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Mad Dogs

Luis Antonio Fernandez leads the pack for Middle Country. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

With twice the number of athletes, Northport’s boys’ track and field team dominated the League II meet on its home track Tuesday to win the meet 105-20.

Sam Augustin leaps over the hurdle for Northport. Photo by Bill Landon
Sam Augustin leaps over the hurdle for Northport. Photo by Bill Landon

Middle Country head coach George Royce said that most of the districts’ athletes come from Newfield, so a venue change earlier in the year adversely affected his team.

“At the very beginning of the season the athletic director moved us to Centereach, so a lot of our athletes [from Newfield] just didn’t come out for the team,” Royce said. “The Newfield kids didn’t want to take the bus over, and we lost quite a few good athletes, so we’re really short.”

Short or not, finishing fifth for Middle Country in the 3,200-meter run was sophomore Luis Antonio Fernandez, a second-year varsity runner who had never competed in the event before.

“We only had one kid in it and I already ran the 1,600 and I wasn’t feeling that good for the 800,” Fernandez said. “So I wanted to wait a little bit so I could recover.”

Northport freshman Isaih Claiborne was at the head of the pack for the 3,200, and stayed with the leader, making big kicks down the final 200-meter stretch to cross the finish line at 11 minutes, 36.3 seconds.

Crossing the finish line first in the 1,600 was a tie between Northport senior Michael Cossaro and junior Sam Napoli, who both finished in 4:59.03.

Northport head coach Bob Burkley said his team’s victory was due to the number of competitors his team fielded this day. Burkley has been coaching for years and also noted that he coached Middle Country’s head coach back in 1974.

“The team aspect is what won it for us,” Burkley said. “It was a team effort because they ran in groups, and that was the key.”

Denzel Williams competes in the long jump for Middle Country. Photo by Bill Landon
Denzel Williams competes in the long jump for Middle Country. Photo by Bill Landon

Middle Country standout Denzel Williams, a junior, is a premier sprinter and one of the fastest kids in League II, according to his coach. While he believes Chris Weiner is the best pole-vaulter in the league.

Williams, who won the 100 in 11.6,  said that the running conditions weren’t the best, as he ran slower than his personal best of 11.2.

“The wind affected me — it was a long bus ride here and I didn’t get a good warm up,” said Williams, who specializes in the 100, 200 and long jump events.

With the win, Northport improved to 2-1, while Middle Country dropped to 0-3.

Despite the strong athletes Royce has, the coach said his team has a tough time filling the roster to compete against the bigger teams.

“We’re very young, with only one senior and we have talent, but we’re small and have trouble competing against these larger schools,” he said.

Middle Country will host Sachem North on Tuesday at 4 p.m., and Northport will travel to Connetquot Tuesday at 4:30 p.m.

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Middle Country’s Zach Harned puts on the breaks as he looks for an opening in front of East Islip’s net, in the Mad Dogs’ 8-5 win over the Redmen Saturday. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

The Middle Country boys’ lacrosse team scored four quick goals in less than three minutes and continued to fire off shots and find the back of the cage to claim an 8-5 victory over East Islip, Saturday.

Less than a minute into the game, junior midfielder Kyle Stemke scored first for the Mad Dogs, and senior midfielder Brandon Thomas followed with a goal of his own a minute later to jump out to a 2-0 lead.

Middle Country’s bobby Emerson cuts around East Islip defenders as he makes his way up the field in the Mad Dogs’ 8-5 win over East Islip Saturday. Photo by Bill Landon
Middle Country’s bobby Emerson cuts around East Islip defenders as he makes his way up the field in the Mad Dogs’ 8-5 win over East Islip Saturday. Photo by Bill Landon

“We played a solid team with a solid defense today who have a lot of offensive power,” Stemke said, as his team made eight of its 21 attempts at a goal. “We made some goals when we had to and we were able to shut them down defensively at the end.”

Middle Country head coach Kenneth Budd said his team has struggled at the faceoff position lately, but that wasn’t the case for the Mad Dogs in this matchup.

Junior midfielder Declan Canevari won his third possession of the game and dished the ball to senior attack Bobby Emerson, and Canevari followed with his fourth faceoff win, and took the ball down the right sideline, cut to the inside and buried his shot between the pipes to give Middle Country a four-goal advantage.

Budd said his faceoff specialist was the difference-maker in the contest.

