11/17/12 12:45pm
11/17/2012 12:45 PM

ROBERT O’ROURK FILE PHOTO | Rivheread halfback Jeremiah Cheatom carries the ball against West Babylon in Week 1.

No. 1 Riverhead (7-2) vs. No. 4 West Babylon (5-4)

Division II Semifinals

Coach Mike McKillop Memorial Field

The consensus on the field after Riverhead’s quarterfinal playoff victory over Walt Whitman last weekend was that the Blue Waves would be playing East Islip today in the semifinals.

Only West Babylon, the No. 8 seed going into the playoffs, had other plans. West Babylon stunned No. 1 seeded and previously unbeaten West Islip, shaking up the rest of the Division II playoffs.

Teams are reseeded after the first round, so Riverhead jumped up to the No. 1 spot for the semifinals. Instead of facing East Islip, the Blue Waves will now face the Eagles, a team the Blue Waves throttled in Week 1. Riverhead lost to East Islip in the regular season.

While the Blue Waves won handily in Week 1, the Eagles were dealing with several injuries at the time and have come a long way since. And they still have a dynamic quarterback in Clifton Melhado, who rushed for 129 yards against the Blue Waves this season.

The winner of today’s game advances to the county finals next weekend against either East Islip or North Babylon. That game is tentatively scheduled for Nov. 25 at noon at Stony Brook University.

To follow all the action from today’s game, click on the live blog below as former Blue Wave Michael Hejmej provides all the updates:

09/08/12 5:53pm
09/08/2012 5:53 PM

ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | Riverhead senior Jeff Pittman races into the end zone for a touchdown Saturday against West Babylon.

BLUE WAVES 42, EAGLES 0

Being the No. 1 seed in Suffolk County Division II is one thing; living up to that high seeding is something else.

Receiving the top seed in the preseason coaches poll is a nice honor, but Riverhead coach Leif Shay knows full well that it evaporates the instant the first football is kicked off in the new season. Teams prove themselves on the field, just like the Blue Waves did on Saturday.

Riverhead opened its 2012 season in impressive fashion, shutting out No. 7 seed West Babylon, 42-0, at Coach Mike McKillop Memorial Field. Jeremiah Cheatom, a junior running back, broke free for touchdown runs of 62 and 61 yards, and senior quarterback Ryan Bitzer was directly involved in three touchdowns himself. Bitzer connected on scoring tosses of 46 yards to Jeff Pittman and 24 yards to Quinn Funn in addition to running for one touchdown himself on a naked bootleg from three yards out.

While the Riverhead offense generated 504 yards and didn’t turn the ball over once, the Blue Waves showed themselves to be good tacklers, too. The defensive unit forced five turnovers by West Babylon, and the Eagles never moved the ball closer than within 30 yards of the Riverhead goal line. Four West Babylon passes were intercepted, including two by the ball-hawking Jeff Pittman. Matthew Hejmej recovered a fumble and picked off a pass. Michael Von Bommel led Riverhead with seven tackles.

In short, all facets of the game were working for the Blue Waves.

“It was pretty much picture perfect, even to the punt team,” Bitzer said, referring to punter Nickolas Ross, who delivered a pair of 44-yard punts and pinned West Babylon on its own 9-yard line on another effort. “We just went out there and did our thing.”

And there was a little magic in the air on this windy afternoon. Riverhead’s first offensive play of the game was called by someone who had won a raffle to benefit Christopher Timpone, an Aquebogue Elementary School student with cancer. That play call proved to be the right one. Bitzer lofted a pass for Pittman, who was wide open, executing a stop-and-go pattern down the left side for the game’s first points 2 minutes 9 seconds into the first quarter.

“It worked,” said Shay.

Three turnovers set up three Riverhead touchdowns in the first half, which ended with the score 28-0 and the result safe in hand for the home team.

West Babylon was not at full strength. The team had been hit by injuries, and more of them followed on Saturday.

“They have a lot of injuries,” Shay said. “If you look at their sideline, it looks like a triage unit.”

Perhaps the injuries were too exasperating for West Babylon coach Al Ritacco to talk about in any sort of detail. “We just got hurt,” he said. “I just about lost my entire backfield.” Then, without any explanation, Ritacco walked away from the reporter he was speaking to, ending an interview that lasted less than 30 seconds.

By the time Riverhead’s offense took to the field 5:23 into the third quarter, Bitzer was standing on the sideline with a headset on and victory secure. His backup, junior Cody Smith, threw a 32-yard touchdown pass to Ryan Hubbard for Riverhead’s final touchdown with 5:20 to go in the game.

“We kept pushing, we kept driving,” Pittman said. “We just kept doing what we had to do today.”

Riverhead had made a bold statement to anyone paying attention that it is a team to be taken seriously.

