By Chuck Slater
That was quite a basketball season the boys of little North Salem completed recently. The second seeds won the Section 1 Class C championship at the County Center for only their fourth time ever and first since 2008, beating Number 4 Hamilton, 61-57, in the final. The Tigers then closed out a 17-7 season by losing to Section 9’s Millbrook, 59-54, in the State Regional semifinals, leaving veteran coach Henry Sassone one shy of 400 career victories. “A great season,” the coach said.
Chris Alterio first shot hoops on the basket in his yard. (PHOTO COURTESY OF HENRY SASSONE)
And there’s more than an outside chance of another great season next year. Of the 13 players used in the playoff run, just four seniors are graduating, including regulars John Martabano and Miles D’Alessandro, one of the team’s two high scorers.
But returning for his fourth varsity season will be the team’s other top point-maker, Chris Alterio. The 6-foot, 1-inch forward has already totaled 1,029 points in his three seasons and was more responsible than anyone else for the gold-ball defeat of Hamilton. He scored 29 points —to go over the 1,000-point mark — and grabbed 12 rebounds in winning MVP honors. “He should be our scoring leader,” Sassone said, looking ahead to his 33rd year at the North Salem reins. “Chris? Yeah, definitely,” added the 6-foot, 2-inch D’Alessandro, who will continue his pursuit of baskets in college at Macalester in Minnesota on an academic scholarship. “You know, Chris was even our top scorer as a sophomore.”
Alterio started organized basketball in the 5th grade and soon was onto AAU play, but he was shooting hoops earlier on a basket in his yard with his dad, James, who had played for Panas. “We still fool around in the yard at times,” said the son, who plays his sport year-round and hopes to continue in college.
Alterio, who scores a lot of his points from in close on layups and rebounds, can also shoot from a distance. He takes a few three-point shots a game and makes almost half of them. And he’s a strong rebounder. “I’ve always played forward,” he said. “I’ve always been a big guy.” And he and his teammates came up big. “We knew we had a lot of experience and a lot of talent,” Alterio said. “Then when we started winning (often against larger schools), we knew we could go a long way.”
“They will be good next year,” D’Alessandro predicted. “We’ve got a couple of young kids coming up.” The senior was referring to eighth grader Christian Norberto and ninth grader Mike Horan, both of whom contributed late this past season. They figure to help Alterio and North Salem bring Sassone a lot more than his 400th victory.
March 22, 2017 | admin
By Chuck Slater
Zaira Turner plays softball, too. PHOTO COURTESY OF ZAIRA TURNER
She has hardly been a star of the continuing Ossining High girls basketball dynasty. In fact, she never even got in the game when coach Dan Ricci stuck primarily with his starters in the recent 80-77 revenge win over a tough Albertus Magnus for The Pride’s seventh straight Class AA Section 1 title at the County Center. But it’s been an unforgettable experience for senior guard Zaira Turner, and one where losses are virtually foreign.
Turner is a 5-foot, 4-inch defensive specialist. She averaged under 5 minutes a game for Ricci, and a lesser number of points, as the Pride won all but one of its Section 1 games in her two years. But when the opposition had a hot-scoring guard, the coach might turn to his senior defender, who has been on the varsity for two years. “She’s one of my best defenders,” the coach said of his Number 11. “And she’s a great kid.” And she loves the game of basketball. She was a starter in much of her two years on the Jayvee even though she really didn’t get into basketball until the 7th grade.
“Just the rush of the game is good,” Turner said. “And I really enjoy being with my teammates and contributing on defense. Winning helps a lot, too,” she added. Winning was far from easy against an Albertus Magnus squad which lost high-scoring shooting guard Kate Major to a concussion in the first quarter of a run-and-gun offensive struggle. Back on February 1st, it handed Ricci’s girls their lone defeat in 93 games against Section 1 foes over a span of nearly six years.
As usual, in the final, all-everything Andra Espinoza Hunter — the UConn-bound senior who just may be the best distaff player in the state — paced Ricci’s side with 32 points, 11 rebounds and 5 assists. She also blocked a potential game-tying shot just before the final buzzer and was the tournament MVP. Sophomore Kailah Harris, a tall future superstar, had 27 points and 15 rebounds.
