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Victoria Johnson

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Mustangs will play Elmont in Class A Long Island championship March 11

Mount Sinai girls' basketball team captains Victoria Johnson, Veronica Venezia and Olivia Williams, along with their coaches, are presented the Section XI runner-up plaque. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Win or lose, Mount Sinai’s girls’ basketball team earned the right to represent Suffolk County in the Class A Long Island championship game. But first, Section XI bragging rights were on the line, and although the Mustangs led by as much as 12 points against Class AA winner Central Islip, the Buccaneers floored it in the final two minutes to come away with a 51-42 win.

Mount Sinai’s Gabriella Sartori battles in the paint. Photo by Bill Landon

“This is a game where we said to ourselves this is a good look for us,” Mount Sinai head coach Michael Pappalardo said. “[Central Islip] plays a similar style of basketball to [Nassau County’s] Elmont, with great defense. So we’ll go back to work, we’ll focus on getting back on defense and eliminating scoring the easy layups in transition. But I couldn’t be more proud of my girls and what they’ve accomplished this season.”

Central Islip jumped out to a 12-4 lead after five minutes of play at Suffolk County Community College’s Selden campus March 5, but the Mustangs scored four unanswered points to close the gap to four points, 12-8, at the end of the first quarter.

Senior center Veronica Venezia continued to do what she’s done all season, battling in the paint to score another putback, to pull within two before junior Olivia Williams followed with a putback of her own to tie the game, 12-12, with 2:46 left in the first half.

Mount Sinai sophomore Gabriella Sartori drove the lane and wasn’t taking no for an answer as she fought her way to the rim for the score that gave the Mustangs their first lead of the game. Despite Central Islip answering with a 3-pointer, Sartori followed it up with a baseline drive where she was fouled while scoring, and completed the three-point play. At halftime, Mount Sinai was up by three points,18-15.

Mount Sinai’s Vernoica Venezia and Olivia Williams reach for possession. Photo by Bill Landon

Sartori opened the second half like she finished the first, driving to the basket for back-to-back scores. Senior Victoria Johnson banked two points and Venezia also added a bucket from the paint. The referees called a tight game, and both teams traded points from the charity stripe. At the end of the eight minutes, Mount Sinai was still protecting a three-point lead, 36-33.

Central Islip scored back-to-back field goals to retake the lead for the first time since the opening quarter, but Venezia found the rim from down low to pull within one point, 42-41, but Mount Sinai would come no closer.

Central Islip edged ahead slowly, leaning on the shot clock, which forced Mount Sinai to foul. The Buccaneers continued to make each opportunity count, edging ahead point by point until time expired.

“Although we could’ve not fouled and lost by three or four, we were trying to go for the win and I’m proud of my girls,” Pappalardo said. “We can play with anybody and you can see that.”

Who goes home with the Long Island championship title will be decided March 11, when Mount Sinai takes on Elmont at SUNY Old Westbury at noon.

By Bill Landon

Four of the five starters on Mount Sinai’s girls’ basketball team helped the soccer squad score its first Suffolk County title last fall. This winter, the Mustangs brought those winning ways from the field to the court.

Winning has become a tradition at Mount Sinai. The Mustangs went nearly undefeated in League VI play, going on a 17-game streak before a 44-33 loss to Shoreham-Wading River. Despite that, Mount Sinai was able to grab a piece of the league title for the first time in school history. Then, the road to the Class A finals began.

The Mustangs crushed Bayport-Blue Point 91-48 before outscoring Sayville 68-54. The No. 1 seed ultimately found itself up against a familiar foe in No. 2 Harborfields. The two schools had also faced off as the top-seeded teams during the Suffolk soccer finals, and, in front of a near-capacity crowd of 500 at Riverhead High School Feb. 24, Mount Sinai pulled away with another crucial win, 54-42, for its second county crown of the school year.

“Our defense was the key in getting stops and rebounding, and turning those into points.”

—Veronica Venezia

For seniors Victoria Johnson and Veronica Venezia, the win was a long time coming personally and for the program.

“It feels amazing to be Suffolk County champions — Veronica and I have been on the team since eighth grade, so we started a long time ago,” said Johnson, who scored 11 of her 16 points in the second half. “Back then we didn’t win many games, and here we are — it’s a dream come true.”

Sophomore Gabriella Sartori had the hot hand in the first quarter, scoring 10 of her team-high 18 points. First, she swished a free throw to successfully complete a three-point play, and hit a shot from beyond the arc soon after to help her team double its opponent’s score with an 18-9 lead at the end of eight minutes. She also added six rebounds and two assists in the win.

