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Kevin Kelleher

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By Bill Landon

Smithtown West did what to many was inconceivable.

The boys’ volleyball team claimed the program’s first Class A Long Island title Nov. 12 with a four-set win over Plainview JFK (16-2) 25-18, 25-23, 24-26 and 26-24.

Junior outside hitter Chris Shanley had 20 kills, junior outside hitter Kevin Kelleher added 16 kills and senior setter Tom Bernard had 42 assists to lead the Bulls to the championship at Suffolk County Community College’s Brentwood campus. Senior libero Jake Torres had 17 digs and senior middle blocker Tom Keller had five kills and four blocks.

To claim the team’s first Class A championship just three days prior, the No. 2 Bulls handed No. 1 Sachem North its first Long Island loss in 52 matches. In fact, Smithtown West swept its opponent, a two-time defending Suffolk champion, 28-16, 25-19 and 25-17 at Suffolk.

Again, Shanley led the way for the Bulls (14-2) with 15 kills.

He helped the Bulls not only tie the game twice, but give the team a one-point edge two times in the first set. He also put the team in the right state of mind to get the job done.

“We were getting the sets where they needed to be, we were getting kills and we distributed the ball well,” Shanley said, adding that he knew his team would have to play a mistake-free game in order to get the job done. “But I knew that they could come back with any mistake we made.”

Both teams scratched and clawed at the net as Sachem North (15-1) retook the lead, 23-22, and took the game to break point. But after Smithtown West called for a break in the action, the Bulls rallied back.

“We stayed composed and we played for every point until the game is over,” Kelleher said. “We’re a hard team — we push.”

Needing to win the set by two points, the Flaming Arrows brought the game to the brink, only to have Kelleher’s kill shot retie the game 26-26. The Bulls fought off back-to-back set points, and won it on a block by Keller, who had nine kills.

“Our defense was the strongest part of our game — we pride ourselves on being the best defensive team on the Island.”

—David DeRosa

“Winning that first game gave us the confidence that we can do it,” Smithtown West head coach Michael Legge said. “We had a little bit of doubt, but that win gave us the confidence to go get them.”

The momentum carried over to the second set. The Bulls jumped out to 6-2 lead, and stood on the gas to make it a 14-8 advantage. Both teams exchanged points, but the Bulls maintained the margin, staying out front, 18-12. The team showed its defensive strength, as Torres dug and dove all over the floor — making nine digs on the night — and got the ball out to Kelleher and junior right side hitter David DeRosa.

“Our defense was the strongest part of our game — we pride ourselves on being the best defensive team on the Island,” DeRosa said. “[Assistant] coach Andrew Sanchez preaches defense, and that’s how you win games — you get the ball up, you throw it back at them and let them make the mistake.”

Sachem North did just that, making an unforced error to fall behind 22-14, and after giving the Bulls a point on a service error, a Bulls kill brought the match to break point, prompting another timeout in the match. After a sustained volley, the game was decided at the net off a blocked shot, and Smithtown West took a two-set lead.

Even with its strong teamwork, Smithtown West got off to a slow start in the third, before tying the set 5-5. The Flaming Arrows answered with three straight points before Shanley, from service, rattled off three of his own to knot the score at 8-8. Sachem North committed two more unforced errors, and continued to struggle to find a rhythm at the Bulls bounced out to a 17-11 lead.

The thunder from Smithtown West’s side of the bleachers echoed off the gymnasium walls, as the excitement behind, and thought of a first-time championship-winning sweep loomed.

DeRosa put up a wall on the right side, blocking shot after shot — making five blocks to go along with four kills — to help his team to a 23-16 advantage.

Legge said DeRosa’s play set the tone for the Bulls’ defense.

“Dave with those blocks on the right side — he just killed it — he was one-on-one with a lot of them and usually that’s an advantage for the other team,” the coach said, adding that those blocks were a difference-maker. “But big boy was getting up, getting hands on it — he was awesome.”

The Flaming Arrows flamed out, gave up the next two points and the championship.

“They’re a great team — they have the ability to come back from any deficit, so it wasn’t until that last point that it became real,” DeRosa said. “I was very surprised that it went three games, but we were ready for a dogfight.”

