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Smithtown Bulls

Newfield senior Catarina Pacheco keeps the ball in play. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

The Bulls of Smithtown East looked to make it four wins in a row when they traveled to Newfield for a League III matchup, where they dominated the first two sets winning 25-14, 25-13 in the Sept. 12 contest. Newfield rallied in the third set, leading by three points late in the match, but the Bulls made fewer mistakes to win by four points for the 3-0 sweep.

The win lifts the Bulls to 4-0, not having lost a set and blanking all of their opponents in the early going while Newfield falls to 1-4.

Both teams retake the court Thursday when Newfield travels to North Babylon with a 6:45 p.m. start and Smithtown East hosts West Babylon at 5 p.m.

— Photos by Bill Landon 

Winning pitcher Alex Peña celebrates St. James-Smithtown Little League’s 14U championship with coach Rich Conner. Peña had two hits on the day and pitched the final 3 2/3 innings for the win. Photo by Steven Zaitz

By Steven Zaitz

In the world of Little League baseball, when players reach their 13th birthday, they are forced into retirement – barely teenagers yet too old to play. 

Those days are over. 

In just their second year of existence, the St. James-Smithtown Bulls won the 14U Half Hollow Hills Summer Little League Championship on Saturday, Aug. 5, at Otsego Park in Dix Hills. In dramatic fashion, the Bulls scored two runs in their final turn at bat to triumph with a 3-2 victory over Bay Shore.  

This team of grizzled “veterans” now join in on the summer-long celebration of softball and baseball excellence in Smithtown.

Smithtown 14U shortstop Brandon Castoro strokes a two-run double to give the Bulls a 3-2 lead over Bay Shore in the Half Hollow Hills Junior C championship game. Photo by Steven Zaitz

The improbable win capped off a 10-6 season following their inaugural season in 2022 when they stumbled to a 5-16 record. Head coach, Rich Conner, assembled this team and applied for admittance to Half Hollow Hills Junior C League because he wanted to prolong the baseball life expectancy for kids who “age out” of traditional Little Leagues when they become teenagers. 

His son Dylan, who plays second base for the 14U Bulls, wanted to keep playing without the joining the grueling and ultra-competitive travel leagues. It was out of Dylan and his friends’ desire to continue that motivated his dad to launch the team.

“Initially, we sent an email to everyone our league, I think we got three or four kids,” said the elder Conner, who played at SUNY Albany and has coached at St. Joseph’s and Hofstra universities. “Dylan reached out to some of the kids he knew and from there, with some word of mouth, we were able to put a product on the field. The first season we did this, we were a younger team and we struggled but nobody wanted to quit. One year later, look at what happened. We won the championship.”

To win it, the Bulls had to go through Bay Shore, who won 11 out of 16 in the regular season, including five in a row to end their year. The South Shore team trotted out their ace right-hander Tyler Drago to try and secure a ring. Drago was untouchable over the first four innings, striking out eight and allowing only two baserunners.

Smithtown starter Nathan LoRe, despite loads of heavy traffic, managed to keep Bay Shore off the board for three innings. He allowed the first two runners to reach and was relieved by Alex Peña, who allowed his inherited runners to score but nothing more. The only ball that was well struck in the inning was by cleanup hitter Christopher DiGiovanni, who Peña dueled for nine pitches until Giovanni knocked in the first run of the game with a single up the middle.    

“Alex plays at a very high level, and he’s a perfectionist,” Conner said. “That inning could have gotten out of hand, and Alex did a fantastic job of limiting the damage and keeping us in the game.” 

“I wasn’t happy giving up that hit,” said Peña, who missed a chunk of games in the middle of the year with an ankle injury. “We battled hard against each other, and [DiGiovanni] won that battle.”

The way Drago was throwing, it looked like Bay Shore was also going to win the war. 

“He threw pretty hard,” Peña said of Drago. “But not only that, he was locating his pitches where he wanted to, so he gave us a hard time.”

Niko Kostas steals second base for the Bulls. Photo by Steven Zaitz

But after 106 pitches, Drago was out of the game after six innings. Clinging to a 2-1 lead, Bay Shore summoned righty reliever Jake LaGrange. The Bulls got to work on him immediately. 

Left fielder D.J. Savage, who saved three runs in early in the game with a nifty, two-out, bases-loaded catch, led off the seventh with a single to left. He was sacrificed to second by Jake Scandaliato.  

Peña drove a hard single to center and Conner, who is the third base coach, elected to hold Savage at third and not risk running the Bulls out of a very promising inning. After Peña stole second, Smithtown had the tying and go-ahead runs in scoring position for power-hitting shortstop Brandon Castoro. 

Castoro drove LaGrange’s  second offering deep into the left-center field gap and all the way to the wall – a two RBI double that turned a 2-1 Smithtown deficit into a 3-2 lead. 

