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Playoffs

Olivia Carner competing in the Suffolk County championship last year against Middle Country. File photo by Bill Landon

By Desirée Keegan

All season long, Northport’s girls lacrosse team has shown it can handle the pressure, and Friday was no different.

Olivia Carner had three goals and three assists and Emerson Cabrera added four goals and one assist
to lead Northport to a 15-9 win over crosstown rival Huntington May 11 and complete the program’s first perfect season since 2009.

Emerson Cabrera ompeting in the Suffolk County championship last year against Middle Country. File photo by Bill Landon

“It feels good to go undefeated — the girls have been working extremely hard and have stayed focused all season,” said head coach Carol Rose of her 16-0 Tigers. “It’s not easy to go undefeated — the pressure can be overwhelming, but this group handled the pressure all season with poise, grit and determination. I love seeing them be successful because this group has earned the title ‘undefeated division champions.’”

Northport came out of the gate firing on all cylinders, building up a 9-1 advantage over the Blue Devils by the halftime break. Carner said the team’s closeness has led to this year’ successes.

“Throughout the season our team has become closer and closer — knowing how much potential we have,” she said. “We all play for one another and work well as a team. We all want each other to do whatever it takes to win.”

The team’s leading scorer credited its strong bond for her own personal accomplishments this season.

“It felt great being able to contribute to our wins and is easy to do so because our team is so close and we all want to achieve the same goal,” said Carner, who leads all Suffolk scorers with 64 goals and 25 assists. “When the final whistle blew it was an awesome feeling of pride knowing all our hard work had paid off and we were finishing undefeated.”

She said with an undefeated season and as the No. 1 seed, she knows her team has a target on its back, but said the Tigers will work that much harder this postseason to prove they’re where they belong.

“We’re motivated and determined this time around, especially knowing so many teams are looking to beat us.”

— Danielle Pavinelli

“We want to get back to that county title game,” she said.

Northport lost 13-3 to Middle Country in 2017, ending a 13-5 season in the county finals. Senior Danielle Pavinelli, who is the second Tiger in the top 10 in the county in scoring, coming in at No. 9 with 46 goals and 25 assists, said she only sees her team continuing to thrive this time around.

As the top team Northport earns a first-round bye. The Tigers will take No. 8 Sachem East Saturday, May 19, at the local Veterans Park at 11 a.m.

“We’re motivated and determined this time around, especially knowing so many teams are looking to beat us,” Pavinelli said. “I believe we will be able to handle whatever teams throw at us in playoffs. We’re the closest we’ve ever been — we treat each other like family and we’re always looking out for each other. Each and every one of us understands how hard we have to play in order to go far.”

She attributed much of the team’s success and will to win to Rose, who eclipsed 800 career victories this season.

“She encourages us every day to be the best we can be,” Pavinelli said. “And we owe this season to her.”

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Wolverines face top-seeded Smithtown East in the out bracket on the road May 15 at 4 p.m.

By Bill Landon

Although the double-elimination game didn’t go as planned, Bobby Vath got by with a little help from his friends.

The first-inning showing was all visiting Connetquot needed to get past Newfield, 3-0, in the first round of baseball playoffs May 14. With a runner in scoring position a Vath pitch was drilled deep to left field for a ground-rule double and a 1-0 lead. Three pitches later, a passed ball at the plate put Connetquot ahead 2-0.

“I went back into the dugout after the top of the first, and they were right there ready to pick me up,” the senior said of his teammates. “So I was ready to go back out there in the second and fight for my team.”

Newfield was unable to answer in bottom of the inning, and unfortunately for Vath, an RBI-single gave the Thunderbirds an insurance run in the top of the second.

Newfield was able to get the bat on the ball after that, but when the Wolverines did get on base, Connetquot’s defense answered the call to keep them there.

Vath found his rhythm in the third, and despite Connetquot putting two runners on base in the top of the sixth, the senior didn’t give up a run the rest of the way. He struck out the next two batters in that inning to get out of the jam.

“He settled down after that first inning and started throwing outs, working off his fastball and had good command of the game,” Newfield head coach Eric Joyner said. “That’s just vintage Vath — he’s a great competitor.”

