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Patriots

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Corey Aviles, after forcing a turnover, races across the field and fires a shot across the net for a Patriots goal. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Being down 3-1 early against championship-caliber boys’ lacrosse program in Chaminade didn’t scare the Ward Melville Patriots.

The host team bounced back to tie the game in the second quarter and eventually edged ahead, holding onto a marginal lead to pull away with a 7-5 nonleague win.

“Chaminade is a great program,” Ward Melville head coach Jay Negus said. “It was a slugfest and our boys took a big step beating a powerhouse like Chaminade and I’m very proud of them. Even though it wasn’t as pretty as I would have liked in terms of execution — we had some breakdowns — we just wanted to put four quarters together and we did that today. We got the result we were looking for.”

Danny Bucaro maintains possession of the ball. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Danny Bucaro maintains possession of the ball. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Both teams came out on fire right off the opening faceoff, and Chaminade scored two quick goals before Ward Melville put its first point on the board to cut the deficit in half. The two teams traded possession with some passing miscues, and at the end of the first quarter the score remained 2-1.

The Flyers (now 8-2, 5-0 NSCHSAA AAA) scored again in the opening minutes of the second to edge ahead with a score of 3-1, but the Patriots (now 10-2, 6-2 League I) answered back with two quick goals. The first was a stick-side high left shot by junior midfielder Owen McAvoy to cut the lead to one. The second was a rocket from the right goal post by senior midfielder Corey Aviles after he forced a turnover in the Patriots zone, carrying it all the way down the field for the tying goal at 3-3.

“It’s great to get a big win against a school like Chaminade,” McAvoy said. “It’s the first game we really came out here and went balls to the wall — and put it to them.”

McAvoy added another goal off an offensive rebound that shocked the Chaminade goalkeeper, and Aviles tallied his second point with nine seconds left in the half to give his team a 5-3 advantage heading into halftime.

Negus addressed his team during the break and explained to his athletes that the game was all about seizing the opportunities when they were presented to them.

“You guys are taking that next step to be at that level with this team,” he said. “We got to give the defense a rest. Bury the ball and make this game out of reach.”

Still struggling to win possession at the faceoff, Chaminade capitalized early in the third to make it 5-4, but Ward Melville junior goalkeeper D.J. Kellerman came through with two big saves to preserve the one-goal advantage.

D.J. Kellerman attempts a save. Photo by Desirée Keegan
D.J. Kellerman attempts a save. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“I felt confident,” Kellerman said. “A little shaky in the beginning, but my defense really shut it down. I love them — they’re great.”

Ward Melville ripped another crossing shot to bring the advantage back to two, 6-4, and Kellerman caught another save to maintain the lead heading into the fourth quarter.

Senior midfielder Jake McCulloch rocketed a shot from nearly 20 yards early in the final stanza, and Chaminade scored once more a minute later. Kellerman made three big saves in the final minutes to keep the Flyers at bay and seal the Patriots’ 7-5 victory.

“It’s a big win for us as a program,” Kellerman said. “We had a tough loss against Northport [6-7, on April 22] but we bounced back. Coach did a great job getting us ready and we’re a hardworking team.”

What McAvoy said he thinks continues to lead the players to success is that ability to continue to fight, even when the team is down.

“We were fighting for ground balls and hustled all over the field,” he said. “We were fired up in the locker room and thought this could be a big statement make for us. We laid some bodies all over the field and really made them feel our presence.”

Aviles and McAvoy finished with two goals each, and McCulloch and senior attack Danny Bucaro tacked on a goal and an assist apiece, while Kellerman made 13 saves on the evening.

Ward Melville was scheduled to host Brentwood on Wednesday. The Patriots will travel to Patchogue-Medford on Friday, and the opening faceoff is scheduled for 4:30 p.m.

“We’ve been talking about fighting back against adversity and that shows the character of the team,” Negus said. “Today we showed that we can battle back against the best of them.”

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Ward Melville’s freshmen ice hockey team poses for a group photo after winning its second consecutive Suffolk County title. Photo from Billy Williams

The Ward Melville freshman ice hockey team capped off an undefeated season by winning the Suffolk County  Hockey League championship on March 3- with a win over Sachem.

The team finished the season with a record of 31-0, and has not lost a game in two years, with a record of 62-0.

This is back-to-back titles for the freshman team that had a dominant lineup led by Matthew Crasa, who was named the most valuable player of the playoffs, and sniper Jason Ruszkowski.

The team was led by head coach Mark Devlin, and assistant coaches Frank Catalina, Bobby Gazura and George Rainer.

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.”

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Dan DeCastro rips one deep into the outfield. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Having beaten Longwood the day before by just one run, the Ward Melville baseball team invaded the Lions’ territory Tuesday and let its pitching and batting do the talking to prove the Patriots’ worth. When the dust settled, the Patriots handed Longwood a 12-2 loss in the second matchup of a three-game series.

