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02/26/15 2:00pm
02/26/2015 2:00 PM
The view inside Times Union Center for the 2013 state tournament. (Credit: Joe Werkmeister, file)

The view inside Times Union Center for the 2013 state tournament. (Credit: Joe Werkmeister, file)

Right around the time I spotted a condom on the bathroom floor of my shady motel room, I began to seriously question the wisdom behind driving to Albany in a snowstorm.

This couldn’t possibly be worth it, I thought.

It was February 2010. For the fourth straight year, I was bound for the New York State Wrestling Championships, a dizzying two-day marathon of hundreds of matches contested across eight mats on the Times Union Center floor.  (more…)

12/05/14 4:00pm
12/05/2014 4:00 PM
Shoreham-Wading River coach Matt Millheiser played for the Wildcats in the program's first three years from 1997-99. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch/Robert O'Rourk)

Shoreham-Wading River coach Matt Millheiser played for the Wildcats in the program’s first three years from 1997-99. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch/Robert O’Rourk)

The players came charging out of the locker room fired up to kick off the football season. It was a moment that seemed unlikely to ever happen for most of the players.

They strapped on their helmets, ready to show the county there was a new team in town.

And then, a delay.  (more…)

07/09/14 7:00pm
07/09/2014 7:00 PM
Riverhead Tomcats outfielder Andrew Plunkett slides into third as North Fork Osprey Penn Murfee tries to apply the tag. (Credit: Bill Landon)

Riverhead Tomcats outfielder Andrew Plunkett slides into third as North Fork Osprey Penn Murfee tries to apply the tag. (Credit: Bill Landon)

The “Oh, wow” moment happens every year.

Around the middle of June, when the high school sports season winds down, I shift gears toward the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League to help fill the sports pages along with high school summer leagues, features and columns. Inevitably, when I head down to the field for the first time each summer, I know I’m about to watch college players, several of whom come from big-time programs. (more…)

10/09/12 8:00am
10/09/2012 8:00 AM

BILL LANDON/ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTOS | Dominic Pirraglia for Shoreham and Luis Cintron for Mercy will see their resurgent teams meet under the lights Friday.

The headline that ran atop the Riverhead-News Review story aptly summed up the game: “Well, somebody had to win.”

That was back in 2008, in reference to a less than thrilling football game between Shoreham-Wading River and McGann-Mercy. By the end of regulation, both teams had failed to so much as score a point, so the game mercifully dragged on to overtime. The host Wildcats threw an interception on their first possession of OT before the Monarchs finally scored a touchdown to win the game, 6-0.

Cue the confetti.

For the Monarchs, the victory felt like a championship win. By knocking off a higher-seeded team, it opened the door to a potential playoff berth, which they later secured on the final day of the regular season by beating Hampton Bays. It marked the one and only postseason appearance for Mercy since 1992.

The Monarchs finished that season 5-3 before getting walloped in the playoffs by Babylon. All in all, a memorable season that was followed by mostly forgettable football over the next three years. In that time, the Monarchs won a total of five games. A winless season in 2009 marked the low point.

At Shoreham, things weren’t much better. A program that had been fighting to climb into the upper ranks of Division IV quickly began to crumble after the graduation of bruising fullback Brendan Kelly after the 2007-08 season.

With a young roster, the Wildcats limped to 3-5 and 2-6 records in 2008 and 2009, respectively. Soon after the head coach was gone and by the start of the 2010 season, so too were many of top returning players, who realized their senior seasons might be better served preparing for sports like baseball and lacrosse. Matt Millheiser, a former quarterback for the Wildcats, took over a bare-bones program that found itself thrown into the more competitive Division III at the worst possible time.

Eight blowout losses ensued.

Looking back at where both Shoreham and Mercy stood just two years ago, it’s remarkable what we’ll be seeing Friday night.

When the teams meet under the lights at Mercy High School, it won’t be just another throw-away game between two cellar dwellers.

It’ll be a fight for supremacy in Division IV. We’re six weeks into the season and both teams amazingly can still see the No. 1 spot in the division within their sights.