Newfield faces an unexpected opponent Tuesday, May 15, after top-seeded Smithtown East was upset by No. 17 Bay Shore, 7-4.

“Our approach has to be the same — come out of the gate hot, protect the baseball and throw strikes,” Joyner said. “We’ll have to execute a little better offensively tomorrow than we did today.”

Despite Newfield being the No. 8 seed, Vath said to him and his Wolverines, it doesn’t matter what seed they are, or what number they’re facing.

“We’ll definitely get the scouting reports from the other coaches who’ve played [Smithtown East], because that helped us in this game too, but their number doesn’t scare us,” Vath said. “We’ll go in there with the mentality that if the 17thseed beat the No. 1 seed, anybody can beat anyone on any given day.”

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Miller Place sophomore Lauren Mancini carries the ball downfield with a Mount Sinai defender on her back during a scrimmage. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Miller Place boasts a mix of youth and experience in its girls lacrosse team this season, including nine eighth-graders, many   of which were on the Panthers playoff team last year.

Miller Place sophomore Madison Murphy gains possession off the draw. Photo by Bill Landon

The team finished its 2017 campaign with a 7-6 record, making the playoffs but falling to rival Shoreham-Wading River in the opening round. The girls scrimmaged Syosset before going toe-to-toe March 17 with New York State champion Mount Sinai, scoring several goals against their formidable neighbors.

Being a young team, boasting just four seniors with sophomores, freshmen and the nine eighth-graders making up the rest of the roster, Miller Place head coach Thomas Carro is under no illusion as to what’s in store for his squad this season.

“We’re going to have some growing pains in the beginning,” he said. “They’re going to make mistakes. We turned the ball over like 11 times in that last scrimmage [against Syosset], so we’ve got to limit those — and we will.”

Carro said five-year senior goalkeeper Hailey Duchnowski, along with returning defenders, should keep the Panthers in games.

“I think we have one of the best goalies we’ve ever had,” Carro said of Duchnowski, also pointing to junior defender Ava Burns and sophomore midfielder Madison Murphy, who he said is “going to have a good year.” “If those girls play hard, that stuff becomes contagious and the younger group will follow them.”

Miller Place freshman Alexa Corbin moves the ball through midfield in a scrimmage against Mount Sinai. Photo by Bill Landon

Duchnowski pointed to areas of promise and areas of concern she has with her unit up to this point in practice.

“We are doing really well at moving the ball fast on offense, coming together on defense, working hard,” she said. “But we’ll have to get better in transition.”

Murphy’s assessment of her team’s progress so far she said belies its age, but also noticed moments of weakness.

“We have a bunch of athletes,” she said. “We need to play together as a team, and if we do that it’ll all come together. We’ll need a lot of communication on the defensive end as well as on offense, and if we can do that fluently we can win.”

Senior Nicole Beck will also provide the Panthers with the leadership they need, and said, like her coach always does, Miller Place doesn’t rebuild, it reloads.

Miller Place junior Ava Burns battles for a ground ball against Mount Sinai. Photo by Bill Landon

“We lost a great amount of talent last year, but so far we’re still able to put up the numbers offensively,” Beck said. “It’s been impressive — we didn’t think we’d be able to do that — we have a lot of young girls who are playing really well.”

Murphy said her team’s preparation for the league opener at home against last year’s nemesis won’t have anything to do with the athleticism of the team, but with the mental preparedness. Miller Place will host Shoreham-Wading River March 28 at 4 p.m.

“If we go into that game with a positive mindset, work as hard as we can, I think there could be a positive outcome,” she said.

Carro said his team competes with some of the sport’s top Long Island talents, and said finding a way to neutralize high-caliber opponent’s threats will be key to competing with the cream of the crop.

“Shoreham lost a lot [of talent] last year, but it’ll be a test for us to play a team that’s next door to us; the girls all know each other,” the coach said. “We have Rocky Point and Mount Sinai [as neighbors and opponents this year], and those are tough teams. These girls come out and play hard against those teams, and if we take care of the ball and make good decisions, we can be in the game with anybody.”

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Olivia Williams fights for possession under the basket. Photo by Desirée Keegan

The number 20 must be lucky for Olivia Williams.