“We’re number one, we had to make a statement,” said Cheatom, who ran the ball 11 times for 159 yards. “Everybody believed in themselves.”

Bitzer, who completed 7 of 12 passes for 147 yards, expected a high-caliber performance from his team and got one. “We just wanted to come out today and prove ourselves, prove ourselves to the community, letting them know that we’re here for real, and everyone else in our division, too,” he said. “I think we did a good job with that today.”

As well as Cheatom played, Shay indicated that better days are ahead for Riverhead’s top running back. “Jeremiah doesn’t know how good he’s going to be yet,” the coach said. “He’s still learning. He’s still got to learn to read the zone properly. He has explosiveness [and] ability, but he has to learn how to just do it consistently. I wasn’t happy with a lot of two-yard runs, three-yard runs. I need four- or five-yard runs out of him. He’s got to work on that part of his game.”

One bright spot for West Babylon was the running ability of quarterback Clifton Melhado, who gained 129 yards on 25 carries.

But the light shined on Riverhead most of all. The Blue Waves showed that there is some substance behind their preseason ranking.

“It’s not a fluke at all, but it’s only the first week,” Pittman said. “We still have another seven games, the playoffs. You have to actually show what your team is made of.”

This is the third top-seeded team Shay has coached during his 15 years in charge of Riverhead. He knows that things can go south rather suddenly and he knows better than to make too much out of one game. For Week One, though, it wasn’t a bad step.

Said Cheatom, “This is the best start we could have hoped for.”

bliepa@timesreview.com

04/09/11 6:50pm
04/09/2011 6:50 PM



GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Riverhead second baseman Sarah Tucci ran back to grab a pop fly during Saturday's game against West Babylon.



In his 11 years as the Riverhead High School softball coach, Bob Fox has never seen the degree of player turnover from one year to the next that he has with this current group of Blue Waves. Riverhead lost seven seniors — all starters — to graduation last year. The Blue Waves have five seniors and five juniors, but only three of those 10 played on the team in 2010.

Among the graduated are catcher Kara Vonatzski, an accomplished player at a vital position. But Fox isn’t fretting. Megan Weiss, who had been the catcher of the future for the past two years, is now the catcher of the present.

Weiss, a sophomore, spent the past two years catching for the junior varsity team, and it has prepared her well for this next stage in her playing career.

Fox had confidence that Weiss could handle the job at the varsity level.

“She’s a very good catcher,” he said. “She blocks everything. Her arm could be a little stronger, but she gets rid of the ball quickly. She does everything right.”

On Saturday, Weiss had her best offensive game to that point in the season. She hit the ball, going 2 for 4, and was also hit by the ball in a Suffolk County League IV game that kept fans on the edge of their seats at Riverhead High School. The Blue Waves bounced back from a 6-0 deficit to force extra innings, but lost to the West Babylon Eagles, 9-7, in nine innings.


GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Riverhead pitcher Amanda Graziano prepared to deliver a pitch against West Babylon.


Nikki Wilkinson, who reached base on a fielder’s choice in the top of the ninth inning, scored to break a 6-6 tie when a fly ball to right field was dropped. Kaitlin Kilcullen then chopped a two-run single through the middle, making it 9-6 and helping undefeated West Babylon on to its fifth win in as many games.

Riverhead, which took its third loss in four games, picked up a run in the bottom half of the inning when Alex McKillop scored from third base on a wild pitch. With runners on second and third, West Babylon pitcher Taylor Webb then struck out Courtney Rheaume for the game’s final out.

“I don’t think we were expecting that, but we’re ready for anything that comes,” West Babylon Coach Nicole Torres said. “My girls always battle.”

Riverhead had scored four runs in the seventh to tie the score at 6-6. Amanda Graziano and Sarah Tucci led off the inning with walks and, one out later, Weiss was hit by a pitch on her left thigh, loading the bases. With two out, Stephanie Falisi stroked a single to center field. The ball skipped past the center fielder, and all four Blue Waves scored on the play, evening up the score to force extra innings. “Up at bat I was all nervous,” Falisi said. “I didn’t want to get the last out of the game, so I just put the bat to the ball.”

Falisi kept faith in her team. “We just had heart,” the freshman first baseman said. “We didn’t get the win, but we left all we got on the field.”

Webb, a senior who raised her record to 5-0, had 14 strikeouts (11 Blue Waves struck out at least once). She gave up six hits and five walks.

Wilkinson and Kilcullen knocked in two runs each.

Last Thursday Riverhead gave up three runs in the bottom of the seventh and suffered a tough 6-5 loss to the Bellport Clippers. Like that game, Saturday’s contest was part of the learning process for the Blue Waves.