Alex Betz hurls a pitch from the mound. Photo by Bill Landon
Alex Betz hurls a pitch from the mound. Photo by Bill Landon

Ward Melville sophomore pitcher Ben Brown led the way with an impressive performance on the mound to earn the win in his first varsity start. Longwood struggled with the entire Patriots pitching staff, managing just six hits. The Lions were also plagued by four errors over seven innings.

Ward Melville blew the game open in the second inning, scoring six runs on an RBI double by Dominic Lamonica, a two-run double by Troy Davern, and Nick Rizzi drove in a run and with the help of two Longwood errors to give the Patriots a 6-0 lead.

“Today our hitters did a good job in their approach; we got a lot of clutch hits,” Ward Melville head coach Lou Petrucci said. “Dominic Lamonica had a big double in the second inning; Jeff Towle, Troy Davern and the middle-of-the-lineup guys did a good job.”

The Lions tried to claw their way back and scored two runs in the bottom of the third.

Towle took control of the fourth inning, blasting a shot to deep center field, giving both Nick Vitale and Joe Flynn the opportunity to come home for an 8-2 advantage.

“Today, as a team, we had great bats all around putting the ball in play, making them work, putting pressure on their defense and that helped us out today,” Towle said. “[Longwood is] a solid team, but the ball didn’t roll their way. That could’ve happened to us, but we hit the ball hard.”

Flynn was also excited to see the team putting the ball in play.

“Today we came out swinging with the right mind-set; we had to put the ball in play and do whatever we have to do to win,” he said. “We’re not a strong hitting team and we’ve relied on pitching in the past, and that’s what we’re going to do this year, but today we came out with the bats and did a great job.”

Troy Davern makes a grab for the out. Photo by Bill Landon
Troy Davern makes a grab for the out. Photo by Bill Landon

The Patriots crossed the plate once more in the inning, to surge ahead 9-2.

Petrucci said he was pleased with his entire lineup.

“The top of the order guys — Joe Flynn got on base; Nick Vitale had a great day today — those guys got on base and did a good job for us,” he said. “The big hitters drove them in with clutch hits and we had more base runners and took advantage of that opportunity.”

The Patriots found the scoreboard once in the top of the sixth and twice in the seventh to put the game away.

Brown said his team misjudged Longwood in the first game of the series.

“I think we came out with a lot of intensity,” he said. “We took this team a little lightly yesterday. We really played hard, we had really good at bats, so that was the difference today.”

With the win, Ward Melville improved to 3-0. The Patriots conclude their three-game series with Longwood on Thursday at home, with the first pitch scheduled for noon.

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Jimmy Kickel looks up the field to make a play. File photo by Kevin Freiheit

With 17 seniors returning to this year’s Ward Melville boys’ lacrosse squad, the team said it is confident that it can once again achieve the state championship-like caliber it had in the 2012-13 season, when the Patriots went 21-0-1 and won the school’s first state title since 2000.

“We have a ton of senior leadership, which is important and what all of the great teams have,” senior midfielder Jake McCulloch said. “Our chemistry is something that really stands out.”

A significant amount of this season’s returning players were also on that state championship-winning team, which should be a boost even despite 13 seniors graduating at the end of last season. Despite the small hiccup last season, the Patriots still said they are ready, and hungry.

“I think we underachieved a little bit last season, quite honestly, but we also had a significant amount of injuries,” head coach Jay Negus said. “In terms of looking forward, I’m very optimistic with this group. We have a great group of senior leaders and the initiatives that this group has taken thus far, in terms of shoveling the field by themselves, the way they warm up, the way that they’re practicing; they’re all business.”

The Patriots finished last season with a 13-6 overall record and 10-4 mark in League I play, losing in the quarterfinals of the Suffolk County Class A playoffs to West Islip, 7-5.

The boys said they are using the disappointment as motivation this season, and Negus said he has taken notice.

Jake McCulloch maintains possession in a game last season. File photo by Desirée Keegan
Jake McCulloch maintains possession in a game last season. File photo by Desirée Keegan

“They look really good, they’re whipping the ball around, they’re focused and they’re really absorbing all the stuff we’re throwing at them this early on,” he said. “Right now we’re hitting the ground running and we’re very excited about the season.”

Senior attack Danny Bucaro said the team has been going over the offensive plays and positioning in practice, and working on the simple things like ground balls, endurance, catching, throwing and shooting. The team only has two weeks to prepare for the start of the season, because of the weather, which Bucaro said differs from years past, where the team normally had three weeks to practice.

“We have to work hard all the time and give 110 percent effort,” he said. “The only thing that will bring you success is working hard. The young guys have a lot of talent and it’s really nice that we click in all aspects both on and off the field.”

As a result of this, McCulloch said he thinks the offense is going to improve because of the depth, which leads to more options to score.

Negus said Bucaro and McCulloch would be leading the way on that front.

“They are the two focal points of the offense that also lead by experience and get the rest of the guys on board,” he said, also noting other strong senior returners like midfielders Jimmy Kickel, Mike Cusmano and John Burgdoerfer, who he’s hoping will also contribute on offense.

On the other side of the field, senior Tommy Reilly is returning from back surgery, according to the coach, and will join forces with senior Michael Cirrone, junior John Day and sophomore Andrew McKenna to solidify the defensive end.