In her senior year, still donning her number 20 jersey, the forward helped her team to a perfect, 20-0 regular season.

Holly McNair reaches for the rebound. Photo by Desirée Keegan

On Feb. 20, she had the game of her life, scoring a double-double on 11 points and 20 rebounds in a 69-52 Class A semifinal win over Sayville. The No. 1 seeded Mustangs will face No. 6 Hauppauge
Feb. 23 at Farmingdale State College at 5 p.m. to defend its Suffolk County crown after nabbing the first one in school history last year.

“I wanted to lay it all on the line, make sure we got back to the finals,” Williams said. “I couldn’t stop going. I didn’t even feel tired because I knew I had to keep fighting until the end.”

Five Mustangs fought for Mount Sinai’s first-quarter lead. While Sayville might have been expecting leading scorer Gabby Sartori to drive to the basket, Williams was first on the board on a free throw after a Sayville 3-pointer. Down 5-1, Sartori sent a long pass over to Brooke Cergol for the score, and Williams tied things at 5-5.
Margaret Kopcienski assisted next on junior Holly McNair’s field goal, to give the Mustangs a lead they’d never relinquish.

“We got into the paint really, we drove to the basket and passed the ball out to get the shot when we needed to,” McNair said. “We had so many good passes, and when we play together as a team, I think we’re unstoppable.”

Gabby Sartori leaps up to the rim. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Sartori did turn it on though, scoring eight of Mount Sinai’s 11 points in the second quarter and 11 of her team’s 14 in the third. Of her game-high 29 points, she scored 13 on free throws, going 7-for-8 from the charity stripe in the third quarter.

“I saw they were playing off me, and driving is my main purpose when I play,” said Sartori, who also had 10 assists and 10 rebounds to complete a triple-double. “When I see the foul coming I take it, because I know I’ve been working hard from that free-throw line to get the easy buckets.”

She said the crowd definitely got the team going.

“The energy, the fantastic atmosphere, I think we fed off that,” Sartori said. “That feeling from last year, I’ve never forgotten it, and I just can’t wait to feel it again.”

Margaret Kopcienski looks for the open girl. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Defense was the focus, and the game plan was to be aggressive as the Mustangs keyed in on Jenna Harclerode and Devin Dolan. Mount Sinai held the girls to 12 and eight points, respectively.

“We had to shut down those two girls because they really pick their team up,” McNair said.

Williams’ job was to defend against Dolan, and Mount Sinai head coach Jeff Koutsantanou thought his number 20 exceeded expectations.

“Olivia Williams was outstanding,” he said. “She took on an All-County player and she played the game of her life tonight — she out-rebounded her, she played her tough. She really did a great job. Without her strength, we might not have been as successful.”

Six Mustangs found themselves on the scoreboard, with Cergol adding the third double-double for her team on 11 points and 10 rebounds. McNair finished with eight points, Kopcienski added six and Casey Campo rounded out the scoring with four.

“We’re all really hyped up,” Williams said. “We knew we wanted to come out strong, we weren’t selfish, and we’re going to do it again. We’ve been wanting to take it game by game, but I’ve really been hoping for the chance to repeat history.”

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Alex Sober scored a career-high 31 points in Ward Melville’s quarterfinal loss. Photo by John Dielman

By Jim Ferchland

With their first league championship in 28 years, the Patriots’ magical season came to a close. It was a rematch for Ward Melville (17-5) against top dog Half Hollow Hills East (19-2) in the second round of the playoffs on Feb. 20. The Thunderbirds were responsible for ending the Patriots season in 2017. This year, it was the same outcome.

Senior and Quinnipiac University signee Savion Lewis racked up 40 points for Hills East. Meanwhile, senior Alex Sobel countered with a career-high 31 points for Ward Melville, but it wasn’t enough as they came up short 84-72 in the Class AA quarterfinal.

Ray Grabowski finished with 17 points in his final game with the Patriots. Photo by John Dielman

“I expected to win,” Sobel said. “I played well, but it just wasn’t enough. My career-high doesn’t even matter.”

The Patriots had difficulty taking care of the ball, turning it over 17 times, 12 of those coming in the first half.