Castoro pumped his fist proudly as he stood on second base. His teammates in the dugout and Bulls fans on the first base side screamed in delight. 

“I took the first pitch for a strike so Alex could steal second,” said Castoro. “After that, I was looking for something in the middle, and I put a good swing on it.”

The shortstop and his family were not even supposed to be at the game, as they had tickets to a Metallica concert in New Jersey. But after the team won their semifinal game against West Babylon three days earlier, the Castoros altered their travel arrangements. 

“I’m extremely glad I was able to play in this game,” said Castoro. “It feels great and refreshing to see all the work that we put in paying off with this championship.” 

Despite the sudden good fortune on the Smithtown side, it may have been lost on some folks that there was the matter of the bottom of the seventh. This was still a one-run game.

“I knew that there was still work to do,” Peña said. 

Named the game’s MVP for his work at the plate, on the bases and on the mound, Peña, who pitched a scoreless 3 2/3 innings to earn the win,  calmly struck out the first two batters on six pitches and got the last out on a harmless fly ball to Savage.

The game was over, and for Smithtown the rest of the day at Otsego Park was filled with bear hugs, Gatorade showers, smiling parents and photo ops with the championship trophy. 

“Over the two years that we’ve done this, the players and parents have become like a family,” Conner said. “Hopefully this will result in interest from the community and let people know that baseball is not over for a large portion of Smithtown kids at ages 13 and 14, if they don’t want it to be. Just look at what can happen.”

A championship happened — pretty good for a team that is competing in only its second year with most of its members playing at the ripe old age of 14

St. James-Smithtown Little League 2023 Accomplishments:

14U
Baseball:
Half Hollow Hills Junior C Champions 12U
Baseball:
District 35 champs, Section 4E finalists

10U
Baseball:
District 35 and Section 4E champs, New York State “Elite Eight”

12U
Softball:
District 35 and Section 4E champs, New York State “Final Four”

11U
Softball:
District 35 Champs, Section 4E finalists

Host Location for 2023 New York State Softball Championship Tournament for 10U, 11U, and 12U

 

Home team 12U Bulls lose in semifinals, but event filled with joy and excitement

By Steve Zaitz 

[email protected]

Smithtown became the epicenter of New York softball last Thursday, July 13, as teams from all over the Empire State descended upon the hamlet to fight for the state title — with the winner earning a trip to the Little League World Series East Region tournament.

For the 12 and Under home team Bulls, it was not to be.

St. James-Smithtown was knocked out in the semifinals by the Mid-Island All Stars from Staten Island and their phenomenal pitcher Gianna DiMaso, who tossed a complete game shutout. The Bulls had won four games over the course of the weekend to make it to the final four, but DiMaso was just too tough, allowing only four Bull base runners in six innings. 

Bulls Pitcher Isabella Russo, who led this same group of girls to the 11U championship in 2022, finished the tournament with a 3-0 record on the mound and pitched four scoreless innings against Staten Island in the semis. But single runs in the first two innings against Smithtown starter Julia Roman was two too many against the dominating DiMaso.

Despite the setback for the Smithtown side, the tournament has been a tremendous and entertaining success for everyone involved. It kicked off last Thursday with a festive celebration at Gaynor Park in St. James. 

Town Supervisor Edward Wehrheim (R) and town Councilman Tom Lohmann (R) threw out nearly simultaneous first pitches. League President Richard Tomitz with fellow league board member Peter Russo, both of whom coach and have daughters on the 12U team, warmly welcomed the players and their families to Smithtown. 

Caravans of SUVs and minivans made the trek all the way from places like Orchard Park near Buffalo, Saugerties in Ulster County, also Fayetteville-Manlius and Chittenango, both suburbs of Syracuse. The visitors spent the better part of a week here. Harrison Little League in Westchester, and the eventual champion Massapequa who beat Staten Island in the final game, also participated.

Tomitz, Russo and other league organizers made sure all the players and their families were entertained even when there weren’t any games on the schedule. Saturday night featured a skills competition at Veterans Memorial Park in St. James. Players from all teams were invited to show off their speed, throwing accuracy and, of course, home run hitting prowess. Lefty sluggers Brooke Hanson and Isabella Russo of Smithtown took first and second place in the home run contest.

Skills Night was a jovial affair with the elder Russo keeping the crowd peppy as master of the microphone. Players from different teams shared laughter and selfies until it was time for Movie Night on the Lawn. The feature presentation had to be the 1992 film “A League of Their Own.”

Last Sunday’s atrocious weather wreaked havoc on the scheduled slate of games, and on Monday and Tuesday, eleven games were played in less than 24 hours.

As Staten Island was beating St. James-Smithtown, Massapequa International was crushing Fayetteville-Manlius, 15-0. A high noon, winner-take-all showdown saw Massapequa score a walk-off 2-1 win and punch their ticket to the regionals, to be played in Bristol, Connecticut.