“From the beginning of the season I just wanted to play at this level,” she said. “I’ve been with this group since the seventh grade and to reach this point and watch this team grow is just amazing.”

Behind 31-19 heading into the locker room, Harborfields head coach Glenn Lavey said the 12-point deficit put his team in unfamiliar territory.

“Spotting them a lead like that is not our style — we’re kind of a running football team if you will — we’re not a spread offense,” he said. “We had some breakdowns in the first eeight minutes of the game and we didn’t execute some things we needed to early.”

“I’ve been with this group since the seventh grade and to reach this point and watch this team grow is just amazing.”

—Gabriella Sartori

Despite the lead, Mount Sinai head coach Michael Pappalardo said he warned his team that the Tornadoes weren’t going to run out of steam that easily.

“Harborfields, they’re aggressive,” he said. “We told the girls this is going to be close. You don’t think that team is going to let you walk out of here giving you the championship.”

Harborfields senior Grace Zagaja scored on a putback, and teammate Kate Tardo hit a long-distance shot in the third, but Mount Sinai’s defense swarmed.

With 10 seconds left in the quarter, Johnson went to the line and sank both to make it a 10-point game, but Harborfields senior Falyn Dwyer came through with a buzzer-beating triple that helped her team cut the deficit to 40-33.

With just over four minutes left in regulation, Venezia came up with another putback (she finished with a double-double on 12 points and 15 rebounds) to re-extend the Mustangs’ lead, 45-36.

“They’re definitely a challenge — they always have been the past years we’ve played them,” Venezia said of Harborfields. “But our defense was the key in getting stops and rebounding, and turning those into points.”

Tardo, who tied with Dwyer for eight points, drained her second triple of the contest to make it a six-point game. Two minutes later, eighth-grader Madison Brady (seven points) picked off an in-bounds pass, went straight to the rim for the score and made it a four-point game, 45-41, with 3:10 left to play.

After Harborfields missed its final five shots from the field, Johnson went 7-for-8 from the free-throw line in the final 31 seconds to put the win in the record book.

“It is ironic to win back-to-back titles against Harborfields — they’re a great team, but we worked really hard to be here.”

—Brooke Cergol

“We always talk about it in practice in every game — everyone’s going to have their ups and downs,” Johnson said. “You’ve got to be prepared for both. We had to fight our way through adversity to get here.”

Also on the championship-winning soccer team besides Johnson, Sartori and junior Olivia Williams, was sophomore Brooke Cergol, who rounded out the scoring with eight points.

“It feels amazing — especially after soccer,” she said. “It is ironic to win back-to-back titles against Harborfields — they’re a great team, but we worked really hard to be here. It was crazy, it was a really tense situation, but we pulled together.”

Mount Sinai moves on to face Mattituck for the Small School champion title at Suffolk County Community College Brentwood Feb. 28 at 5 p.m. The winner will face off against the Class AA qualifier for the Section XI title. That game will be played at Suffolk’s Selden campus March 5 at 5 p.m.

Regardless of the outcome of those games, Mount Sinai has the opportunity for another first, when the Mustangs take on the Section VIII Class A champion March 11 at SUNY Old Westbury at noon for the Long Island title.

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Wildcats' 44-33 win earns them share of League VI title

 

By Bill Landon

Shoreham-Wading River was hungry for revenge, and junior Erin Triandafils used it to feed a six-point scoring streak off the bench in the fourth quarter, which led to a 44-33 Wildcats win over previously undefeated Mount Sinai.

“Mount Sinai is a good rival in every sport, and we finally beat them,” Triandafils said. “It was definitely very exciting. We were hoping to play great defense, get some baskets and just play our game.”

Licking their wounds from their only League VI loss of the season, the Wildcats wanted to avenge the Jan. 17 defeat in front of their home crowd Feb. 11.

Shoreham-Wading River head coach Adam Lievre said he suspected the last game of the regular season would be a key matchup between both teams, and have it set the tone for the postseason.

“Going into the year, we both would’ve figured that there was a good chance this was how it was going to go down,” Lievre said. “We knew who they lost due to graduation, but we brought everybody back, so we expected to be fighting for the top spot.”

Mount Sinai was protecting a 17-0 season and 13-0 league record, but the Mustangs couldn’t overcome its rival as the lead began to slip away in the second half.