“We knew that they would get a lot of points in transition,” Sobel said. “That’s what they did. If we didn’t turn the ball over as much, we would have won the game.”

Ward Melville head coach Alex Piccirillo, who brought his team to the postseason all three of his seasons, said it was tough to contain Lewis.

“Savion is the best player in the county,” he said. “He’s going to be voted on that. We knew he was going to get his points.”

Ward Melville Junior Ray Grabowski recorded 17 points and eight rebounds in the loss. Senior Brendan Martin finished his final game with 10 points, five assists and seven turnovers.

Junior guard Robert Soto had nine points, five rebounds and had six turnovers. Despite the loss, Grabowski said the team fought hard.

“I thought everyone played well,” Grabowski said. “I thought Sobel played a great game. It was just a very good team we were up against and there’s not much you can do.”

Ward Melville outscored Hills East in the fourth quarter, 25-22.

“It’s a playoff game in a great playoff atmosphere,” Piccirillo said. “We knew that it was going to be tough. It was either going to take a stop or a big shot to be made for it to swing our way and we just couldn’t get enough momentum to keep it in our direction.”

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Madison Brady keeps a Deer Park opponent at a distance as she moves the ball up the court. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Erin Tucker and Hallie Simkins combined for three points from the free-throw line in the final seconds of Harborifelds’ girls basketball team’s 39-37 edging of Deer Park at the Northport invitational shootout Dec. 30, helping to cap off 2017 on a 6-0 undefeated streak in League V.

Hallie Simkins muscles her way to the rim with a Deer Park opponent at her hip reaching for the block. Photo by Bill Landon

The Tornadoes haven’t missed a beat despite losing all five starters to graduation last year.

“This is a completely new team,” Harborfields head coach Glenn Lavey said. “And that was a good win for them.”

Early in the game points were hard to come by for both teams, as Deer Park took a 7-6 lead into the second stanza, which is where the Falcons’ 3-point game came alive. Three consecutive trifectas were scored before Harborfields could answer, giving Deer Park an 8-point lead, 16-8, with three minutes left in the first half.

Harborfields junior Celia Argiriou launched a long distance shot to net her first 3-pointer of the game to close the gap to 16-13, but the Falcons outscored the Tornadoes 17-11 in the quarter to take a 24-17 advantage into the locker room.

“At halftime, our coach just told us 7 points is nothing — we’ve just got to keep chipping away at it, we’ve got to play harder than them,” Tucker said. “That’s what went through everyone’s mind — do it for the team, and eventually, it will move in our direction. We played a zone coverage we literally put in three weeks ago, and we caused some turnovers that we were able to turn into points.”

With three minutes left in regulation, the forward battled in the paint and scored to make it a 1-point game. One the next possession, Simkins took matters into her own hands and banked two points of her own to give the Tornadoes their first lead since the first quarter with 2:28 left.

Erin Tucker shoots uncontested. Photo by Bill Landon

“I just kept thinking, ‘We have the effort, we have the drive, but we just kept fighting and pushing them by doing what we know how,” said Simkins, who finished the third quarter with two consecutive buckets that cut the deficit to 31-26. “[We won because of] our mental toughness — we all really stayed headstrong on the court and we never gave in.”

With 12.6 seconds on the clock, Tucker went to the line shooting two and banked both of her free-throw shots to edge ahead by three. After a Falcons score, the Tornadoes kept their cool, and Simkins split the difference during her team’s final showing at the charity stripe to seal the deal.

Tucker and Simkins topped the scoring sheet with 11 points apiece. Freshman forward Madison Brady, who banked seven, said Lavey’s encouragement at halftime resonated with her and her teammates, who know the program’s positive playoff position its in year after year.

“Coach said we can come back, and we all agreed that we’re better than that first half, and we could come back,” Brady said. “We just have to battle it out every game the whole season to win our league, and hopefully make a run at a county championship.”

Harborfields looks to continue its positive trajectory in 2018 when it hosts Hauppauge Jan. 4. Tipoff is scheduled for 6 p.m.

