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Panthers

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Jacob Bloom chases after an opponent for Miller Place. File photo by Desirée Keegan

When Jacob Bloom was heading into middle school, he had to choose between the two sports he had dedicated most of his childhood to learning.

But, his father told him his future wouldn’t involve a baseball bat, but a lacrosse stick, and it turned out to be one of the best decisions he ever made, as the now former Miller Place defender will be playing for Marist College next year.

“It was more of a complete sport,” Bloom said. “The physicality and the emotion — I fell in love with the game right away.”

Bloom’s father, Mark, who was coaching him in both sports, said he saw potential in his son to excel in the sport at a young age.

“He positioned himself better as a lacrosse player than as a baseball player,” he said. “In his size, his structure and his footwork.”

Miller Place boys’ lacrosse head coach Keith Lizzi saw the same strong future in the budding defender, who was brought up to the varsity team as a ninth grader.

“Jacob is extremely mature,” said Lizzi, who first coached Bloom when he was on the middle school football team. “He was coachable at a young age — he was like a sponge — and he listened well. He understood that it was going to make him better if he listens.”

Bloom said it was a challenge being the low man on the totem pole, but the team was able to groom him at a young age, and the athlete said the experience was what he needed most.

Mark Bloom saw his son devote most months out of the year to continue progressing in the sport, playing 10 months out of the year, and Lizzi also saw his player’s development each season. As a result, Jacob Bloom’s role continued to become more important to the team, as he began covering opponent’s tougher players each season.

Miller Place's Jacob Bloom reaches out his stick to keep a Comsewogue player at bay in a previous contest. File photo by Desirée Keegan
Miller Place’s Jacob Bloom reaches out his stick to keep a Comsewogue player at bay in a previous contest. File photo by Desirée Keegan

“He’s very tactical,” Lizzi said of Bloom. “When he’s playing defense, he’s always thinking about what he’s doing. He’s not going to super aggressive and be all over you, but he’s going to outthink you.”

The defender always had a plan, according to Lizzi, and was very organized and harped on the little things to make sure he was always at the top of his game.

“Being a smart kid, he was able to figure out people’s next move,” Lizzi said. “When you play defense, you have to react, and his mentality was, if he could figure out what the other kid was trying to do, he’d be in a good spot. He knew every year there was something different to improve upon. He made major strides every year as a result.”

Bloom also prides himself on this.

“Defense takes a lot of mental work and understanding what your opponent wants to do, and I’ve always prided myself on being a very smart player and having a good lacrosse IQ,” he said. “I watch plenty of film and I’m always studying the guys I’m covering.”

He improved in his stick skills, passing, catching, throwing, footwork and body positioning every season, which Lizzi said helped him stand out among other defenders who didn’t continue to work on the basics at the varsity level.

Bloom was also a leader on the team.

“He was so mature that it was like having another coach on the field, which helped us,” the coach said of his former co-captain. “He understood our game plans, our strategy and why we did what we did, so he was able to help some of the younger kids around him and from a leadership point of view, he was a great role model.”

Bloom’s contributions to the team, along with its strong offensive leaders, helped the Panthers earn a Suffolk County championship title in 2013, and reach the finals again in 2014, where the Panthers fell to Rocky Point, 6-4. This past season, the team fell in the second round of the playoffs to Eastport-South Manor, 12-7.

Bloom was named an All-County defenseman this season and also won the Panther Pride award, which is given to a player who exemplifies what a Miller Place athlete should be. He also earned the school’s defenseman of the year award and leadership award.

These qualities helped him earn the recognition of various colleges and universities. He ultimately chose to play at Marist, where he will be joining the Panther’s former co-captain and All-County defenseman Brett Osman and All-County and All-Division midfielder and co-captain Liam Walsh.

“I couldn’t be prouder for him to play Division I lacrosse,” Mark Bloom said. “Just to watch him grow and become a man and a leader on the field, I think that he’s only scratched the surface with his ability. I think he can go much, much further than even what he’s achieved and reached now.”

Jacob Bloom said he’s excited to play for a growing program and Marist’s head coach Keegan Wilkinson. He said he’s learned a lot along the way that he plans to take with him to the next level and said the camaraderie, fraternity and brotherhood created with some of the guys he’s known since third grade, and will be friends with for the rest of his life, has meant a lot to him.

“What I take from coach Lizzi would be to never be satisfied — you have to keep working and keep getting better,” he said. “No matter how good you think that you are, you can always be better. Working toward a common goal has taught me to work hard and I can achieve great things.”

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.”

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Freshman midfielder Thomas Mark evades the Panthers. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Despite a 14-4 loss at the hands of Babylon on a rainy Tuesday, the Port Jefferson boys’ lacrosse team is looking on the bright side.

“I think a young team like this, not ever experiencing the competition at the varsity level, especially a team that is the reigning county champions, it’s an uphill battle every single time,” Port Jefferson head coach Taylor Forstell said. “It was quite a learning experience. They competed until the last whistle and that’s all I could ask of them.”

A young team, the Royals are looking to improve day by day, to prove that they can hang with — and one day rule over — the other varsity teams.

Junior attack Spencer Woolley passes the ball. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Junior attack Spencer Woolley passes the ball. Photo by Desirée Keegan

To get to that level, junior attack and co-captain Taylor Chiarelli said the team has been doing a lot of running during practice, something the team likes to call “lacrosse country,” while also working on stick skills and ball movement to learn the basics.