Shoreham-Wading River’s defense had held Mount Sinai senior Victoria Johnson scoreless until she found the rim three times in the third quarter. Classmate Veronica Venezia scored from the paint, sophomore Holly McNair banked two points and so did sophomore Gabriella Sartori, as the Mustangs edged ahead 27-22 with just over four minutes left.

Shoreham-Wading River tied the game at 29-29, and senior Lindsey McKenna hit a buzzer-beater that gave her team the edge heading into the final eight minutes of play.

Senior Maria Smith said her team had been practicing for weeks with the matchup against Mount Sinai in mind.

“We just wanted revenge, and we finally got it,” Smith said. “I knew that we had momentum and we went into the huddle [and said] we have to keep this [lead]. We can’t lose it.”

That’s when Triandafils scored three straight times.

“Erin [Triandafils], she’s been groomed to play behind Maria [Smith], because they’re very similar in what they’re capable of doing,” Lievre said. “We took a chance and gave her a couple of minutes, and it worked out really well.”

Junior Mikayla Dwyer led Shoreham-Wading River with 10 points, Smith scored eight and seniors Mackenzie Zajac and Sophie Triandafils, Erin’s older sister, each added seven points.

Venezia was atop the scoreboard for Mount Sinai with eight points, Johnson was right behind with seven and McNair, Sartori and sophomore Brooke Cergol rounded out the scoring with six points each..

With the loss, Mount Sinai shares the league title with Shoreham-Wading River.

“At certain times of the season you’re going to have adversity, and this is something we’ll be dealing with when it comes to the playoffs,” Mount Sinai head coach Michael Pappalardo said. “I thought this was a good game for us. I looked at this game as one with a playoff atmosphere. Adversity makes us better.”

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Mustangs will travel to Shoreham-Wading River Feb. 9 for 6 p.m. game

By Bill Landon

On the first day of practice before the start of the season, Mount Sinai senior Cristina Gulli said her team set goals to make it to the playoffs and go undefeated on the way there. And the girls’ basketball team is making that happen.

“We’ve worked very hard every day, so it’s amazing that we’re undefeated so far,” Gulli said. “And that hard work in practice has paid off.”

“We were definitely hoping for this level of success at the beginning of the season, but we knew it wasn’t going to come without a lot of hard work.”

—Victoria Johnson

Practice makes perfect, and the Mustangs remained perfect when the team made short work of visiting Southampton Feb. 6, defeating the Mariners 73-25. The win keeps the team at the top of the League VI leaderboard at 13-0 and gives Mount Sinai at least a share of the league title.

After the pregame ceremonies that acknowledged the accomplishments of the eight seniors on the squad, the Mustangs got to work, and after eight minutes of play, the final outcome was clear.

Mount Sinai took a 36-14 advantage into the halftime break.

Senior Victoria Johnson was at the core of the Mustangs’ offense. She led her team in scoring with 25 points and had six steals. Mount Sinai head coach Michael Pappalardo saw to it that every player got time on the court, and the Mustangs surged ahead 69-21 with the help of those off the bench.

“We were definitely hoping for this level of success at the beginning of the season, but we knew it wasn’t going to come without a lot of hard work,” Johnson said. “We’ve put the time in, a lot of time we went over our goals for the season and we worked on something different in every practice.”

Senior Veronica Venezia scored 14 points as she battled in the paint most of the game, something she’s done all season long. She also finished with 16 rebounds and six assists.

“It definitely feels great staying undefeated,” she said. “Me and Vic have been playing together since eighth grade — we gained confidence in every game.”

“We all bring positive influences, and it’s just great to share this wonderful occasion together.”

—Nicole Hurowitz

Senior guard Nicole Hurowitz said she’s glad to be a part of a special group of players— something she said she’ll remember for years to come.

“We help each other out and it’s pretty amazing being here with all these girls,” she said. “We all bring positive influences, and it’s just great to share this wonderful occasion together.”

Mount Sinai’s last win topped its program-best 15 wins in 2010, where the Mustangs ended with a 15-3 record and won the league title. The team is 17-0 overall with one game remaining in the regular season.

There is nothing regular about the final game before postseason play though, as the Mustangs will face their greatest threat to their flawless record: Shoreham Wading River.

During the last matchup on Jan. 17, Mount Sinai was able to hold on to a six-point lead — its narrowest margin of victory all year — to win 61-55.

Pappalardo understands the magnitude of the final game of regular season — on the road against the toughest challenger this year Feb. 9 at 6 p.m.

“We’re focused on Shoreham — they’re a great team, they have an awesome coach, they have great athletes ,” he said. “The sky’s the limit and I’m just happy for the girls. It took a long time and we’re finally here.”