In their 10 combined games this season, only one has ended in a loss. The Monarchs, at 5-0, have been as surprising as any team in the county over the last few years.

Sure, the Monarchs — a preseason No. 12 seed — figured to be better this season under second-year coach Jeff Doroski. But undefeated through five games?

Hard to believe anyone saw that coming.

For Shoreham, expectations were undoubtedly higher this season after the Wildcats went 6-2 last season to advance into the Division IV playoffs for the first time since 2008. A preseason No. 4 seed, Shoreham’s goal was to contend with the top teams in the division.

The Wildcats suffered a Week 2 loss on the road at Mount Sinai, their toughest test to date. Every game from here on out for Shoreham will a be a big one, starting with Friday’s matchup against unbeaten Mercy.

It’s hard to imagine Shoreham and Mercy having ever played a game like this against each other. For one night, Mercy and Shoreham will be one of the marquee attractions in high school football in Suffolk County.

Think about that for a second.

A brisk 50-degree night will be a fitting backdrop to what should be a fantastic atmosphere. Mercy students have packed the bleachers this season, filling the air with chants of “Reg-gie Archer!” among others.

The Wildcats should expect a strong following from their supporters, who are a short drive away from Riverhead.

The Monarchs will undoubtedly be facing their toughest test of the season so far. The Monarchs have yet to face a rushing attack like the Tyler Anderson-led Wildcats (Anderson has rushed for more than 500 yards and eight touchdowns in the last two games alone). And that’s why Doroski knows his team still has to improve.

“We don’t want to put ourselves in a position where we kind of let up or relax and say, ‘Hey, we got this,’ ” Doroski said.

It’s a similar sentiment the Wildcats will be feeling with a showdown against Babylon looming in Week 7. A loss Friday and the prospect of a home playoff game could be gone for Shoreham.

However it shakes out, one thing is for certain: as one of only five football games in the county Friday night, the lights will be shining a little brighter on Mercy and Shoreham.

And what a welcome change that is.

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07/27/12 7:00am
07/27/2012 7:00 AM

The most important thing to remember when preparing for a fantasy Olympics draft is never to let patriotism get in the way.

OK, let’s back up a second. I know what you’re thinking. A fantasy what? Olympics?

With as much time as men (and women) spend in fantasy football, baseball, basketball and hockey leagues, is it really necessary to make up a fantasy Olympics league?

The answer is yes. It is.

Allow me to explain.

I got the idea before the 2010 Vancouver Games. I’m sure I wasn’t the first person ever to organize fantasy Olympics, but it’s not like you can just log on to cbssports.com and join a league. This required grunt work. Old school style. The league needed to be built by hand, from the bottom.

First task was to figure out what the rosters would look like. The good thing about the Winter Games is there are far fewer sports and events than in the Summer Games. So it was easy to craft a roster that in some way encompassed each sport. The scoring system was simple: five points for a gold, three for a silver, one for a bronze. In team sports, points were doubled, the logic there being that individuals can medal in multiple events, whereas a team like hockey can only potentially grab one medal.

So I got together with seven friends in February 2010 and we sat around drafting athletes like the Linger Brothers (luge), Kim Yu-Na (figure skating) and Petter Northug (cross-country skier). We had no idea who 99 percent of the athletes were we drafted. But it didn’t matter.

We never laughed more or had more fun doing a fantasy draft. And the Olympics were never more intriguing. We found ourselves glued to our TVs and computer screens following all the action. The England men’s curling team gave me more agita than the Mets have in years. I hung on to every move in Yu-Na’s gold-medal figure-skating routine like an anxious, proud parent.

I ended up winning the league when the Canadian men’s hockey team won the gold medal to cap off the games. Our league nearly came down to the gold medal hockey game determining our champion. But I had just enough points so that a silver medal for Canada would still clinch the victory, so I was able to allow myself to root for the U.S.

As the Winter Olympics ended, the countdown toward the Summer Games began.