Smithtown West will return to Suffolk County Community College’s Brentwood Nov. 19 to make its state tournament debut. Pool play begins at 10 a.m., and should the Bulls advance to the finals, the first set it scheduled to begin at 2 p.m.

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Right side hitter Brendan Smith blocks the ball. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Senior night was off to a rocky start at Smithtown West, as the Bulls bounced back from a first-set loss to top Sayville 3-1 Oct. 24, 25-16, 25-16, 25-16 and 25-23. At 9-2, the boys’ volleyball team is in third place behind 10-2 Eastport South Manorville and undefeated Sachem North with three games left before the playoffs.

Outside hitter Kevin Kelleher comes through with a kill shot. Photo by Bill Landon
Outside hitter Kevin Kelleher comes through with a kill shot. Photo by Bill Landon

“Our teamwork and our hustle — we [communicated] really well and we played well as a team,” junior outside hitter Kevin Kelleher said. “We’ll keep working and build that family bond and hopefully that will help us in the playoffs.”

Smithtown West head coach Michael Legge said there would be a different mix in the first set, because all five seniors took to the court. The squad pulled within six points late in the set, but couldn’t come back from the deficit.

The second set was a different story, as the Bulls jumped out front 6-2 and rattled off four more straight points before Sayville called timeout.

“This is a deep team — it’s 16 players — not just the six guys you see on the court,” Legge said. “In practice, the [nonstarters are] constantly pushing the starters to play better and better.”

The Golden Flashes broke service and fired back with four unanswered points of their own to trail 10-6, but after the teams traded points, the Bulls notched six more on a service tare to break out to a 16-10 advantage.

Right side blocker Brian Grudman pushes the ball back over the net. Photo by Bill Landon
Right side blocker Brian Grudman pushes the ball back over the net. Photo by Bill Landon

Bull’s outside hitter Chris Shanley led his team to break point and finished it with a booming service ace that caught Sayville flat footed, to take the second set 25-16.

“The second set was the turning point,” Shanley said. “We had to push through there to show them what we’re made of. We passed well, we had good service, and our blocking was a little shaky, but we hit the ball well.”

Smithtown West senior Brendan Smith got things going in the third set, stringing five point volleys in a row to lead his team to a 5-0 lead. Sayville struggled, committing several mental errors to which the Bulls cashed in on.

Out front 10-4, the Bulls turned up the heat, outscoring their opponent 9-2 for a commanding 19-6 advantage. But Sayville wouldn’t go down quietly, and battled backed to trail 23-16.

In the first three sets, with a 25-16 margin of victory for each, the fourth and final set proved to be even more of a nail biter.

Sayville peppered the scoreboard with 12 points early in the fourth set as the Bulls managed just three. Although the match made it look like the game would end up going to a fifth set, Smithtown West chipped away at the deficit and scored nine unanswered points as Sayville’s defense began to sputter, committing several unforced errors.

Right side hitter Brendan Smith sets up a play. Photo by Bill Landon
Right side hitter Brendan Smith sets up a play. Photo by Bill Landon

Senior right side blocker Brian Grudman answered with a thundering service ace to put his team out front for the first time in the set, 13-12, and said his team had to just shake it off as the Bulls got their head back in the game.

“Our hustle and our ability to pick ourselves back up — not giving up on any balls [is what led us to the win],” he said. “We’re going to raise the net, show some hustle work our butts off as hard as we can.”

Ahead 17-14 lead, Sayville soon brought the set to a 23-23 tie, which prompted a timeout. Sayville gave Smithtown West break point on a service error, and the Bulls made them pay for it, scoring the final point to put the set away.

“They’ve really bought into the team concept — the court defense, the passing, the hustle that they show,” Legge said. “We push that for every single point every single game, and you don’t say die until the ball hits the floor.”

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Panthers pick off passes, make big offensive moves to annihilate Eagles, 53-14

By Bill Landon

The Panthers pounced early, and often.

On Saturday afternoon, the Miller Place football team outscored Rocky Point 53-14 in their homecoming game. After the pregame parade of floats, the marching band, fire trucks, cheerleaders and the crowning of the king & queen, the Panthers went to work.

Miller Place moved the chains four minutes in and appeared to stall on a 4th-and-19, but a call from the playbook was to go for it, and they did. Miller Place senior quarterback Stephen Farrell faked a handoff and rolled to his right, he was able to see a clear path to senior wide receiver Thomas Bell, who found the end zone for the score.