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Mount Sinai's girls' basketball team remains undefeated with a win over now previously undefeated Shoreham-Wading River. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Victoria Johnson vindicated her team.

Mount Sinia’s Victoria Johnson scores. Photo by Bill Landon

For those that thought the Mount Sinai girls’ basketball team may not be able to top visiting Shoreham-Wading River heading into overtime, the senior showed why Mount Sinai is becoming a powerhouse across all sports, helping win the battle of undefeated teams. The Mustangs outscored the Wildcats 61-55 Jan. 17, with Johnson scoring a game-high 21 points.

Mount Sinai’s defense also stole the show. The Mustangs’ press overwhelmed the Wildcats, helping the team break out to an early 11-2 lead, and stretching the advantage to 25-16 by the halftime break. The goal, according to Mount Sinai head coach Michael Pappalardo, was to defend Shoreham-Wading River senior Mackenzie Zajac.

“Our game plan was to try to hold Zajac to 10 points or less, which is a tall order,” he said. “Brooke [Cergol] played lights out tonight — she was amazing on defense from start to finish. She held Zajac to just seven points.”

On the opposite end of the court, Shoreham-Wading River head coach Adam Lievre wasn’t pleased with how his team defended its end of the court.

“Our press in the first half didn’t work out very well, and we haven’t played a competitive game in a few weeks,” he said. “The level of competition took a major step up tonight, and we didn’t come out at tipoff ready to handle it, which put us in a hole.”

Mount Sinai’s Gabby Sartori defends against Shoreham-Wading River’s Mackenzie Zajac. Photo by Bill Landon

The Wildcats’ second half would be unlike the first though, learning from their mistakes. Senior Sam Higgins shifted the momentum of the game with a 3-pointer, followed several unanswered points, which was capped by a Maria Smith basket that made it a one-point game.

After a Shoreham-Wading River field goal, Johnson answered with a long distance three, but the Wildcats countered with a pair of Mikayla Dwyer free throws and a Higgins field goal to make it a two-point game.

Despite being held to seven points, Zajac made her points count, and on a field goal gave the Wildcats their first lead of the game, 41-10. But the Wildcats’ lead was short lived. Mount Sinai sophomore Holly McNair came off the bench and found the rim to retake the lead with 4:32 left in the final quarter.

“Gabby [Sartori] stepped up big to hit an amazing shot when we needed it most to put us up by two,” Pappalardo said. “[Veronica] Venezia played awesome in the post, scoring and rebounding along with Holly McNair who really helped us off the bench.”

Swapping points on both sides of the court with time running out, Dwyer stole the ball and broke to the basket to tie the game at 51-51 with 21 seconds left in regulation.

“They came out very strong in that second half — they were aggressive, they were trapping and we didn’t expect them to do that,” Venezia said of Shoreham-Wading River. “Our defense was strong today and we’re very excited. This is our best year so far.”

Mount Sinai’s Veronica Venezia battles in the paint. Photo by Bill Landon

Each team traded points to retie the game at 55-55 with 1:48 left in the first four-minute overtime session, but the Mustangs inched away. Sartori’s shot found its mark, followed by a Johnson field goal and pair of free throws by junior Olivia Williams to put the game away.

“Olivia was all over the place,” Pappalardo said, “rebounding and diving for loose balls showing outstanding hustle.”

Venezia followed Johnson in scoring with 14 points and Sartori tacked on 12. Dwyer lead the Wildcats with 12 points and Higgins banked 11.

With the win, the Mustangs are 11-0 overall and atop the League VI leaderboard at 7-0.

Sartori said both the undefeated matchup and her team’s success so far this season puts the Mustangs in uncharted territory.

“It was our first overtime — we had to talk to each other, and we were ready for this one,” she said. “We knew how much we wanted this, and getting this win, we’re very optimistic for the rest of the season.”

Mount Sinai junior Victoria Johnson scores her 1,000th career point in loss

Mount Sinai's Victoria Johnson scored her 1,000th point in the Mustangs' first-round Class A playoff loss to Harborfields on Feb. 13. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Harborfields enjoyed a 22-point lead midway through the third quarter, and despite Mount Sinai rallying to close within seven points with just over two minutes left in the game, the Tornadoes’ girls’ basketball team closed with a late surge of its own, to claim a 58-47 victory in the opening round of the Class A playoffs Saturday morning.

Mount Sinai led 13-12 after eight minutes, but managed just four points to Harborfields’ 19 in the second.