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Devin Demetres rushes with the ball. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Centereach threatened to retie the game late in the fourth quarter, but a costly interception halted the Cougars march down the field, and with that, went the football team’s chance to compete in the Division II finals. Centereach fell to North Babylon 14-7 in the county semifinals Nov. 10.

Chris Witherspoon leaps up in an attempt to intercept a North Babylon pass. Photo by Bill Landon

The Cougars had a historic run, opening the season on a five-game winning streak and completing the season with an 8-2 record.

Centereach head coach Adam Barrett said the transformation of his team  to finally become a playoff contender was due to several factors.

“The players have really committed to the offseason program and took the necessary steps to improve each year, which was key,” he said. “Having leaders that want to be the best they can be, and never settling has really helped the younger kids contribute. Having a great core of young coaches that bought into the program and the system that I brought here and having them relate to the kids is a big factor as well.”

On their opening possession, the North Babylon Bulldogs began a march down the field from deep inside their own territory, leaning on running back David Estrella. They ground out yardage and sustained the drive until ultimately finding the end zone on short yardage with four minutes left in the opening quarter.

North Babylon threatened again with six minutes left in the half, but the Cougars defense made a stand, forcing the Bulldogs to punt on fourth-and-15.

The spark for the Cougars offense came three plays later, when senior quarterback Jay Morwood handed a pass to junior Devin Demetres, who despite seeming to be stopped at the line of scrimmage, broke outside and defended against four would-be tacklers while covering 65 yards during his touchdown run. Sophomore kicker Matt Robbert completed the point-after attempt to make it a new game.

Marcus Garcia-Miller drags a tackler as he moves the ball up the field. Photo by Bill Landon

On the opening drive of the second half, a Centereach fumble proved costly. After North Babylon recovered, the team completed three plays before Estrella sauntered into the end zone once more for a 14-7 lead.

With less than two minutes remaining in regulation, Centereach mounted a drive downfield connecting on a pair of long pass-plays, one of which was a 32-yard toss to Marcus Garcia-Miller, but both were called back because of offensive pass interference. On a third and long, Morwood threw a Hail Mary pass near the end zone where a North Babylon corner leaped in front for the interception, and with it, victory.

Barrett said that seniors Alec Kiernan, Vinny Liotta and Mike Grieco have led the team to places he hasn’t seen, and were a big part of the team’s success.

“Buying in to everything we do and making other players better around them is why I consider them leaders,” Barrett said. “They lead by example on the field, in the classroom and in the community. Even though the season didn’t end the way we wanted it to, the seniors have really shaped the program into what it is today.”

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Tyler Ammirato rushed for 130 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries in Miller Place's first Suffolk County semifinal win in seven seasons. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

It was an accomplishment seven years in the making.

Miller Place’s football team had its postseason cut short in a semifinal appearance each of the last six seasons, but Friday night was different.

Anthony Seymour completed two of six passes for 49 yards and a touchdown, and rushed for 72 yards on seven carries during Miller Place’s win. Photo by Bill Landon

Despite frigid temperatures and howling winds, two Miller Place interceptions and two Tyler Ammirato touchdowns drove the scoring in a 28-0 shutout of No. 3 Shoreham-Wading River in the Division IV semifinals Nov. 11.

Ammirato, a senior running back, showed how anxious he was to get back on the field after missing several games to injury. Rushing for 130 yards on 18 carries, he scored both first-half touchdowns, the second set up by an Alex Herbst interception at the Wildcats 40-yard line. He broke free for touchdown carries of 55 and 30 yards, and with kicker Cameron Hammer scoring on the extra-point kicks following each of the runs, the Panthers were up 14-0 just five minutes into the contest.

“It’s the best feeling for us as a program — we’ve been to the semifinals six years in a row and to break through is a dream come true for everyone out here,” Ammirato said of the win. “On Sunday we’ll watch film to prepare for Babylon. We lost to them the first time so we’ll watch that film to see what we did wrong, we’ll watch a couple of other games of them and we’ll just keep rolling.”

No. 2-seeded Miller Place will face No. 1 Babylon in the county final at Stony Brook University Nov. 16 at 7 p.m.