The losing Lady Falcons played a gutty game and led 34-27 at the half, but the Pride strung together an 18-4 third-quarter run. Mairead Durkin, whose 21 points led Coach Pat Buckley’s squad, gave Albertus its final lead, 53-52, with a bit over six minutes left, and fellow junior Dani LaRochelle kept the loser’s hopes up with two 3-pointers in the final 35 seconds, but it was the Pride who again advanced in post-season play.
Whenever Ossining’s run ends, Turner will report to another varsity — softball — where she is expected to be a regular outfielder. She is uncertain where she will go to college next year but varsity basketball doesn’t seem to be in the picture. “I don’t think so,” Zaira Turner said.
March 15, 2017 | admin
by Chuck Slater
Jamie Loeb has no regrets about the path she has chosen.
PHOTO COURTESY OF JAMIE LOEB
Those local tennis fans hoping to see Jamie Loeb, the young tennis professional from Ossining, at the recent Australian Open were disappointed. The 21-year-old who has been playing-for-pay for a year and a half lost in the second qualifying round. But she did play in the Aussie-New Zealand circuit for seven weeks and did win a $60,000 tournament, the Launcesten Invitational.
It was a significant — make that very significant — triumph for the youngster who won the State high school championship as a sophomore after losing a tight final as a freshman, then opted for home schooling to pursue a pro tennis future through the John McEnroe Tennis Academy. She won five matches en route to her title. She saved five match points overall. To win, she had to defeat the first, fourth and fifth seeds.
In her sport, that’s called “Having a week.” “It’s the toughest thing I’ve won so far,” said Loeb, who is about to turn 22. “And it moved my (international) ranking to 155, the highest it has ever been.” Asked if it was the best she has yet played, Loeb hesitated. “I don’t know if I would say that,” she responded. “But since I’ve been a pro I’ve gotten mentally stronger. When I started I didn’t have a complete understanding of what it entailed: Time alone, making your own arrangements, dealing with losses. Some of the ups and downs surprised me. I’m better at it now. I’m physically stronger overall and more mature.”
Before turning pro, Loeb’s tennis career was, well, storybook brilliant. She had a little racket in her hands before she could walk. Big brother Jason would hoist her on the family ping-pong table, hand her a small paddle and hit with her. Big sister Jenna won three high school state crowns and the possibility loomed for Loeb to do the same until she picked home schooling and the McEnroe Academy, where devoted coach Felix Alverado has been supervising her for over five years since. “She can succeed as a pro,” Alverado has steadfastly maintained. “She can hit with the girls in the top 20.”
Two brilliant scholarship years at North Carolina University where Loeb won most everything culminated with her winning the NCAA women’s single championship. Then she captured a $25,000 pro event as an amateur last July, turned pro just before the 2015 U.S. Open, where a back injury and a bad draw resulted in a first-round loss. Last year at this time, she rebounded with a tournament victory in Arizona. And, after a refresher break at home in Ossining, she was back on the tournament grind in Mexico, and now she is playing in Indian Wells, California — all the travel and hotel accommodations arranged by her. Such is the life of a tennis pro.
“Am I happy with my choice?” Jamie Loeb answered the question. “Yes, I am.”
March 8, 2017 | admin
By Chuck Slater
A few years ago, when Santa Trawick was coaching the Lakeland High bowling team, a seventh-grade visitor from Panas named Nick Perrone was working out with them and bowling in an unusual two-handed way. But before she could contemplate changing his approach, she saw he was averaging 200 a game—as a seventh grader!
Nick Perrone owns the highest six-game average in N.Y, schoolboy history.
PHOTO COURTESY OF ANTHONY PERRONE
Flash forward three years to the present. Trawick is now in her third year coaching the Panas squad, and that bowler, Nick Perrone, has finished a regular season in which he averaged an eye-opening 238.73, then won the Section 1 Boys Bowling Tournament in a runaway with a 1,580 six-game series; that’s an awesome 263.33 average. He is clearly one of the favorites for the State championship in Rochester on March 4-5.