Monday night, armed with Sports Illustrateds, newspapers and iPads, we gathered for our first-ever fantasy Summer Olympics draft.

We picked 12-person rosters consisting of two swimmers, two track athletes, two gymnasts, a canoer/kayaker, a beach volleyball team, a water polo team, a basketball team and a flex, which could be someone in any other sport.

The draft order was determined by picking names out of a hat. In many ways, this was the most crucial part of the draft. The top two picks were slam-dunks: swimming sensations Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte, both of whom are practically guaranteed a bevy of medals.

Unfortunately for me, I got stuck with the fourth pick. So I grabbed U.S. gymnast Jordyn Wieber, a favorite to win gold in the all-around as well as a team gold. It was a risky pick for the first round. I could have gone with a sure bet like the U.S. men’s or women’s basketball team. But I liked the idea of an individual first.

For the second round I stuck with the Americans and drafted Rebecca Soni, a swimmer who’s favored in both the 100- and 200-meter breaststroke. A three-time Olympic medalist, Soni is poised for a breakout Olympics.

And now back to my original point. Don’t let patriotism cloud your vision. If you want to draft all Americans, feel free. But don’t expect to emerge victorious.

As the draft evolved, I ended up taking only two more Americans: gymnast Gabby Douglas and track star Sanya Richards-Ross (who’s married to former New York Giant Aaron Ross).

I eventually made a move toward the Down Under, picking up both the Australian women’s water polo and basketball teams (there’s a sentence I never thought I’d write). Both could end up facing the U.S. for gold. For my tennis player I went with the hometown hero, Andy Murray.

My fourth overall pick went to the Brazilian beach volleyball team of Larissa Franca and Juliana Silva. And if you wanted to leave this column now to Google image search their names, I wouldn’t blame you.

The tricky part of these drafts is pronouncing many of the names.

“We’ll take Liu Xiang,” my friend Pat hesitantly said at one point, unsure if anyone had already taken the 110-meter hurdler.

“No, I took Sun Yang,” Sean quickly replied.

Later in the draft Pat and his brother Ken selected Chinese gymnast Yang Wei.

“He’s 5-foot-3, 120 pounds and pure heart,” Pat told us.

All true. The only problem they later realized, Wei retired in 2009. Whoops.

Late in the final rounds, Ken tried picking a gymnast who had already been taken in the first round.

“Is this guy available — Ley-Bron James?” Grant said, mocking them.

That’s like trying to select Drew Brees at the end of a football draft, Grant added.

My final pick was for my flex position — meaning I could take just about anyone.

I settled on Im Dong-hyun, South Korean archer extraordinaire. With a name like that, how can you go wrong?

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07/06/12 7:00am
07/06/2012 7:00 AM

JOE WERKMEISTER PHOTO | Island’s End head golf pro Will Fish takes in the view on the 16th hole.

Every muscle in my body ached as I began playing the back nine at Island’s End Golf Course in Greenport Saturday. In between holes at one point I thought about Michael Jordan.

A week earlier I watched NBA TV’s documentary on the 1992 Dream Team, which described how Jordan would play a full round of golf every morning as the team prepared for the Olympics. After golfing he’d go to practice or a game and without hiccup be the best player on the court.

Must be nice to be a super human, I thought to myself.

Me? Not so much. I could barely stand after 18 holes, let alone playing any kind of basketball game afterward.

My journey to Island’s End came at the suggestion of my friend James, who’s an avid golfer. He thought it would make good copy to experience a full round of golf. For someone who fancies himself a sports guy, I’ve never gotten into the sport aside from watching the final round of a major. My playing experience has consisted of mini-golf, video games, the occasional driving range and one nine-hole round with a few college friends. But we spent more time trying to prank each other, like untying the bags to the golf cart so the clubs would go flying, than playing golf.

My lessons learned that day: It’s frowned upon when someone takes his shirt off on the course as if he’s on a beach tossing horse shoes. And flipping over a golf cart with a cooler full of beers in the back is never a good idea.

