to play a full game, cut down the turnovers and try to find a way to win.”