And yes, he’s still bowling two-handed, keeping his left hand firmly on the ball as he pulls it to the right. Nick, now 16, does it without extra heft. He is perhaps a shade over 5-feet, 4-inches, and weighs under 130 pounds. “I’ve always used two hands,” he explained. “As a kid, it was difficult getting a good handle on the ball.”
“He started (bowling) when he was about seven, in a league with his dad, who was good,” Lisa Perrone said of her son. He quickly became the family star. “He retired me when he was in the seventh grade,” said Anthony Perrone.
The son has wracked up record scores. His 1,580 is the highest six-game grouping in New York State history. His season average is believed to be the second best in state history.
As a seventh grader—his first year bowling on high school varsity—he averaged in the 170s, then the 190s in the eighth grade, then 218 as a freshman, when he finished fourth in the State tournament. He also had a perfect 300 game his freshman season and two more in post-season tournaments. “I’ve never seen anyone who can string together strikes as Nick can,” says Trawick, who designated him as her captain as a sophomore. “He’s such a good captain, too,” the coach said. “When I use a weaker lineup to give some kids a chance, Nick steps up his game without being asked.”
Perrone used to play baseball and basketball when younger but gave them up to concentrate on his lanes sport. He could be in line for a college scholarship. And he’s already thinking of being a professional afterward. “It’s definitely a goal,” said Lisa Perrone. “That would be a dream,” Nick Perrone said.
March 1, 2017 | admin
By Chuck Slater
Reggie Titre-Barnor gave up baseall to concentrate on track.
PHOTO COURTESY OF JOSEPH SCELIA
Reggie Titre-Barnor is in his fifth year of running track for Brewster High School, and the 5-foot, 11-inch, 160-pound senior is good at it. Good enough to anchor strong relay teams and to participate in hurdles. And, as he puts it, “Good enough to make the State qualifiers but never to make the States.”Slater’s Slant-Titre-Barnor-cs
That could very well change shortly—because of something he and coach Joe Scelia added to the outdoor season of his junior year. “He was always solid. Reggie wanted to see if there was a way he could excel more,” said Scelia, a veteran mentor in his 14th year of coaching Brewster track. “So we decided to try him at jumping—the long jump and the triple jump.” “I’d never done any jumping before,” Titre-Barnor said. “But it was a great feeling being up in the air.” And almost instantly, the results were great, too. The tall youngster was a natural.
The Brewster team won its league championship. At the end of this January, Reggie won the Northern County Championships triple jump at 43 feet, 1 inch and the long jump at 20-06.5, more than a foot ahead of teammate Kenny Arias who was second at 18-11. Reggie’s personal best in the triple is an even 44 feet, and close to that should send him to States in the upcoming qualifiers. He also has a shot at going in the long jump. “Getting to States would be a dream,” he said.
“And don’t forget he’s a good runner,” said Scelia. “If he were totally rested, totally fresh, I think he could do a 51-second anchor on the 4×400 relay.” (His mother, Almirel, ran the 100 and 200 in high school.)
Reggie gave up baseball and then this fall dropped out of cross-country to work on improving his jumping. “We’ve worked a lot with weights the last two years and that’s helped,” Scelia said. “He’s a really good kid,” the coach added. “He’s got a lot of charisma and leadership qualities. People are drawn to him.”
And Reggie’s a gamer. The bigger the meet, the better he comes through. “Could he compete in college? Definitely.” So college, perhaps even a scholarship for his jumping, may be in the future. “That would be awesome,” said Reggie Titre-Barnor.
February 22, 2017 | admin
By Chuck Slater
Pleasantville’s league-champion wrestling squad, which headed into the post-season with a lone-team loss on its resume, has a pair of young brothers representing it at the sport’s two lowest weights. Mike Balducci, an 8th grader, mans its 99-pound slot. Freshman Len Balducci III fills the role at 106 pounds. And both fill their roles very well. At this writing, Mike is 26-8 and Len is 29-1.