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On the menu for the Oct. 8 homecoming at High School West was plenty of food, fun and touchdowns. The Bulls were winners defeating Centereach, 34-12.

Quarterback Brayden Stahl threw multiple touchdown passes to wide receiver Jacque LaPrarie in the win. 

The day began with the annual Homecoming Celebration Carnival sponsored by Smithtown High School West leadership. Games, prizes, food, T-shirt sales and more were all part of the day for the district’s K-8 students, courtesy of the high school’s clubs and organizations.

Before kickoff middle school cheer teams joined the varsity cheer team in a show of support as the Bulls ran onto the field. 

At halftime of the game, High School West cheerleaders and the Whisperettes kickline team performed.

Homecoming King and Queen Joseph Carpenter and Brook Lynn DaSilva also were announced at the half.

The Bulls of Smithtown West were too much for Huntington to handle where the Bulls won the league III matchup 69-37 at home Jan. 3. Sam Frank led the way for Smithtown West, scoring 16 points followed by Matt Behrens who netted 13. Huntington sophomore topped the scoring chart for the Blue Devils with 11 points and Daniel Danziger banked nine.

The win lifts Smithtown West to 3-0 in league III, and 10-1 overall, while Huntington drops to 0-4.

The Bulls retake the court when they hit the road Jan. 8 to take on top seeded Northport for the league III leader-board. Tipoff is 6:15 p.m.

 

Smithtown West girls soccer scored three unanswered goals on the road handing Ward Melville a 3-0 loss in a Division I matchup Sept. 9.

Freshman standout Stephanie Schubert scored twice for the Bulls, and Nicole Menella, a sophomore, found the net for their second win of the early season. The Bulls beat Patchogue-Medford two days earlier and look to build on their winning momentum. 

Emily Wallace, a senior, had four saves in net for the Bulls, and Ward Melville’s Elyse Munoz had five, along with teammate Rebekka Dill who stopped four.

Both teams are back in action Sept. 12 when the Patriots hit the road where they’ll take on West Islip searching for their first win; game time is 4:15 p.m. The Bulls play East Islip at home with a 4:30 p.m. start.

By Joe Galotti

On Saturday afternoon, the Smithtown West football team found the end zone a half dozen times before halftime, and put an exclamation mark on the school’s homecoming weekend festivities with a 48-28 victory over Centereach. The Bulls improved to 3-0 on the season, and were able to celebrate Smithtown’s 350th anniversary in style.

“This was just another step in the right direction,” Smithtown West head coach Pete Cerullo said. “The offense and defense executed the way they were supposed to. It was a great win, and I’m proud of our team.”

Senior quarterback Daniel Caroussos led the Bulls’ offensive assault in the game, doing plenty of damage with both his arm and his legs. The senior threw for a touchdowns and 163 yards, and ran for 74 yards and three touchdowns.

“This week of practice we prepared well,” Caroussos said. “The scout team gave us a great look. We knew what they were going to come out with.”

Centereach senior quarterback Nick Juvelier also put together a memorable day. He completed 24 of 40 passes, and threw for 321 yards and three touchdowns.

“I got to give credit to my receivers, really,” Juvelier said. “I just got a lot of playmakers around me.”

Centereach senior wide receivers Justin Eck and Mark Pirollo, and junior wide receiver Rob Montgomery all finished with touchdown receptions for Cougars on the day. Even though the team found success through the air, it was Smithtown West that was in control, from nearly start to finish.

Junior running back James Caddigan Jr. opened the scoring for the Bulls with a 7-yard touchdown run just 3:53 into the game. With 1:40 remaining in the opening quarter, Caddigan Jr. struck again, this time, with a 12-yard rushing touchdown.

Before the end of the first, Caroussos broke the game open for Smithtown West with a 25-yard rushing touchdown on a keeper play, which gave the Bulls a 21-0 advantage.

In the second quarter, Caroussos threw and ran for a touchdown. Smithtown West also scored on an interception by senior linebacker Daniel Varello, which he returned 25 yards to the end zone. The Bulls took a healthy 34-point lead into halftime.

The Cougars did manage to show signs of life in the second half, outscoring their opponent 21-7 in the game’s final 24 minutes. Despite the final score, Centereach head coach Adam Barrett still has of faith in his team moving forward.

“We were 2-0 before we came into this game, and we know what it takes to win,” Barrett said. “Now we got to get back on track.”

The Cougars will look for a bounce-back performance, when they host Half Hollows Hill East this Saturday at 2 p.m. Meanwhile, red-hot Smithtown West will be back at Robert W. Pratt Field this Friday night, when they welcome No. 2-seeded Riverhead. Kickoff is scheduled for 6 p.m., and Caroussos said his team will be ready for the challenge.

“This game was a huge confidence booster for us, especially going into next week,” he said. “That’s going to be a great competition for us. We’re expecting that to be a great game.”