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Luke Eidle

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Huntington's Eric Sands pushes through the pack. Photo by Jim Ferchland

By Jim Ferchland

A series of fortunate events led Huntington football to a homecoming victory Oct. 21.

Down the entire game, a 76-yard touchdwon toss from quarterback John Paci to Alex LaBella gave the Blue Devils their first lead of the game, 20-13, with 6:22 remaining in the fourth quarter. Then, with one minute left to play, Riverhead went for a 2-point conversion following a 3-yard touchdown run from Darnell Chandler that made it 20-19, instead of trying to tie the game with an extra-point kick. The ball was dropped by Riverhead’s Albert Daniels in the end zone on the attempt to hand Huntington the game.

Huntington’s John Paci pulls back to launch a pass. Photo by Jim Ferchland

“Winning is always something we look to do,” Huntington head coach Steve Muller said, adding he did not anticipate the game finishing in this fashion it did. “We take it game by game no matter who they are. We respect everybody. We’re trying to get into the playoffs.”

At halftime, Huntington was down 7-0 after a 40-yard touchdown pass from Christian Pace to Chandler in the second quarter. The Blue Devils offense was lifeless in the first half.

“We thought we didn’t play good Huntington football,” Muller said. “I said to my guys in the locker room that there’s really nothing to say, but we can take over this game if we want to. It’s how bad you want to be remembered for this homecoming.”

Eric Sands, a Top 25 rusher in Suffolk County, had two touchdowns in the second half. The senior said he just wants to go to work every time he steps on the gridiron.

“I’m always excited when my name is called,” he said of consistently getting the football. “I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do and stay focused.”

Sands has 611 yards on 87 carries and 11 touchdowns through seven games this season. He scored on runs of 5 yards and 2 yards in the win, and finished the game with 132 yards on 25 carries.

Paci, who completed four of eight passes for 123 yards, seemed to be the hero after heaving the big touchdown pass to LaBella for the advantage, but the junior was quick not to take all the credit.

Huntington’s Alex LaBella races toward the end zone. Photo by Jim Ferchland

“I was scared when the ball was in the air,” Paci said. “It had some arc on it, but I was so excited when LaBella caught it.”

His senior wide receiver was also sweating on the other side of the field.

“There was a lot of nervousness,” LaBella said. “I just had to keep my eye on the ball, run down the field and score.”

Luke Eidle, who had 11 tackles and an interception, also aided Huntington.

Huntington hasn’t lost a game since Sept. 23, a 20-17 loss at home against West Islip. With the win over Riverhead, the Blue Devils have won four straight and improve their record to 5-2.

“I’m always proud of my team,” Muller said. “They’re all great kids and they work real hard everyday. That’s all I could ask for.”

Huntington will go on the road to conclude the season with a game at Bay Shore, which hasn’t lost its last two games, but only scored 10 points in that duration. The game will be Oct. 28 at 2:30 p.m.

Huntington football fans come out to celebrate homecoming. Photo by Jim Ferchland

Centereach's Eric Russo hurls a pitch from the mound. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Behind solid pitching and timely hitting, the Centereach baseball team was able to hold off Huntington, 6-4, at home April 10, despite back and forth lead changes.

Centereach’s Ryan Mahnke grabs the ball to apply the tag to Huntington’s Steven Napurano. Photo by Bill Landon

Trailing by a run, Centereach third baseman Ryan Mahnke slammed a base-clearing, stand-up double to left center that plated teammates Nick Corsaro and Steve Krauth for a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the first inning.

The Blue Devils countered in the top of the second when Justin Italiano drilled the ball through the gap, and Will Vollack sprinted home to tie the game.

In the next inning, Vollack’s bat cracked again when he sent the ball to right center, scoring Steven Napurano from second, as Huntington retook the lead. With two outs, the Blue Devils looked to stretch their lead with runners at the corners, but the batter was caught looking to end the inning.

After another Mahnke double, first baseman Sean McGuinnes sent the ball into the air, which was carried by the wind to help send Mahnke across home plate to retie the game, 3-3.

“Both teams played hard,” McGuinnes said. “I thought Huntington would be [tough] after their win against West Islip, but we did well today.”

Centereach looked to break the game open, and with an infield hit by Robert Maina that loaded the bases with one out, it seemed as if it could be done. If Luke Eidle, Huntington’s starting pitcher, felt the pressure, he didn’t show it. He retired the Cougars’ next two batters to get out of the jam.

Centereach’s Sean McGuinnes makes contact. Photo by Bill Landon

Huntington right fielder Ethan Copp smacked a pitch deep to right center next, to score. Italiano scored from second base to again take the lead, 4-3, in the top of the fourth.

“They had the timely hits, and we didn’t,” Huntington head coach William Harris said. “We left a lot of runners on base, so it’s a tough loss for us today. It’s a lost opportunity. They had some good pitching today, and that kept them in the game.”

Centereach went back to work countering when Corsaro doubled to start things off. Krauth’s bat spoke next, as the left fielder hit the ball deep, just dropping in to plate Corsaro to retie the game. Despite a Huntington conference on the mound, Mahnke ripped his third stand-up double of the afternoon, driving in Corsaro as Centereach edged ahead 5-4.

“Our team pulled out the win,” Mahnke said. “We hit the ball timely with two outs, and [starting pitcher] Eric Russo did his job and that gave us a chance to win.”

Huntington’s Ethan Copp swings for the fences. Photo by Bill Landon

Centereach designated hitter Brian Honka singled into the gap next to bring Mahnke home for a 6-4 advantage.

Again, Eidle loaded the bases when he walked Maina, but the Blue Devils’ defense rose to the challenge, as all three Cougars were stranded to end the inning.

Centereach’s Ed Bassett relieved Russo, and Huntington fell into new-pitcher jitters, as the Blue Devils laid off the pitcher, which proved costly as he threw strike after strike. Forced to make contact, and with a runner on third, the Blue Devils threatened, but the Cougars’ defense was more than ready.

“Today they came to play — they can hit from No. 1 to No. 9 — they put the bat on the ball,” Centereach head coach Michael Herrschaft said of Huntington. “Eric [Russo] did a gutsy job for us is how I would describe it. Then, Eddie [Bassett] coming in and closing us out throwing strikes — that was big for us — not walking anyone and letting us make a play. He did what he’s supposed to do and that was awesome.”

Centereach traveled to Huntington April 12 for the second game of a three-game series, but results were not available by press time. The two will face off at Centereach again April 15 at 3 p.m.