Mike (left) and Len Balducci III got an early intro to the mat sport.
PHOTO COURTESY OF LEN BALDUCCI JR.
“They’ve got a good background,” explains Bob Bernarducci, the veteran coach in his 28th year with Pleasantville. “They come from a wrestling family.” That they do. The boys’ uncle, Chris Balducci, was a state wrestling champion. Their father, Len Balducci Jr., was sectional champ at Irvington High where, coincidentally, he was then coached by Bernarducci; the two have remained good friends.
So the boys both had an early start in the mat sport (they also play football at Pleasantville). “I remember getting Len involved in the first grade,” the father said. But the introduction actually came earlier. “Dad would take me to see older kids wrestle when I was in kindergarten,” the son said. “A coach asked me if I wanted to try it and I said, ‘Yes, I would love to.’” “And,” Len III added, “I loved it at once. It’s a physical sport (as is football). It’s just you and the other guy on the mat. There’s no one to back you up.”
“I was around the program because of my family,” said Mike, who is 13 while his big brother is 15. “But mainly I got into it in the first or second grade when they brought me to the wrestle room. What do I like about the sport? It’s physical.”
“Michael,” said the father, “is very young, but if he really works at it, he has the potential to truly excel.” The youngster is already ranked second at 99 pounds in Division 2.
“They are pretty experienced, particularly for their age,” said Bernarducci. And Len III entered the post-season as the top-rated 106-pounder in Division 2. “Maybe it’s because his father started working with him so young, but Len definitely has a plan when he’s out there,” the coach said, “and he doesn’t panic if things don’t go right at the start. He’s got very good technique and he’s a very strong kid for his size.”
Which is why — the older brother’s superior strength — neither coach nor father generally has the brothers face off against each other in practice. Come match time, and it’s their opponents who have that dubious pleasure.
February 15, 2017 | admin
By Chuck Slater
A year ago, Mamaroneck High’s hockey team had a magical season. It finished the regular schedule undefeated, then won its section and regional championship and the Division I State title, the first of Westchester’s skaters to do so. Then came graduation and what must have been a painful time for veteran coach Mike Chiapparelli. He shook hands with 15 departing cap-and-gowners.
So this was the season when reality set in, right? Not quite. At this writing, with the start of the playoffs a little over a week removed, the Tigers are undefeated again. After a recent 10-0 rout of Carmel, the record was 16-0-1. And if you ask Chiapparelli why, he has a succinct answer. “The goalies,” he says.
Tommy Spero started out as a forward.
PHOTO COURTESY OF TOMMY SPERO
The goalies are senior Tommy Spero and junior Andrew Gargiulo. The compact (5-foot, 8-inch) Spero is nominally the first stringer, with a 11-0-1 mark and a 0.95 goals-against average. The rangier (5-foot, 11-inch) Gargiulo has won his five starts while allowing just 0.71 goals per game. Incidentally, that lone tie was against the section’s other top goalie, Scarsdale’s Sam Seltzer.
“He’s a better goalie,” Chiapparelli says of Spero, “but the other guy is right on his tail. It’s a very nice problem to have.” “I really love the game,” said Spero, who started playing at six years old and was a forward for a couple of years before finding his permanent niche in the nets. “I like that I’m the last line of defense and the team can depend on me,” he added. He would also like to play goal in college after a year of prep school. His favorite pro? The Rangers star goalie Henrik Lundqvkist, naturally.
“I just cherish the opportunity,” Gargiulo says of his time in the Tigers’ goal. “I’ve learned a lot (a lot from Spero) over the years.” The junior also plays outside goal for the strong Brewster Bulldogs. And what does he like best about the sport he has pursued since he was seven? “The competition, the teamwork and the friends I make,” he said.
Chiapparelli, in his 29th year coaching Mamaroneck hockey, will have another unhappy graduation day this June. His team has 16 seniors. “We’re not quite as strong as last year,” he said, “but we do particularly well as a team. The kids’ composure is awesome. We don’t panic hardly ever. We don’t have one big scorer.” But they do have two big goalies.
February 8, 2017 | admin