“Declan was phenomenal at the ‘X’ today,” Budd said. “When you control ‘X’ you get possession, and that’s how you win games.”

Middle Country senior attack Zach Harned assisted in his team’s first goal of the second quarter when he fed the ball to junior midfielder Cole Demaille, who found the back of the cage. Stemke crossed the ball over to Emerson next, who sent home his second goal of the game to take a commanding 6-0 lead.

“We knew their goalie was good, but we came out firing and we were really amped when we went up 6-0,” Harned said. “We came out clean, we maintained possession and we played hard.”

East Islip wouldn’t go quietly though, and rattled off three unanswered goals in less than three minutes late in the half, to keep Middle Country’s defense on its toes.

Harned halted the Redmen’s scoring spree, and blasted a shot to the back of the cage to bring the halftime score to 7-3.

Middle Country’s Kyle Stemke races downfield and winds up to fire a shot at the cage in the Mad Dogs’ 8-5 nonleague victory over East Islip Saturday. Photo by Bill Landon
Middle Country’s Kyle Stemke races downfield and winds up to fire a shot at the cage in the Mad Dogs’ 8-5 nonleague victory over East Islip Saturday. Photo by Bill Landon

East Islip found the cage late in the third to trim the deficit to three, and Middle Country failed to find the cage until halfway through the final quarter when Stemke moved down the right sideline, crossed to midfield and scored his second goal of the game to double East Islip’s score to lead 8-4.

East Islip tallied one more goal with three minutes left to play, and despite Middle Country being a man down off a penalty with 2:45 left to play, the Mad Dogs defense stood its ground.

“We stepped it up on offense and then our goalie made a big defensive stop at the end of the game,” Emerson saidå.

With the nonleague win, Middle Country ended its five-game losing streak and improved to 3-5 overall, while maintaining a 2-4 League I record.

The Mad Dogs will host Lindenhurst next, on Wednesday, at 7 p.m., where the team looks to continue its success to move up in the league ranking.

“The key to the game was us getting out to a 4-0 lead in the first quarter,” Canevari said. “Even though they came back, we gave ourselves a sizable margin that we could work with. I just focused on getting possession at the X; we haven’t been doing that lately — to get possession, get the ball to our attacker’s sticks to win the game.”

Nikki Ortega grabs the ball off the draw and crosses into Ward Melville’s zone. Photo by Desirée Keegan

These Mad Dogs are showing their teeth.

In a dogfight between two of the top teams in Division I Monday, visiting Ward Melville dominated the beginning of the first half, edging ahead to a 4-1 lead, but the Middle Country girls’ lacrosse team found its groove and bounced back to prove why it’s undefeated.

With the 17-12 comeback win, the Mad Dogs improved to 6-0 to remain in sole possession of first place, while the Patriots dropped to 4-2.

“We have a big week ahead of us so to get one out of the way is a good feeling,” Middle Country head coach Lindsay Dolson said. “We kept our calm. We knew that we could score. We had a bunch of pipes in the first couple of minutes so that took a little wind out of our sails, but they did a great job coming back.”

Amanda Masullo races toward the cage for Middle Country. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Amanda Masullo races toward the cage for Middle Country. Photo by Desirée Keegan

After Ward Melville jumped out to a 3-0 lead, Middle Country senior midfielder and attack Nikki Ortega scored off a foul for the team’s first point with 15:21 left in the first half.

The Patriots tacked on another goal before Ortega’s younger sister, Jamie, a sophomore midfielder, netted back-to-back goals to pull within one, 4-3.

“We knew that we were down, but we always tell each other not to freak out; to talk to each other,” Jamie Ortega said. “I was frustrated because I knew we were the better team, so us down got me motivated.”

The teams traded goals, and after being down 5-4, Middle Country tied it up 5-5 with 4:39 left until the halftime break.

With the offensive sides strong on both ends of the field, the two teams traded another goal apiece to bring the score to 6-6 at the end of the first, and continued to trade goals until the game was tied 9-9.
From there, the Mad Dogs raced ahead to a 14-9 lead before Ward Melville senior attack Alex Vignona scored from 10 yards out, and followed her showing with an assist, as she passed the ball to sophomore attack Kaitlin Thornton who scored overhead in front of the net to close the gap to 14-11.

