Tag Archive | "Pierson"

Whalers Soccer Earns Tough Draw for Playoffs

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By Gavin Menu

This might be a déjà vu the Whalers would rather soon forget.

The Pierson-Bridgehampton boys soccer team closed out the regular season Tuesday with a 1-0 home loss to undefeated Port Jefferson and will now play the defending New York State champion Royals for a second straight time in the opening round of the Suffolk County Class C playoffs on Halloween afternoon on Port Jeff’s home turf.

Talk about a scary stretch of back-to-back games.

“It’s a form of punishment for all the evil things we have done,” Whalers head coach Peter Solow joked before Tuesday’s game.

Solow quickly turned more serious, though, and said the Whalers will need to play a near perfect game to upset the Royals (11-0), the regular season League VIII champions who are widely regarded as the best team in the county regardless of classification. The Royals are stacked from top to bottom, Solow said, with All-State talent in seniors Vincent Antonelli and Blake Bohlen leading a potent line-up that returned in its entirety from last year.

“We have no control of who they are or what they do on the field,” Solow said. “But we can control how we play, and no matter who we’re playing now, we have to play extremely well in order to win.”

The Whalers did play well for much of the game on Tuesday and had several scoring chances early in the first half. But Port Jeff’s methodical attack eventually paid off with a goal off a corner by Gerard Racanelli with 24 minutes left in the game.

Solow had been hoping that Pierson would finish the regular season as the third seed in a four-team playoff bracket, but instead the Whalers, who finished with a 6-5-1 record in league play, lost, 3-0, at Greenport on Saturday to lose grip on the third playoff position. Greenport will play at second-seeded Southold in Wednesday’s other semifinal game.

“We didn’t play smart and we were outplayed,” Solow said when asked about the game against Greenport. “We had four or five incredible opportunities early, but we didn’t put the ball on goal.”

Pierson’s seniors, who include stalwarts Christian Bautista, Jackson Marienfeld and Giordan Zeas as well as Christian Figueroa, Alex Gurvich, Aditya Nugraha and Omar Reyes, played their final game at Mashashimuet Park on Tuesday and will have at least one more chance to leave a lasting legacy on Whalers soccer.

“We want to go out and play the best game we can,” Solow said bluntly. “We want their last game to be something they’re proud of.”

Wednesday’s game at Port Jefferson is scheduled to begin at 2:30 p.m.

 

Girls Season Comes to an End

 

The Pierson-Bridgehampton girls soccer team suffered a disappointing end to its season with three straight losses that knocked the Lady Whalers from playoff contention.

After a 4-2 win over Ross on October 15, the Lady Whalers needed two wins in their last three games to gain a playoff spot, but fell, 4-2, to Stony Brook on October 19 to set up must-win situations in their final two games. Those victories proved, elusive, however, as Pierson lost, 6-1, to Port Jefferson on October 19 before closing out the year with a 1-0 loss to Smithtown Christian on Monday.

Pierson, which finished with an overall record of 4-8-2, played well during stretches of the season behind a senior class that included co-captains Sophie Gianis and goalie Julia Schiavoni. In addition to Gianis and Schiavoni, Sarah Arbia, Lindsay Cox, Vanessa Cruz, Elizabeth Grigonis and Sara Hartman all played their last game this week for the Lady Whalers.

 

Pierson Field Hockey Will Wait on Post Season Call

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By Gavin Menu

The postseason fate of the Pierson-Bridgehampton field hockey team this week was in the hands of Section XI, Suffolk County’s governing body of athletics, after the Whalers failed to finish in the top six of the Division III standings following two losses to top-ranked teams to end the regular season.

The Lady Whalers had a narrow hold on sixth place following a 3-0 loss to undefeated, division-leader Miller Place at home on Saturday, but a 2-1 loss to Rocky Point on the road Tuesday night dropped Pierson into seventh place with an 8-4 record behind Comsewogue, which picked up a big 1-0 win over third place Shoreham-Wading River on Tuesday.

Miller Place, Rocky Point, Shoreham, Southampton, Riverhead and Comsewogue will automatically qualify for the playoffs, either in Class A, B or C, because of their top-six finish. Rankings in the division are determined by power points, and Pierson’s total of 109.990 fell just short. The power rankings take into account things like strength of schedule, quality wins against higher ranked teams as well as unexpected losses against lower ranked teams.