Harborfields' Christiana de Borja gets fouled by Mount Sinai's Olivia Williams during the Tornadoes' 58-47 win over the Mustangs in the opening round of the Class A playoffs on Feb. 13. Photo by Bill Landon
Harborfields’ Christiana de Borja gets fouled by Mount Sinai’s Olivia Williams. Photo by Bill Landon

Harborfields point guard Christiana de Borja had the hot hand through the first half, as she drove the lane and muscled her way to the rim, drawing fouls along the way. The five-foot, two-inch junior tallied 13 points over the two quarters.

As Mount Sinai double-teamed de Borja, the Mustangs left the lane opened for Harborfields sophomore guard Erin Tucker, who netted four field goals and a free-throw to add nine more points to the Tornadoes’ 31-17 halftime advantage.

“We always play Mount Sinai in other sports, so we know not to underestimate them, and they came out very strong in the first quarter,” Tucker said. “It’s what we expected. They had a tough second quarter, but we knew they’d come back.”

Three-pointers were flying to open the third quarter, as de Borja banked a pair and Mount Sinai junior guard Victoria Johnson swished her second and third of the game, but still, the Tornadoes edged ahead 43-28 to begin the final quarter.

Harborfields' Falyn Dwyer attempts a jumper. Photo by Bill Landon
Harborfields’ Falyn Dwyer attempts a jumper. Photo by Bill Landon

The Mustangs opened the last eight minutes with two fast breaks that paid dividends for Johnson, who was fouled while shooting, and calmly swished both. The back end marked her 1,000th point of her varsity career.

“They’re really tough on defense,” Johnson said of Harborfields. “We ran on them because they’re a very fast team and they were going to try to stop us in the middle. We had one rough quarter, but we gave it our best. We’re a young team so we’ll make a run next year.”

She’s the first basketball player to score 1,000 points as a Mustang.

“That is truly an amazing accomplishment,” Mount Sinai head coach Michael Pappalardo said. “We are so proud of her.”

Tucker netted two more points at the free-throw line for the Tornadoes, to again make it an 11-point game.

Mount Sinai inbounded the ball, throwing it the length of the court, where freshman guard Margaret Kopcienski gained possession and, with a spin move, found the rim to trim the deficit back to nine points.

Mount Sinai junior center Veronica Venezia made here presence known down low as the she muscled her way to the rim on a put-back to help her team trail by seven with 1:41 left in the game, but the Mustangs would not come any closer.

“The second quarter is where we got hurt, but we’re graduating two seniors and we’re returning 12 — including all five starters — so we’re looking forward to the off-season,” Pappalardo said. “[Harborfields has] great players, and to be with them in the final minutes makes me proud of our team.”

Mount Sinai's Gabby Sartori drives the lane. Photo by Bill Landon
Mount Sinai’s Gabby Sartori drives the lane. Photo by Bill Landon

In a foul-riddled final minute, both teams traded points at the charity stripe. Mount Sinai’s Gabby Sartori went to the line shooting three, and the ninth-grade guard swished all of her opportunities.

“They were very good, and we knew they were going to come up strong on defense,” Sartori said. “I was getting face-guarded the whole time, but my team knew what to do. We gave it all we had; we rose the challenge — last year we came here and lost by 30.”

With six seconds left, de Borja, who led her team in scoring with 23 points, put the final points on the scoreboard off of free throws. Tucker finished the game with 12 points.

Atop the leaderboard for Mount Sinai was Johnson with 16 points, followed by Sartori, who sank 13.

“They spotted us 22 points, and we knew they would come back because they have a lot of talented players, but I thought our kids had the resolve to make the big plays to stop those runs,” Harborfields head coach Glenn Lavey said. “Any time we see trouble we get the ball to Christiana de Borja, and having her on the floor is like a security blanket. As much as they were cutting into our lead, I knew we had Chris de Borja on the court.”

Mount Sinai's Veronica Venezia shoots from the top of the key. Photo by Bill Landon
Mount Sinai’s Veronica Venezia shoots from the top of the key. Photo by Bill Landon

With the win, Harborfields advances to the next round, where the Tornadoes take on Elwood-John Glenn on the road Tuesday. Tipoff scheduled for 2 p.m.

The girls from Elwood-John Glenn were in the stands throughout most of the game, sitting quietly together as they scouted their next opponent. The squad left midway through the fourth to get ready for their 2 p.m. game.

“It was really a motivator for us having them watching, because we wanted to show them that we’re a force to be reckoned with,” de Borja said. “We’re excited about playing John Glenn. They’ve always been a rival, so we’re excited about that game.”