John Burgdoerfer makes a pass. File photo by Desirée Keegan
John Burgdoerfer makes a pass. File photo by Desirée Keegan

“We’re really focusing on the conditioning aspect, especially early on, to get the guys ready so that they’re in shape and that the injuries don’t happen,” Negus said. “The athleticism and the speed that this group has from offense to defense is something that is really going to help us separate from the competition.”What will also distinguish the team is the stiff competition the boys will be up against. Negus said he is following his pattern from last season and scheduled nonleague games against top teams Chaminade, West Islip, Ridgefield and Yorktown.”It’ll allow it to be the sort of litmus test for us to see what our strengths and weaknesses are,” he said. “When you go against a powerhouse like Chaminade, those things stand out right from the start.”After a scrimmage against Miller Place, the team’s first test will come in the form of Chaminade, on March 21 on the Patriots’ home turf.

Negus also kept these scheduled games as a result of the league realignment, which removed games against some top teams like Suffolk County champion Smithtown East.

“We scheduled a really difficult nonleague schedule to prepare us for that playoff push against some of the teams we’re not going to see during the year,” Negus said.

McCulloch said he is excited for the challenges ahead and is looking forward to going against high caliber teams that will show the Patriots what they need to do in order to achieve their goal.

“Even if we do come out ahead, they expose our weaknesses, and it’s better to get them out against good teams like that, and then we can work on them in practice, but playing the best competition brings out the best in us,” he said. “I think just playing as a team and the friendships that we build this year will be important, but a state championship is obviously the biggest goal.”

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Kollin McDonald, fourth from left in top row with trophy, and his teammates and coaches after the game against Longwood on Friday, where he received the game ball and MVP trophy. Photo from Tom Femminella

Sometimes it’s not the wins or losses that matter most in a game, it’s the bonds formed when playing.

For Ward Melville senior Kollin McDonald, he realized how strong that bond was with his basketball teammates after the loss of his mother last week.

The guard darted to the hospital last Monday after receiving a text message that his mother was rushed there. Mary McDonald had cancer for seven years, starting with breast cancer, and after she was in remission was told it had come back more aggressively, and spread throughout her body.

Kollin McDonald and his mother Mary, while pumpkin picking this year. Photo from Kollin McDonald

The team attended the wake, and head coach Tom Femminella said despite it being an emotional evening, he thought it made it a little easier for his athlete to have his team’s support.

“As a coach in any sport you press the kids on family — family is important,” he said. “When you’re actually there and someone needs you when the chips aredown, it shows a lot of resolve that will hopefully transfer onto the court and will make these kids closer for the season and hopefully for the rest of their lives.”

Femminella invited McDonald’s close friend and teammate Chris Woods to ask McDonald if he would play as a starter in Friday’s game — the same day as his mother’s funeral.

“For him it was the most exciting news,” Woods said. “His family was all excited once they heard too, and they came after the funeral to the game.”

Being that McDonald is not normally a starter, it was a memorable moment for him walking out on the court.

“It was honestly an honor to be asked to play ” McDonald said. “It was more of a ‘getting past and moving on’ thing because once I got asked, I was very emotional, but I knew at that point that we were a strong team and that they had my back with anything.”

McDonald said the memories of his mother and thinking about her every day is what gets him through, but it is also the love from his coach and teammates, and it showed that night on the court.

The senior started off the evening with two rebounds in a 50-40 win over Longwood, and it ignited the team.

“Those were probably the two most aggressive rebounds I’ve ever had — ever, in any game I’ve ever played,” he said with a laugh. “It was very emotional watching the tape afterward because I knew [those rebounds] were for my mom, and it was a great feeling.”

Kollin McDonald and his mother Mary after his sixth-grade graduation. Photo from Kollin McDonald

The team wore pink socks in support of breast cancer awareness to the game and will continue to wear them through the rest of the season, Femminella said, adding that he will also be wearing special sneakers to support his player.

“It was more important that he was getting back to a little bit of normalcy,” Femminella said. “And then we brought him the trophy and the game ball, and he got the MVP [title] because he was the MVP. He inspired the rest of the kids. If he can be there and he can show this effort and be strong, why can’t they?”

Woods also said it was great to see his friend and teammate in high spirits.

“He had a big smile on his face and was able to go out there and start the game,” Woods said, adding that he and his teammates were also grinning from ear-to-ear and leaping off the bench when McDonald scored. “It helped him get his mind off of things to get him out there. It was the best feeling for all of us when he got those rebounds — he played his heart out.”

McDonald said it’s meant everything to have his school’s support.

“Having a group of guys to talk to at any point and any time in my life,” he said, “it’s a great feeling.”

McDonald thanked his teammates and coaches for their support after what he said is his most memorable game , adding that he thought wearing the pink socks for the rest of the season is a nice way for them to support him and his family for the remainder of the year.

“We’re taking this tough event as a bonding moment for all of us,” Woods said. “I think Kollin is going through a tough time, but the pink socks represent how we’ve all become brothers, and we’re all going to be there for each other no matter what happens.”