“It’s a tremendous accomplishment for this program — nobody realizes that this has been our swan song and to finally break through is a tribute to the kids because they believe in themselves,” said Miller Place head coach Greg Murphy said. “We’re finally healthy with Tyler [Ammirato] coming back — that’s a big piece of the puzzle for a kid who last year scored 30 touchdowns.”

Miller Place head football coach Greg Murphy smiles as he embraces coaches following the Panthers’ semifinal victory. Photo by Bill Landon

But Murphy’s “tough group of kids” had other athletes rising to the occasion.

After a scoreless third, junior linebacker Rob Morales also came up with an interception after stepping in front of a screen pass. He covered 35 yards before scampering into the end zone. He also had 13 tackles.

“When the plays come you’ve just gotta make them,” Morales said. “I saw the ball, I caught it and I ran. This is big this school has never won a Long Island championship and this is a big stepping stone towards that goal.”

Shoreham-Wading River, three-time Long Island champion, had its season cut short when Miller Place quarterback Anthony Seymour threw deep to the right side of the end zone to Tom Nealis who never broke stride for a 25-yard touchdown that put the game out of reach.

“They left me one-on-one with the cornerback and I knew they were going to come to me with a fade, and I was open, just beat ‘em,” Nealis said. “I’ve been coming to these games since I was 5 years old and to know that broke this streak, and to do it beating Shoreham-Wading River for a second time this season, it feels great.”

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Smithtown East's Allie Brady spikes the ball over Patchogue-Medford defenders reaching for the block. Photo by Bill Landon
Smithtown East’s Brooke Berroyer smacks down one of her 11 kill shots. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

No. 3 Smithtown East’s girls volleyball team breezed through the opening round of the Class AA playoffs Oct. 30, taking down No. 14 Patchogue-Medford in three sets 25-13, 25-16, 25-13.

Senior outside hitter Brooke Berroyer, who had 11 kills and was strong from the service line, said she was surprised by what the Raiders brought to the court.

“They were better than I was expecting them to be — they had really good defense, their block are pretty big, but I think our defense played really well today,” she said. “Our setter, [senior Marissa Oliveri, who had 35 assists], was moving the ball around today, we had a lot of different hitters today, we were all hitting very effectively.”

Senior middle Steph Berdon went on serve streak with Berroyer to put the Bulls out front 10-4 in the opening set, forcing Pat-Med to call the first timeout of the afternoon. The break didn’t help the Raiders though, as Smithtown East surged ahead 21-11 as the visitors called for another pause.

Smithtown East’s Marissa Oliveri sets up a play. Photo by Bill Landon

Berroyer picked up where she left off, gaining more Bulls points from the service line until the score was 9-5. Junior outside hitter Katy Curran slammed a kill shot from high above the net before Pat-Med asked for another timeout.

The Raiders were able to keep pace from there, trailing by four points until the Bulls stepped on the gas and broke out to a 23-15 advantage.

Senior outside hitter Allie Brady also noted Patchogue-Medford’s defense despite the score.

“Their defense was amazing, it was tough to get the ball to hit the floor,” she said. “We had good communication and trust in each other and that built confidence.”

Oliveri continued to help set up plays as Smithtown East jumped out to an 8-1 advantage in the third, but pointed to her teammates, who she said lightened her load.

“I thought our passing was amazing — they were making my job easier, it easier for the hitters to get their swings on every ball,” she said. “They fought hard, and we had to step up our game and push through.”

Smithtown East’s Felicity Hoffert, who tallied 10 kills, tries to put the ball past a Raiders block. Photo by Bill Landon

With the help of junior right side hitter Felicity Hoffert, who finished with 10 kills, the Bulls edged ahead 19-11 before closing out the set.

Smithtown East has now won its last five games, and head coach George Alamia said he never doubted what his team is capable of, especially with many of his athletes prior experience in the postseason.

“It’s a playoff game; it’s a mentality, and we had that tonight,” he said. “We’ve been here before — a lot of these kids have been in long playoff runs — so they know that they can’t let up.”

Smithtown East is back in action Nov. 1 hosting No. 6 Ward Melville at 5 p.m.

“We’re pretty versatile with our offense — our top four hitters were right around each other 10 or 11 kills, not one person dominated our play,” Alamia said. “We’ll challenge them to get better in certain areas but our ball control is great, we pulled away with our defense in this game and that gives us a chance to win any round.”