“We just need more practice, more movement and more calling out,” he said after the loss. “We didn’t win the game, but it’s all right. We tried our hardest and that’s all that matters.”

Forstell said competitiveness is one thing his athletes don’t lack, adding that although the score of the game may not show it, his Royals never gave up on a play and pressured Babylon until the last whistle.

The Panthers started off with eight unanswered goals until Port Jefferson junior attack Marco Scarda received the ball off of a pass and, from about 20 yards out, sent a straight shot past the goalkeeper to put his team on the scoreboard.

Babylon scored once more in the first, three times in the second and once in the third to take a 13-1 advantage into the final quarter.

“I feel like we kind of lost the game before we got out here, mentally,” said junior goalkeeper and co-captain Connor Fitterer, who made six saves on the evening. “We knew they were going to be a tough team. There’s a lack of experience for a lot of these players. Some of them picked up the stick for the first time last year or this year, so it’s been difficult, but it’s been fun.”

The Royals had something to smile about when Scarda scored again with 10:44 remaining in the game, off a pass across the field that he whipped into the back of the cage.

Sophomore midfielder Chandler Sciara looks downfield to make a play. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Sophomore midfielder Chandler Sciara looks downfield to make a play. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Babylon scored again but Port Jefferson sophomore midfielder Chandler Sciara countered with a goal of his own.

With five seconds remaining, Port Jefferson freshman midfielder Thomas Mark passed the ball from the far left side to sophomore attack Brian Mark, his older brother, who was in front of the goal and managed to lob the ball in overhead to bring the final score to 14-4.

With the loss, Port Jefferson moves to 1-2 overall and 1-1 in League IV, having lost the first game of the season to Bellport, 16-3, but bouncing back with a 16-6 win over Southampton/Ross in its second matchup.

“We definitely could’ve pressured harder, we definitely could’ve been playing a little tougher against them — we didn’t come out with as much fire as they did — but next week’s a new week and we’ll see them again,” junior midfielder and co-captain Max Scandale said. “We just need a little bit of practice, a little bit of time and we’ll definitely get there.”

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Miller Place senior attack Jake Buonaiuto dives and whips the ball toward the net in the Suffolk County Class B finals against Rocky Point last season. File photo by Bill Landon

Coming off a 2012-13 season where the team made it to the Class B Long Island championship, and a 2013-14 season where the Panthers made it to the Suffolk County Class B finals, the Miller Place boys’ lacrosse team is looking to continue its string of successes.

“Last season was a good experience for us,” Miller Place head coach Keith Lizzi said. “We had a lot of eyes on us and had to deal with some different pressures that we never really had to deal with before, and going back to a championship game like we did showed the endurance of these kids.”

The boys went 11-3 in Division II and 13-6 overall, and despite graduating 14 seniors last year, Lizzi said this season he has one of his biggest rosters.

“We’re carrying 35 guys and we bring back a lot,” the coach said, despite losing two Division I defenseman who are both starting on their current college teams as freshmen. “I think our strength right now would probably have to be in our depth. We’re deeper than we’ve ever been.”

The Panthers’ head coach said that although his teams have gone on to do big things through out the last couple of years, there’s only been a few main players that highlight Miller Place’s team. This year, however, he said he can run six midfielders and feel confident in the team’s ability to get the job done. In addition, he can mix and match people in different positions.

Miller Place senior defenseman Jacob Bloom races behind a Comsewogue opponent in a game last season. File photo by Bill Landon
Miller Place senior defenseman Jacob Bloom races behind a Comsewogue opponent in a game last season. File photo by Bill Landon

On offense, he will be looking to senior four-year varsity starter Jake Buonaiuto, an attack, who has also shined on the school’s football team, and Thomas Liantonio, a senior attack who is coming into his third year on the varsity team.

He’s also looking forward to returning senior midfielder Christian Stalter, an All-County player last year who handles the face-offs.

“I feel like all the guys are coming back hungry and ready to go to give it one final run at it,” Liantonio said. “The experience of these guys that have been on the team will help us as we work together to balance as a team.”

The team is looking to bounce back from last season, and work to enhance its defense to get back into top form.

“Last year’s Long Island championship loss does not define us as a team,” Buonaiuto said. “Defensively, we have a couple of other guys who are stepping into big roles who are very talented, and offensively, I think we’re going to be even better.”

Returning to the team on defense are seniors Jacob Bloom, Jeff Bloom and Brad Williamson.

Senior Joe Bartolotto, who is the cousin of Liantonio, is a transfer from Mattituck and a Cornell University-commit who will also be contributing on defense.

“We have a really high lacrosse IQ, guys know where to be and how to play,” Jacob Bloom said. “Me, Thomas Liantonio and Jake Buonaiuto have all been on the team since we were freshmen — we’ve been on the team in years where we just barely made the playoffs and years when we made it all the way to the Long Island championship, so we know what losing feels like, and we know, definitely, what winning feels like, so we can take that and harness it and push everyone in the right direction.”

That knowledge is something Lizzi said he wants his team to focus on as it moves into a League 3 schedule, which comes with some new stiff competition.

“We want to tap into our big-game experience,” he said. “We are in definitely in the most competitive league where there’s 15 teams that can all beat each other. It’s going to be a grind, but if we can harness that big-game mentality, take it day by day and one game at a time, then everything else will fall into place.”