“You hang in there a little longer, and you never know what can happen,” Fox said. “Once you start learning how to win those games, you start believing in yourself and you win more games.”

The Blue Waves won on Monday when they defeated the Copiague Eagles, 14-4, in a league game in Riverhead.

Meanwhile, Weiss appears to be making a seamless adjustment to varsity softball. The fact that she has caught Graziano for years — the two played together since they were in Little League — undoubtedly helps.

“I like how the team relies on me,” Weiss said. Referring to playing at the varsity level, she added: “It’s a huge difference. It’s a whole nother game. The girls play better and work harder.”

Was it an unsettling feeling to enter the season with so many new players? Fox said it was anything but, and indicated that he enjoys the sort of coaching required for the current team. As for losses, they usually come with the territory for a team that is short on experience.

Said Fox, “Sometimes it’s good to have adversity before you have success because you enjoy it more” when you win.

bliepa@timesreview.com

01/15/11 12:39am
01/15/2011 12:39 AM

WEST BABYLON — Now the Riverhead High School wrestling team knows how the other side felt.

A year ago, West Babylon ventured east, optimistic of a win and big push toward the Suffolk County League IV title before losing to the Blue Waves in a key match.

On Friday night, defending league champion Riverhead traveled west with the similar aspirations. However, the Blue Waves tasted defeat, 56-22.

“This is almost like the same thing we did to them last year when they came to our house,” Riverhead Coach Wade “Rocky” Davey said. “They were better tonight.

“We got beat by a better team, that’s for sure. We didn’t wrestle well. We have too many holes.”

The Eagles won 11 out of 15 bouts, including seven by pins.

“I thought that was pretty unexpected,” West Babylon Coach Harry Coffin said.

West Babylon improved to 3-3, 2-0 in League IV, while Riverhead dropped to 1-2, 1-1.

Coffin admitted he thought the encounter would be “much closer, much closer. We have a young team. We had some kids step up and wrestle really well tonight.”

So did some of the Blues Waves, although it was not enough. Kevin Thomas (112 pounds), Christian Krumbiegel (130), Pat Thomas (135) and Mario Carrera (171) recorded wins.

“They wrestled well,” Davey said of the Thomas brothers. “They did what I expected them to do. Krumbiegel had a good match and Mario Carrera had a nice match.”

Still, those wins could not erase the sting of the team loss.

“It was a very deflated feeling on the bus ride home,” Pat Thomas said. “It was a disappointment. We were going for the league championship.”

Davey was forced to shuffle several wrestlers around to fill some holes. Carrera moved from 160 to 171 pounds. Tim Bartlett switched from 152 to 160 and lost the opening match to C. J. Doherty, 5-4.

“If those guys were in where they normally would be in, they would win,” Davey said. “Bartlett would have won at 152 easy. Those are the things you go to do to win. I knew the team was better so we had do what we could do.

“We know we’re probably better individually than we are as a team. I had to bump most of my kids up weight classes to try to get wins in places where I didn’t get wins tonight. I probably could have gotten a few more wins wrestling kids in their own weight classes, but it would have changed the outcome of the match. We had to go to try to beat kids in different spots.”

Carrera posted a 9-1 triumph over John O’Keefe at 171 pounds as the Blue Waves had a short-lived 4-3 lead. Then the Eagles pulled off five consecutive pins to grab a 33-4 advantage with eight bouts remaining.

“We started in a spot in the lineup where I knew we were going to get a couple of wins,” Coffin said. “It helped because we got momentum. … They’re a well-coached team and have tough kids. They can pin you from anywhere.”

Two Riverhead wrestlers did just that.

Sophomore Kevin Thomas pinned Brendan Rodriguez at 5 minutes 3 seconds of their 112-pound bout.

“My brother wrestled very well,” Pat Thomas said. “He went up a couple of weight classes. He had a quality opponent.”

At 130, Krumbiegel pinned Dameek Hall in 2:25.

“Christian’s a real good wrestler,” Pat Thomas said. “He went out there and knew what he had to do. He worked for a pin and got it.”

Pat Thomas, a senior, defeated Paul Gernavage at 135 due to an injury default. The match was stopped after the first period with Thomas leading, 7-0, because of Gernavage’s left arm injury.

It was important for Thomas to wrestle because he never got an opportunity during Riverhead’s 54-24 victory at Copiague on Jan. 10. There was no opponent for him.

“It was a perfect example of totally getting tricked,” he said. “I got worked up and was ready to wrestle. I was hungry to get a win.”

Despite the loss, the Blue Waves can redeem themselves in the league tournament at Comsewogue High School on Feb. 5.

“We still definitely can be tournament champions,” Thomas said. “We have plenty of time to make improvement. We can definitely surprise people and win the league.”