I knew not to expect any similar shenanigans as I prepared for my first 18-hole golfing experience at one of the finer courses on the East End. For starters, I was playing with Will Fish, the head pro at Island’s End. Will and James have been friends going back to their days at Longwood High School, where Will excelled on one of the best teams in the county. He started the sport in his teens, later than a lot of golfers, but he was a natural. He quickly broke 100, 90 and then 80.

I’ve gotten to know Will over the last few years through Mets games, concerts and backyard Kan Jam, but had never seen him in his element on the golf course.

As head pro, a big part of Will’s job is instructing beginners. So, I figured, what better way to get started in golf than playing with a man who does it for a living? I expected to endure some ribbing along the way and I was ready for it.

My first mistake came before we ever stepped foot onto the course. I threw on a brand-new white Under Armour shirt, my best option for an afternoon of athletic activity under a blazing sun. When James saw what I was wearing, he looked at me like I was wearing Converse All Stars to a wedding.

“You better grab a collared shirt,” he said, adding that I could maybe get away with not wearing it on the course.

Slim chance.

“Why don’t you get that shirt off your shoulder and put it on,” were the first words I heard Will say as we walked toward the clubhouse around 11:30 a.m.

I obliged a few minutes later as Will unwrapped several shiny new irons to put in my bag. It’s not often a first-timer gets to use high-end clubs.

We hit the first hole, with Will’s friend Kenny rounding out our foursome. A longtime groundskeeper at Island’s End, few know the course any better than him.

On the first hole, a 351-yard par-4, I started off surprisingly well. I got the ball onto the green with the chance to make a long bogey putt. That didn’t quite happen, and a few putts later I tapped the ball in for an 8 — a disaster for most golfers, a self-congratulatory moment for me.

For a second, I allowed myself to think maybe this wouldn’t be so hard.

That moment didn’t last long.

A few things I learned along the way:

• For one, I drive the ball with about as much ferocity as I imagine a 12-year-old could. And when I did make decent contact, the ball often curved way right. On the 14th hole I drove a ball into a bunker across the fairway on an adjacent hole. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen somebody in that sand,” Kenny observed.

• Whenever you swing and miss, just pretend it was a practice swing (better yet, just don’t swing and miss).

• Whenever you bring two clubs with you walking up to a green, always leave one club on the green and never in the rough. James told me this early on, but I still managed to forget. On the 17th hole I went to grab my favorite club of the day — my W, the wedge. It wasn’t in my bag. I looked in James’ bag. Nothing.

Oh, boy. I’m in trouble, I thought to myself.

I had to break the news to the group: I lost a club. Everyone kept their cool. James grabbed the cart and doubled back to search for it. Will handed me one of his clubs and I finished the hole. A few minutes later, I could see James flying down the fairway back toward us. The club was safely back in our possession.

Crisis averted.

• I did learn some real techniques along the way, which paid immediate dividends. Will showed me the technique for chipping, the kind of shots you could never know how to do until you’re actually on a golf course.

• I learned to keep my left foot planted on my swing and I learned the left hand is far more important than the right. And I discovered how difficult it can be to maintain proper form as fatigue sets in and every swing becomes a chore.

• James gave me good advice early on: “Just watch Will and do what he does,” he said. Yeah, OK. The ball off his drives disappeared into the horizon, landing perfectly on the fairway a mile away. Four shots later, my ball would be in the same spot as Will’s.

• My favorite part of the course was the famous 16th hole, a short par-3 that overlooks the Long Island Sound from high above. It’s a spectacular view. I hit my best drive of the day on the 16th. Only the fairway is real narrow and my ball sailed to the right and landed on the beach down below.

The afternoon ended with James sinking a long putt on the 18th. When the final scores were tallied, Will scored 76, James 98 and Kenny 100. Me? A lot.

As I walked back into the clubhouse to hand over my clubs, I told the gentleman how I put the clubs to shame.

“I’m sure they’ve been put to shame by worse players than you,” he said.

“Probably not,” I replied.

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