Head coach Shannon Judge on Wednesday said she would petition the Section XI Seeding Committee for a playoff exemption and an opportunity to play rival Southampton for the Suffolk County Class C Championship on Tuesday, November 6 at Ward Melville High School. She said the ruling would come down tomorrow, October 26. If the Whalers are denied, Southampton would automatically become county champion.

“Because of the power ratings, petitions don’t usually go through,” Judge said on Wednesday. “But we beat Riverhead, we beat Southampton once and we beat Rocky Point once. We actually have a better record than Southampton.”

The Lady Whalers this season also beat the county’s only other Class C schools in Port Jefferson and Babylon, which both finished out of the top six in their divisions. Those wins coupled with Pierson’s split with Southampton, which finished 7-7 in division play, gives the Lady Whalers a 4-1 record against fellow Class C schools this year.

If the season does indeed come to an end, the Whalers would lose only one senior, Rachel Saidman to graduation. A strong junior class including Kasey Gilbride, Katherine Matthers, Emme Luck, India Hemby, Kirra McGowin and Emma Romeo would all return. Gilbride, in particular, has had a standout season and finished the regular season with the second highest individual scoring total on Long Island with 27 points on 20 goals and seven assists.

“I’m optimistic about the future,” Judge said, hoping that future includes a championship game against Southampton next month.

REVISED: Lady Whalers Dominate Under Homecoming Lights

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By Gavin Menu; Photography by Michael Heller

By Gavin Menu

Pierson High School celebrated homecoming on Saturday with the first night field hockey game in school history, although it was Bridgehampton student India Hemby who was named “Da Playa” of the game following Pierson-Bridgehampton’s dominant 5-0 win over Port Jefferson.

Hemby was awarded the team’s self-made and somewhat tattered player-of-the-game hat after she scored two goals to lead the Lady Whalers to victory. Standing in the glow of the portable lights, with “Da Playa” hat firmly positioned on her head, Hemby joked, “I don’t even go to school here!”

“It’s not my homecoming but playing under the lights in front of all these people was great motivation for us,” Hemby continued, having turned more serious. “It was really fun out here for us.”

The Sag Harbor Booster Foundation raised funds for this year’s homecoming events. According to club member Robert Evjen, the weekend cost roughly $5,000 to put on. The Sag Harbor Booster Foundation, in conjunction with the Sag Harbor Fire Department, Village Police and Mashashimuet Park Board, hosted the inaugural night game under lights in front of a crowd of well over 100 people.

“We felt that having a game outdoors, in the evening, under the lights, was a way to enrich the lives of not only our student athletes, but also transfer that school spirit into community spirit,” said Evjen, who pointed out that the cost of the lights alone was $2,000.

Evjen said the booster club raises funds through community events such as last winter’s Quiz Show and Spirit Night, both of which will occur again this year. Membership is also available for $25 per year, or $150 for a lifetime membership.

“We are fortunate that we have great community support and lots of parents have become members,” Evjen said.

As for the game, the Lady Whalers responded immediately to the electric atmosphere with a first-half goal by Hemby and a dominant second half in which they scored four times. Kasey Gilbride, Claire Kunzeman and Ana Sherwood, a super talented eighth-grader, also scored for the Lady Whalers, while junior goalie Emma Romeo turned in her fifth shutout of the young season.

“It was awesome and a great honor to be the first team to play under lights,” Gilbride said. “We have to thank the Booster Club for everything they did, and the entire community for coming out to support us.”

With the win the Lady Whalers moved to 4-1 in Division III play and 6-1 overall. They have now defeated every other Class C team in Suffolk County. Port Jefferson, which fell to 0-6, Southampton and Babylon have all lost to the young, but energetic Lady Whalers this season.

“I’m excited about that, and now we have to build on it,” head coach Shannon Judge said after Saturday night’s game. “We play Southampton again on October 11, so we’ll really see where we stand then.”

The Lady Whalers played at Miller Place last night after press time and will host Rocky Point today, October 4, at 4 p.m. at Mashashimuet Park.