Jamie Ortega netted one next, taking the ball all the way up the field and, from the right side, crossing the ball in front of the net and into the left corner with 4:08 remaining in the game. Middle Country scored again, and Ward Melville sophomore midfielder Madison Hobbes scored her team’s final point before Nikki Ortega passed the ball to eighth-grade defender Sophie Alois off a shooting space foul with 16 seconds on the clock, for the final goal of the game.

Jamie Ortega maintains possession of the ball with a Ward Melville defender on her back. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Jamie Ortega maintains possession of the ball with a Ward Melville defender on her back. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“We knew this was our time, this was our game and we had to step it up, and that’s what we did,” Middle Country junior defender Jordynn Aiello said. “I knew stepping on this field today we were going to come out with this win no matter what. One thing I love about my team is that we stay calm under pressure; we don’t break.”

While the team ran into trouble winning possession off the draw and the defense struggled with the slides, defenders, like Aiello, forced some crucial turnovers.

Vignona, Nemirov, Thornton, Hobbes and junior attack Holly Regan scored two goals apiece for the Patriots, while sophomore midfielder Hannah Hobbes and senior midfielder Cat Smith rounded out the scoring with a goal each.

“I never thought we’d get this far and I knew that they were going to give us a hard game,” Jamie Ortega said of Ward Melville. “I knew that if we came back and played how we usually play we’d end up on top.”

The sophomore midfielder led the Mad Dogs with six goals while her older sister Nikki finished with four.  Sophomore midfielder Amanda Masullo tacked on three goals, while her twin sister Rachel, Alois, senior midfielder Allison DiPaola and sophomore attack Ava Barry added a goal apiece.

“She did a great job,” Dolson said of Jamie Ortega. “I spoke to her before the game and I said ‘Jamie, I feel it. You’re going to have a day today.’ And she did.”

Ortega said her team works well to pass each other the ball and stay connected, and Aiello said Middle Country’s ability to work together should take them far.

“There are no individuals on this field, it’s a team, and everybody has a job on this team and we get it done,” she said.  “I have a lot of faith in my team, I believe in us and I believe that if we continue to work on enhancing and perfecting our game, we’ll be unstoppable.”

Senior attack Zach Harned races around Riverhead players as he tries to get an open look at the net to score a goal, in Middle Country’s 12-4 loss to the Blue Waves Monday. Photo by Desirée Keegan

After starting off last season with a 10-0 losing streak, the Middle Country boys’ lacrosse team has already turned its game around this year, despite having it’s 2-0 record snapped by Riverhead at home, 12-4, on Monday.

The Mad Dogs first edged out Commack, 10-9, on March 25, and followed it up with a 10-2 victory at Patchogue-Medford on March 27, to remain undefeated at 2-0 in League I.

In Monday’s nonleague game against Riverhead, which stands 1-2, 0-1 in League II, the boys started off strong to begin the first and second half, but its efforts weren’t enough once the Blue Waves started rolling.

With 6:35 remaining in the first quarter, senior attacks Zach Harned and Bobby Emerson connected on a play where Harned passed the ball across the net to Emerson, who placed it in the right goal side for the 1-0 lead.

Junior attack Cole Demaille maintains possession as he races up the field with a Riverhead player reaching to force a turnover. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Junior attack Cole Demaille maintains possession as he races up the field with a Riverhead player reaching to force a turnover. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Two minutes later, Riverhead evened the scored, but Emerson scored again with 8:22 remaining in the second stanza when he scooped the ball up off an offensive rebound and rocketed it straight up the middle for a 2-1 advantage.

Riverhead scored three unanswered goals to end the second and take a 5-2 lead into halftime, and the Mad Dogs were disappointed.

“That wasn’t our usual game plan that we have,” senior defender Mike Durkin said. “We usually communicate more on defense and we were just off today.”

Middle Country turned it around after halftime, and 30 seconds into the quarter, senior midfielder Brandon Thomas fed the ball to Emerson, who scored.

Just over a minute later, Thomas crossed into Riverhead’s zone and whipped the ball into the cage from about 20 yards out, to pull the Mad Dogs within one point, 5-4.

“I thought we came out strong,” Thomas said. “Coming out in the second half I thought we gave it a good push, we just finished off a little slow. We’ve got to stick together.”

Middle Country continued to move the ball around and was strong on the clears, but ran into trouble at the faceoff and couldn’t capitalize on some of its opportunities.