“We practice that play a lot and it was too far for a field goal, so we might as well take a shot with a play that we practice all week,” Farrell said. “And when it’s run the right way, it looks good.”

With the point after good, the Panthers took an early lead, 7-0.

Rocky Point fumbled the ball on its next possession, and Miller Place sophomore running back Tyler Ammirato, on a long run, put the Panthers in scoring position. Two plays later, Ammirato finished what he started by powering into the end zone for the Panthers second score. With the extra-point kick successful, the team took a 14-0 lead with 4:23 left in the first quarter.

On the ensuing kickoff, Rocky Point fielded the ball on the 1-yard line, and stepped back into its own end zone and took a knee, downing the ball in the Eagles’ own end zone and handing the Panthers two points on a safety.

With 1:36 left in the opening quarter, Miller Place senior running back Kemonte Mosely made something out of nothing when he stalled up the middle and bounced outside, running eight yards to the end zone. With junior Eric Romero-Cisneros’ kick good, the Panthers took a 23-0 advantage into the second quarter.

“Coaches told us to come out here and play our hearts out,” Mosely said. “It’s homecoming, and the last time for our seniors to come out here and make it big. Rocky Point’s our neighbor — we knew it was going to be a big game for us, so we came out here and played hard.”

The Eagles found the end zone on the opening play of the second quarter when senior quarterback Harrison Lynch found sophomore running back Alec Rinaldi for the touchdown. Junior Sean McGovern split the uprights, and his team trailed, 23-7.

From there, it went from bad to worse for the Eagles, as the Panthers continued to light up the scoreboard. First, senior running back Matthew Bell, on a hand off, stepped outside and strolled into the end zone untouched. Rock Point was desperate to stop the bleeding and threw a long ball down the right sideline only to have it picked off by Miller Place senior defensive back and co-captain Mike Bodnar, who ran it back to the 16-yard line. With 8:55 left in the half, Farrell found Matthew Bell, who caught the ball and ran 21 yards for the score and 37-7 lead.

“Words can’t describe how bad we wanted it — we had the heart and the hustle,” Bell said. “We wanted it more and that’s what happened.”

The Eagles couldn’t get any traction, as Lynch searched for an open receiver and threw the ball down the right sidelines, only to have it picked off again, this time, by senior defensive back Kevin Kelleher.

The Panthers took over on the 34-yard line, but were unable to move the chains. With a cold breeze sweeping through, Romero-Cisneros knocked the ball between the posts with 16 seconds left on the clock. His 37-yard field goal helped his team surge ahead 40-7.

On the subsequent kickoff, the Eagles had time for one or two more plays. Desperate to put points on the board before the halftime break, Rocky Point made another long attempt, but Kelleher again saw the pass and snatched the ball out of the air for his second interception on the day.

Thomas Bell opened the second half for Miller Place with an 85-yard kickoff return to put the Panthers deep into Eagles territory. Mosely got the call, again, and delivered. Two plays later, he pushed his way into the end zone, and just 15 seconds into the third quarter, Miller Place head coach Ron Petrie began rotating his bench players with the 47-7 advantage.

“Defensively, we set a tone early; they had a couple of quick three and outs,” Petrie said. “With what we do offensively, we knew we would be able to find some mismatches in the passing game, and I think that’s what opened it up for us.”

In the closing quarter, Ammirato struck again for the Panthers’ final score of the day.

“It was a great win and I’m happy we won for our seniors today,” Ammirato said.

With the missed extra point, the Panthers were out in front, 53-7.

Rocky Point wasn’t out of gas just yet, and the Eagles managed one more score with nine minutes left when senior running back Brandon Combs found the end zone to help bring the final score to 53-14.

Bell said the win was very satisfying.

“They fought hard, we fought hard; it’s all the preparation from our coaches that got us to where we are now,” he said.

Farrell wasn’t surprised by the win, and was proud of his team’s efforts as the Panthers improve to 4-2 in Division III, while Rocky Point dropped to 2-4.

“It just shows how hard we worked and how bad we wanted this win,” Farrell said. “We wanted it for all the fans, and we wanted it for all of us.”