School Superintendent Gratto Announces Retirement; Wilcoxen Resigns From School Board

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Dr. John Gratto, the Superintendent of the Sag Harbor Union Free School District since 2008, has announced his intention to retire at the end of the summer. His last day on the job will be August 17.

He described his retirement as a quality of life decision, since many members of his family have moved to the South recently.

Dr. Gratto will join the faculty of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University — known most commonly as Virginia Tech — and teach education and leadership there. His son is currently a student at that school.

“I really like it here and I leave with a heavy heart,” he said. “But it’s a quality of life move in that I can be closer to my family and I’ve been an adjunct professor at the University of Albany and Stony Brook University for many years and I enjoy teaching and feel like it’s significant work to help teachers become principals and principals become superintendents.

The announcement came hours after he had taken his oath of office for next year as a part of the Sag Harbor Board of Education’s annual organizational meeting on Monday evening. The Board now has to appoint an interim superintendent who will serve until a permanent replacement can be found.

Sag Harbor Board of Education member Walter Wilcoxen also resigned on Monday, just months after he won reelection to his third term on the board.

Wilcoxen has not yet responded to multiple requests for comment on his resignation.

Wilcoxen’s resignation appeared to be sudden. At the end of the board’s private executive session Monday, Wilcoxen was seen standing and speaking to his fellow board members. He then walked out of the Pierson Middle/High School library — where meetings are held — and asked to speak with District Clerk Mary Adamczyk. He did not return to the meeting.

At the end of the meeting, Adamczyk was asked to read a handwritten note from Wilcoxen. She removed a single sheet of paper from a folder on her desk that read, “As of the time you receive this memo, I hereby decline to take my seat on the Sag Harbor school board.”

It was signed: “With my regrets, Walter Wilcoxen.”


School Superintendent Dr. John Gratto, second from right above, at Monday evening’s Sag Harbor School Board meeting.

Whalers Take Long Island Championship

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Click HERE to see video of the boys’ victory.

By Mike Pintauro


In a remarkable day of baseball at the Dowling Sports Complex in Shirley, the Pierson/Bridgehampton Whalers (18-2) snuck past the Rockaway Rocks (13-4) to take the Long Island Class C Finals, 1-0, on a fatal slip from the Rocks’ catcher. Monday afternoon was unpredictable, with a forecast of rain threatening to postpone or perhaps delay the matchup. But, with a little luck, the sky remained dotted with pockets of sunshine. And as unpredictable as the weather, the game left the fans stunned by the duel that was about to go down.

It was a pitcher’s duel to say the least. At the end of the fifth inning there were only three hits in the entire game, all of them by the Rockaway Rocks. Regardless, the Whalers had a lot of men on base throughout the game, fighting off the pitcher to force several walks.

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In the bottom of the sixth inning it appeared the Whalers would take the lead, when Pierson sophomore Forrest Loesch tagged home on a sacrifice fly by Pierson senior Sean Hartnett. Amidst the cheers and screams of the Pierson crowd, the umpires ruled Loesch out, finding that he had left the baseline on his sprint to the plate.

The Whalers, however, would not lose their fighting spirit, and after a tight inning, Pierson Junior Colman Vila came to the plate with the chance to win the game he was pitching.

It was the bottom of the 7th inning; there were two outs, with pinch runner Jack Fitzpatrick (Pierson Freshman) on third. Vila was dialed in. The pitch was low, almost in the dirt, and Vila gave a good swing. The hit that every Pierson fan hoped to see and hear, did not come; but what happened next was a brilliant piece of baseball regulation.

The Rockaway catcher missed the pitch, and with a strike three swing by Vila, he was given the opportunity to run out the passed ball. As a result, Fitzpatrick had the go ahead to steal home, and with an amazing burst of speed he beat out the passed ball to score the only run in the game.

With the Pierson fans on their feet, the Whalers bench stormed the field to congratulate Vila and Fitzpatrick on a game-winning play that could not have been written.

The victory gives the Class C Long Island Championship to the Whalers. Their next game, for the New York State regional championship, will be Wednesday, June 6. The location and time are yet to be determined. If the Whalers win that game, they will travel to Binghampton for the state C championship.



