For the first time in quite a while, the Eastport South Manor boys volleyball team has some competition in Suffolk County Class B.
The Sharks lost, 3-1, to Sayville in the county title match at Westhampton Beach High School on Thursday, November 7, ending what had been ESM’s three-year run as county champion.
Sayville wound up losing, 3-0, to undefeated Bellmore JFK on Saturday in the Long Island Championship. Bellmore JFK has won the past two Long Island titles.
The Golden Flashes had the Sharks’ number this season, having also beaten them on September 9, also by a score of 3-1. But the Sharks gave Sayville all they had last week. After losing 25-20, 25-22, in the first two sets of the match, ESM gutted out a 25-21 victory in the third set. Sayville, though, came out strong in the fourth and held a four-point or more lead until finally coming through with a 25-18 victory.
ESM had a hard time serving throughout the match, which head coach Bruce Stiriz said was a sign of nerves, because usually his team serves well.
“It was a tough way to start, especially the first game,” he said. “And then it seemed like our courtwork was fine, we were earning our points, but then we were giving them away as fast as we were earning them.
“So we never got momentum in that first game, and then when [Sayville] took it, then now we felt behind coming into the second game,” he added. “Likewise, we made mistakes and errors that we don’t usually make.”
Stiriz started shuffling different players in and out during the second set, hoping to find a spark, mostly in vain. Stiriz went back to his starting rotation in the third set, which resulted in a victory, but Sayville proved to be too much for the Sharks.
The Golden Flashes were led by junior Paul Close, who had the same number of kills as the number on his jersey, 18, and senior Scott Litvin, who had 37 assists and five aces.
“I thought they played great tonight,” Stiriz said of Sayville. “I mean, really, my hat’s off to them, because we’ve scouted them, we’ve seen them in different matches, they haven’t played anything like this. So they really brought their level of play up.”
ESM senior captain Jon Suarez accrued 14 kills and 17 digs in what wound up being his final game. Senior captain Eric Ferrante had 18 assists, and junior captain Tyler Brandow finished with 17 kills.
A silver lining in the loss could be that returning sophomore Josh Undari had more assists (19) than Ferrante for the first time this season.
Stiriz said that this season was absolutely a rebuilding year for his program, which graduates three players in Suarez, Ferrante and Kevin Reilly. So, for Stiriz, getting to the county final was a feat in and of itself.
“For them to go to that level all the way to the championship is something to be extremely proud of, and that every man has to be proud of,” he said.
With Brandow returning next season, along with a handful of players who got a lot of experience this season, Stiriz said the rebuilding has already stopped, and the transition back into a county championship contender starts this offseason.
“We’re going to be extremely talented, but they have to learn from these mistakes,” he said. “They can’t come in nervous—they have to learn from Sayville and bring up their level instead of down.”