Riverhead scored three unanswered goals to end the third, and scored four more in the fourth. Junior goalkeeper Christian Brody made six saves for the Mad Dogs, and backup J.D. Kane finished with three.

Senior midfielder Brandon Thomas added a goal and an assist in Middle Country’s 12-4 loss to Riverhead Monday. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Senior midfielder Brandon Thomas added a goal and an assist in Middle Country’s 12-4 loss to Riverhead Monday. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Thomas said the team needs to slow down its plays on offense, while Durkin believes the rotation, sliding and communication needs to be stronger on defense if the Mad Dogs want to go far this season. The boys believe they can improve on last season’s 2-14 overall and 2-12 league records though, and see playoffs as a possibility in the future.

“We’ve been coming together,” Durkin said. “We’ve been playing together since we were 5 years old so we all know each other and we know where each other is going to be [on the field].”

Thomas added: “We’re a good, close-knit group. The goal is to make the playoffs, and that’s what we’re looking to do this year.”

Nikki Ortega moves around a West Islip player in the semifinal game last season. File photo by Desirée Keegan

With four sets of sisters on the squad this year, the Middle Country girls’ lacrosse team is hoping its strong chemistry will help propel it into the postseason and beyond.

The Mad Dogs weren’t used to the success they had last year. While the girls have made it to the first or second playoff round before, last season the team made it to the semifinals, where a last-second goal helped West Islip nab a 12-11 win.

“We’ve never gotten that far,” senior midfielder and attack Nikki Ortega said. “It was really great, and we learned a lot, but now we know what we need to do to win and get to the county championship. I think last year was an eye opener to how much we have to work to get to where we want to be this year.”

While the girls thought most schools doubted their talent, sophomore midfielder Rachel Masullo said her teammates always believed in their potential.

“Everyone kind of looks down on us, but we definitely showed people that we’re actually good and that we can do big things,” she said.

The big things the team did last season led to a No. 1 preseason ranking, but the athletes aren’t focused on that. They’re just looking to improve upon last season’s 12-6 overall and 10-4 Division I record, as they have their sights set on something even bigger — states.

“I think they have an underlining drive this year of unfinished business; something to prove,” head coach Lindsay Dolson said. “No one cares about [the ranking], we just have to play our best lacrosse each and every day, get better and take it one game at a time.”

Jamie Ortega crosses into West Islip's zone. File photo by Desirée Keegan
Jamie Ortega crosses into West Islip’s zone. File photo by Desirée Keegan

Nikki Ortega’s younger sister Jamie, a sophomore midfielder, feels that unfinished business could be accomplished this season.

“I feel this year is our year because we connect so well on and off the field,” she said.

Rachel Masullo’s twin sister Amanda, also a midfielder, agrees.

“Even though we just started practicing I feel like we can beat whoever we want to if we have the right mind-set,” she said. “We have that connection and we’re comfortable. On the field we always know where each other is going to be; we don’t even have to say anything. If I pass it somewhere, I know my sister’s going to be there, or one of the [other] sisters is gong to be there. I think it’s our best quality in the team.”

Other pairs of sisters on the squad include returning eighth-grader Jennifer Barry and her sister Ava, who transferred back from St. Anthony’s, and sophomore returner Haley Timarky and her sister Emily.

According to the players, practices have been intense as the girls focus on limiting turnovers, transitioning on defense and continually building stamina.

The team did lose two seniors in defender Gabrielle Redding, who the girls depended on and were confident could make the stops, and the Masullo twin’s older sister Paige, an attack. Even so, they feel comfortable with the roster and will look to Nikki Ortega to lead the way.

“She’s always been an impact player since she’s been with me,” Dolson said of her six-year returner. “She’s really stepped up and is one of the leaders they look to.”

And the girls want to go far for her.

“I would love to go out with a bang for Nikki’s last season,” Rachel Masullo said. “Nikki deserves it. She works really hard and she should be paid for it. She should get rewarded.”

Nikki Ortega is humbled by her teammates’ sentiments but also wants the team to go far for her own reasons.

“They’re all like my little sisters so for them to want it for me is unbelievable, but I hope to accomplish it not only for me, but for them as well, because I know everyone has been working really hard for this,” she said. “It’s only the second week of practice and already we see a difference compared to all of the other years starting off. Our motivation is to get to states, and that’s what we hope to achieve.”