Whalers Claim County C Championship

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By Mike Pintauro


The sun was out and not a cloud in the sky on Tuesday afternoon at Mashashimuet Park. With the exception of the wind coming out of the west you couldn’t ask for a better day to play ball. It was the third and final game of the Suffolk County Class C Championships, and with the series tied 1-1, the Pierson/Bridgehampton varsity Whalers (18-2) looked to take the series against the Southold Settlers (13-7).

Pierson came out on top in this final championship game, 7-1, after hammering Southold at the plate.

As the game got underway, Southold fans came out strong, filling the bleachers early to root for their team, but it was only a matter of time until the burgeoning Pierson crowd occupied most of the landscape.

Pierson junior, Colman Vilá started as pitcher, facing off against Southold’s ace righty, Kyle Clausen. The Whalers had won three out of four games against the Settlers during the regular season, having suffered one of their only two losses this year back in late April.

Vilá got himself into an early jam in the first, but with solid fielding he was able to close out the inning with no runs scored.

The Whalers however, slapped a couple of hits in their first at-bats, with sophomore Aaron Schiavoni driving in Vilá, who earlier had dug out a ground ball to beat the throw to first. Later in the inning the Whalers were in a good position to take a big lead with bases loaded and one out, but were unable to capitalize.

Vilá recorded two strikeouts in the second, as he led the Whalers to a one-two-three inning. Clausen, however, was just as strong, and took care of the Whalers hitting in similar fashion.

The Whalers opened up their lead in the third, with an RBI single to right field by Pierson senior Paul Dorego. Dorego would later steal second, allowing sophomore Forrest Loesch to score on a passed ball.

After another solid inning, Southold would score their only run in the top of the fifth. Dorego, who was solid all day in the field, just missed a diving catch on a fly ball to right field, leading to an RBI single for Southold later in the inning.

The wind kept howling as the game went on, and the Whalers kept engaging Clausen with solid at-bats. With the bases loaded and no outs in the bottom of the fifth, senior Sean Hartnett roped a single to center to score a run, followed by an RBI sac-fly by sophomore Tim Markowski.

In the top of the sixth it appeared Southold might just rally to get back in the game. Vilá balked, moving the runner to second, and after a ground ball, there was a runner on third with two outs. It seemed certain that Southold was to score more runs, when a Southold batter took a Vilá pitch soaring out towards left-center field. Senior Hunter Leyser, however, made a running catch to end the inning.

Heading into the 7th, the Whalers had the game locked in with a solid 7-2 lead over the Settlers. Vilá had a near perfect inning to end the game, forcing two easy-pop ups and a fly out to center.

Vilá finished with five strikeouts to three walks in a 5 hit complete game.

Head Coach Jonathan Tortorella said he felt confident about his team throughout the game.

“We had times when Colman got a little into a hole, but our defense came up big,” he said.

The team in fact had great poise out in the field, but the final win came from their abilities at-bat. At the plate the Whalers fought through many foul balls; enough to hit a few cars in the parking lot. As a result they wore down strikeout artist Clausen.

Loesch led the team at the plate, going 3 for 3 with an RBI, three runs and a hit by pitch. Schiavoni went 2 for 3 with two RBIs, one run, a double and a walk. Dorego went 2 for 3 with an RBI, a hit by pitch, and one stolen base.

“It’s always hard when you have to win or go home, and these guys know that,” said Coach Tortorella, right before the team swarmed him with a cooler full of ice water.

Now with their first Suffolk County Class C title since 2009 in hand, the Whalers face a challenging opponent in the Class C Regional Semi-Finals. The East Rockaway Rocks finished their regular season with the second best record of 14-8, yet defeated Friends Academy in a best of three series on May 17. The game will take place 4 p.m., Monday, June 4 at the Dowling Sports Complex at Dowling College. Admission is $7.

Room For Wellness In The Pierson Cafeteria

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By Claire Walla


When the Sag Harbor School Board passed a new Wellness Policy in November, School Board President Mary Anne Miller said the move was not merely meant to remove unhealthy items from the cafeteria.

It presented a sea change for the district.

High-fructose corn syrup? Gone.