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Meagan Murphy digs out a serve receive. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Erika Benson slams the ball over the net. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Megan Murphy dug deep to pull out a win — quite literally Monday.

The senior libero threw herself all over the court to record 31 digs in a 3-0 sweep of Hauppauge Oct. 23, 25-14, 25-17, 25-10, to cap off Kings Park girls volleyball’s second straight undefeated League V season.

“Megan Murphy in the back row was strong on defense,” Kings Park head coach Ed Manly said. “Very rarely are you going to catch her off guard or get her to shank a ball during the course of play.”

With Hauppauge as close as 12-10 midway through the first set, three straight Kings Park points — a Hauppauge out-of-bounds hit, an Alexa Petraitis (eight kills) spike and a Kara Haas dump over — forced the Eagles to call timeout. The scoring streak was only briefly interrupted after the break, and Kings Park slammed home four more to make it 19-11. Murphy closed out serving on the last four of five Kings Park points, until an out of bounds serve made it 24-14 and a Hauppauge service error closed out the set.

“I don’t say this selfishly — we’ve been doing this for so long and I’m so honored to play with this team,” said Petraitis, a senior outside hitter. “Everything I do is because of my team, because of how much support I have. Hauppauge was great at getting the ball up, and we did great staying mentally focused, ready for it to come back over the net.”

Kara Haas serves the ball. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Hauppauge was strong serving, and returning it. In the second set, the Eagles were cruising right alongside Kings Park, forcing five ties. A Petraitis kill put the Kingsmen up 6-5, but Hauppauge bounced right back to tie the score at 8-8 and again at 10-10.

“Hauppauge is always extremely scrappy and they make it hard to put balls away,” Manly said. “Every time we tried to tip or do something unconventional they picked it up, but we stayed consistent swinging at the ball and keeping the offense strong.”

Manly said his team worked on defensive drills, like service receives, to prepare for Hauppauge, but he still thinks his team has work to do heading into the postseason.

“That’s my biggest issue with my team — we’re pretty powerful offensively, but we rest on our laurels and let down a little bit on the defensive side,” he said. “But we weathered the storm.”

Senior Erika Benson (12 kills) took the game over, as the middle hitter spiked the ball for a big kill and a 12-10 advantage that gave Kings Park the push it needed.

Haley Holmes sets up a play. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“I thought when times were getting rough — we were in a little bit of a slump — we worked hard to get out of it quickly to move on to the next play,” Benson said. “Coach tells us to get ready for the next point. We’re never thinking ahead, we’re just thinking of what we can do to get that point.”

Right up the middle the team began clicking, with Murphy returning the serve, Haley Holmes (39 assists) setting up the play and Benson driving shots to the ground.

“Haley Holmes did a nice job setting,” Manly said. “She sets a really consistent ball, she didn’t get called for any doubles, lifts or carries, and she spreads the ball on offense really, really well. Erika Benson overpowers people in the middle, and up the middle with our libero, setter and middle is where our bread is buttered and that pretty much carried us tonight.”

Kings Park is the No. 1 seed heading into the playoffs, which begin Oct. 30. The Kingsmen won’t play again until November thanks to a first-round bye.

Meagan Murphy celebrates Kings Park’s undefeated League V season. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“I’m really excited to see what happens with this team,” Murphy said.

Graduating just one senior from last year’s team, Benson said her team’s accomplishments, including helping to win the seventh straight league title for Kings Park, means a lot to the seniors, who are following in the footsteps of those in years past, losing just one regular-season game in their entire careers.

“Being able to keep this League V title is pretty special,” she said. “Every season we have one goal: to win states. It’s always in the back of our minds and it helps us push through to win every game.”

Manly said he doesn’t see the streak weighing too heavily on the girls, because they’re focused on that one goal.

“They’re a pretty relaxed bunch — they’re more focused on their goals than about what’s happened in the past,” he said. “They’re focused on every point, every set and every match. I love my team very much, I think they’re extremely talented and I think the sky is the limit for them as long as they stay humble and hungry and don’t overlook anybody. They have the capability to do some pretty special stuff.”