Trans-fats? Eliminated.

Whole milk? No more.

“It’s had to find products with some of the ingredients they don’t want us to have,” said Pierson Middle/High School Cafeteria Manager Greg Pisciotta.

Particularly high-fructose corn syrup.

“If you’ve ever been to a supermarket, then you know it’s everywhere! It took us two weeks to find whole wheat bread without high-fructose corn syrup,” he added.

Already, Pisciotta has rid cafeteria fridges and cupboards of foods containing high fructose corn syrup and non-nutritive sweeteners, as well as hydrogenated and trans fats. At this point, of the roughly 500 food items stored at the school, Pisciotta said there are probably just a handful, now, that contain those ingredients.

“They [the school board] would like us to make more from scratch, but it’s hard with this kitchen,” explained Pisciotta.

The facility only has one oven and a two-tier convection oven for keeping food warm. Pisciotta does not have access to a stovetop, which he said limits his abilities. Though he’s adapted to making certain foods in the oven — boiling pasta, cooking ground meat — the need to reach a viable compromise adds another layer to his job.

Especially since the board is pushing for more meals made from scratch.

“Back before we had to take all of those ingredients out [like high-fructose corn syrup], I had a very, very popular menu,” Pisciotta said.

One top seller was the chicken burrito, which Pisciotta bought pre-made in plastic packaging. He has since had to remove it from the cafeteria because he found it contained high levels of sodium; it’s been replaced by a chicken quesadilla he prepares himself.

Pisciotta has also removed pre-made burgers from the menu and replaced them with homemade pizza, either put together on a sourdough roll or premade pizza dough. Here, he’s even ventured into a menu item he called “salad pizza.”

“It’s just pizza crust with a salad on top,” he said. “A lot of kids get it.”

The cafeteria still carries certain pre-made items, like the cooked chicken used in the quesadilla, but Pisciotta said roughly 75 percent of his monthly menu is now assembled by hand, rather than merely removed from a package, heated and served. (He estimated only half the menu items were prepared by hand before the Wellness Policy was put in place.)

Thus far, the newly revamped menu seems to be doing well.

According to numbers crunched by District Business Manager Janet Verneuille, the district had earned more money in the cafeteria by February of this year than it had by the same time last year.

However, the data also showed more students are buying menu items a la carte — a revenue stream that increased by $26,281 over the same period of time from 2011 to 2012 — rather than purchasing the full meal, which has seen a dip of $10,134 in that same period of time.

“You can make something from scratch and make it as healthy as you want,” Pisciotta added. “But if it’s not going to sell, it’s not going to work.”

School Board President Mary Anne Miller, who was a driving force behind the updated Wellness Policy, realizes the cafeteria can only do so much at this point.

“We need finances to upgrade the facility,” Miller said.

She said she’s been encouraged by the number of parents who have already expressed an interest in donating their time and other resources to helping improve the cafeteria facilities.

However, Miller added, the facility itself is a major hurdle to significant change.

A bond proposal voted down in 2009 but reintroduced by the board this fall (at a price tag of $166,920) maps out several changes for the cafeteria, which Miller said are important for transforming the space for the better.

The current version of the plan, as suggested by the Long Range Planning Committee, would expand the kitchen into the testing room next door, creating more storage space for food.

Though it’s not incorporated into the $166,920 plan, the idea has also been floated to install an exhaust system, which would allow the district to install a stovetop. That would give Pisciotta the ability to cook a much wider variety of foods.

“We want to look at this not just as a cafeteria, but as another gathering space for the district,” Miller explained.

As she sees it, these cafeteria upgrades could even make the space more conducive for community gatherings and demonstrations, and give the district itself a better facility for teaching health and nutrition programs.

Because the district only has about 4 percent of its student body taking advantage of the free-and-reduced lunch program, Miller said a full service cafeteria is not a necessity.

“The cafeteria is a convenience facility,” she added. “That said, if we could improve the facility and more fully integrate curriculum, giving kids more hands-on life experience with food and nutrition, then I think it’s a good endeavor.”

As for Pisciotta, he said he would continue to produce the best quality food with the space, equipment and budget he’s allowed.

“I can only do so much, I’m pretty clear about that,” he added. “There’s only so much cooking-from-scratch I can do with an oven and a steamer.”

In the end, he continued, “With all the limitations we have, I think we’re doing alright.”

Whalers Fall in Long Island C Final

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In their search for a Long Island Class C Championship, the Pierson Whalers boys varsity basketball team came within just one game. Faced with the tough interior game and up-tempo style of play of the East Rockaway Rocks, Pierson fell in a landslide, 63-25, loss.

This game, played on the night of Tuesday, March 6 at the campus of SUNY Farmingdale, pitted the Whalers, the Suffolk County Class C Champions, with their Nassau County equivalents, the East Rockaway Rocks. With a win, either team would have the honor of hanging a Long Island Championship patch in their gym and also move on to the next round of New York State Class C playoffs.

Pierson began the game competitively going shot for shot with East Rockaway in the first quarter. Up 10-8 in the middle of the first quarter, the Whalers’ intensity wavered and they began to fall behind.

In the second half the Rocks were all over the Whalers, forcing turnovers and marching the ball to Pierson’s basket. A 24-0 run in the first half by the Rocks took the wind out of the Whalers’ sails early. By the end of the half Pierson was down 38-18.

The Rocks didn’t let up in the second half, closing down the Whalers half court offense, while simultaneously running up the score on the outclassed Whalers. The Whalers only scored 5 points in the second half.

The Whalers were never able to find their shot in the game, only shooting 29.6 percent from the field.

Starting shooting guard Joe Butts led the Whalers in scoring with 10 points; he went 3-3 from the three-point arc. Forrest Loesch finished with 4 points, Sam Miller had 3 points, Jackson Marienfeld had 3 points, Jake Bennett had 3 points, Pat Sloane had 2 points, and Kurt Ryder had 2 points.

Lady Whalers Top Lady Royals on Way to Finals

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By Andrew Rudansky


With a trip to the Suffolk County Class C championship game on the line, the Pierson/Bridgehampton Lady Whalers shined, beating the visiting Port Jefferson Lady Royals (6-6), 37-30, in the first round of the girls’ varsity basketball playoffs.

The game took place on Friday, February 17 at 5 p.m., part of a string of Section XI playoff games held at the Pierson High School gym. The game also marked the Lady Whalers’ seventh straight appearance in the Class C post season.

The Lady Whalers featured a more physical offense than their opponent, built off of post play on the inside by sophomore forward Bridget Canavan and junior guard Rachel Saidman.

This season the Pierson/Bridgehampton team averaged 31.7 points per game (ppg) in the regular season while allowing 36.4 points per game. The Lady Whalers did fair better in league VIII play, averaging 35.2 ppg, while allowing only 30 ppg.

In Friday’s win the team used this aggressive style of play to charge the lane, scoring easy layups and getting to the penalty line for free shots.

The first half started as a back-and-forth defensive slugfest, neither team allowing the other to lead by more than a few points. Pierson/Bridgehampton struggled to find their shot in the half, missing wide open jumpers and failing to convert on offensive rebounds. Luckily for the home team, their competitors were fairing just as poorly.

The Pierson Lady Whalers went to the locker room at the half with a 20-13 lead after they held the Lady Royals to just 2 points in the second quarter.

Coming out of the locker room, Port Jefferson scored 4 unanswered points and were looking like they were just getting streaky. This came to a grinding halt when the Lady Whalers answered with a dominant 10 point run of their own. The run was led by senior guard Sariah Cafiero, who finished with a team leading 8 points, 5 rebounds, 6 steals and 1 assist.

From there the Lady Whalers led by 10 or more for most of the second half, showing that their late season struggles were a thing of the past.

Saidman finished with 7 points, 4 rebounds and 1 steal. Junior guard Emily Hinz had a strong game as well with 6 points, 4 rebounds and 1 steal. Canavan and forward Julia Schiavoni both led the team with 8 rebounds each in the game.

The Pierson/Bridgehampton squad made several defensive mistakes in the game, handing out a flurry of poor fouls and putting the Port Jefferson team in the bonus early in the fourth quarter. However, even at the line the Lady Royals failed to produce, going 5-14 in the fourth quarter.

The Lady Whalers finished the regular season in third place with a record of 7-5 in League VIII, stumbling into the playoffs after they lost their last two league games.

This playoff win on Friday helped make up for the Lady Whalers’ disappointing performance in the team’s Senior Game, the last regular season home game, against the Stony Brook Bears on Monday, Feb. 13.

The team will face off against the undefeated first seed playoff team, the Southold Lady Settlers, on a neutral site at St. Josephs College in Patchogue. The game, played for the Suffolk County Class C title, will be held on Monday, February 20 at 8 p.m.

Pierson Student Moves On to Intel Semi-Finals

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By Claire Walla


It’s hard to think of anything less pleasant-sounding than sooty mold.

And yet, for Pierson High School student Sam Miller, this dry, charcoal-colored bacteria has proven to have numerous positive qualities. For one, it’s allowed Miller to carry on what’s been an annual Pierson High School tradition for seven years running: this month, Miller was named one of 300 Intel Science Talent Search (STS) semi-finalists from across the country.

Miller earned this distinction for his work in identifying anti-bacterial properties in sooty mold, or scorias spongiosa to the scientific community, a fungus that’s found growing on beech trees.

Miller began working on this project in his junior year, as part of Dr. Robert Schumacher’s scientific research class. Typically, research students will work on projects that are, in a sense, a continuation of the work done by previous students. For example, former Pierson student Ailish Bateman had already proven back in 2005 that sooty mold had anti-fungal properties. So Miller tested it for its antibacterial qualities.

“The first step is we soaked it in methanol,” Miller explained. “That basically extracts the organic compounds out of the mold itself. Then, we’ll filter that and run it through chromatography tests.”

That process essentially breaks the compounds further down into smaller materials called fractions.

“I broke it down into 70 different fractions,” Miller said. “Basically, when we got to the pure form, we sent it off to the University of Mississippi [UM] and they ran a series of NMR [Nuclear Magnetic Resonance] tests on it. Then, by analyzing a series of data, we were able to figure out the molecular structure.”

Thanks to teachers Robert Schumacher and his brother Richard Schumacher, who co-teach Pierson’s class on scientific research, Pierson has been able to develop a working relationship with UM. In exchange for the use of UM’s lab equipment, Dr. Rob Schu (as he’s more commonly known) said Pierson is expected to share its findings with the school, which will conduct further testing on the compound.

And now that Pierson students have identified two very important chemical compounds in the bacteria — one anti-fungal, the other anti-bacterial — Dr. Schumacher said the school is ready to hand its sooty mold findings over to UM so that the university can patent the information and begin further testing.

According to Miller, “It could go through a series of drug testing, which would take an enormous amount of time.” But, should the compound successfully work to combat certain diseases, “It could become an antibiotic medicine.”

Dr. Schumacher explained that the anti-fungal compounds found in sooty mold are some of the most powerful antibiotics to work against an infection called Candida, otherwise known as thrush. He added that this could be particularly important for AIDS patients and people undergoing chemo therapy — who often develop thrush during the course of treatment — because this compound “seems to have a tremendous ability to stave off that type of infection.”

According to Dr. Schumacher, the next step on the pharmaceutical trail would be animal testing, which he said could begin sometime within the next year.

Miller’s work is so important, he added, because researchers need that structure in order to conduct thorough tests on the compound. With the molecular structure all mapped out, Dr. Schumacher said, “Now we know the compound, its structure, its activity… Now someone can take that information — even if it’s already a known compound — and then work to manipulate parts of that molecule to make it more active or more safe.”

He continued to say that Miller’s findings are particularly significant. Miller in fact tested the anti-bacterial compound he discovered against another antibiotic (he believes it was streptomycin) “and it was even more active than that,” Dr. Schumacher said. “Even the compound he isolated, [researchers] have not reported any activity on it. So, Sam’s definitely going to have a scientific journal with his name on it!”

Miller confessed, however, that this is probably not the start of a budding chemical or pharmaceutical career. With early admissions to Cornell University already under his belt, Miller said he planned to study computer science.

“This is probably a one-time thing,” he said of the project. “It was a good experience, and if I had to switch majors, yeah, maybe I would do this. You never know.”