SYRACUSE -- When East Islip dedicated its season to the memory of coach Rick Papandrea, it was essentially a challenge to itself.
It would mean working harder to correct their previous year's lackluster finish, it would mean keeping up with Suffolk's other powerhouse teams and, in a perfect world, it would mean recapturing the state title that their late coach so coveted.
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It was not a perfect world for the Redmen yesterday at Strike N' Spare Lanes here. But it nearly was.
Led by junior Jacob Klein, East Islip rolled a 6451 over six games to take second place in the New York State High School Boys Bowling Championship. After closely trailing for the first two games, Albany's South Colonie overtook the Redmen in the third and finished with a total 6511 -- a difference of 60 pins.
"It's a love-hate result," said Klein, who finished with a third-best 1408 series. "We were unstoppable [this year] and it happened today. We had a rough day. I think we just kinda got in our heads too much. I think we were stressing too much. Everyone started to grab at it a little bit when what we really needed was to chill out."
Nassau's surprise team, Division, ended the day seventh -- the product of a strong finish for the Blue Devils, who bowled an 1106 in Game 5 and were led by Christopher Reilly. The junior rolled a 261 in Game 4 of a 1339 series -- integral in the team's climb from its 10th place ranking in Games 2 and 3.
"The oil started to settle and they had a hard time adjusting to that," Division coach Brian Maloney said. "If we had bowled the way we did in the afternoon, we would have been right up there. But it was fun. It was a good ride."
East Islip coach Bob Cheadle said the lane conditions left little room for error; that and the nerve-wracking tension led his team to costly mistakes in the 1005 Game 3 -- a result that turned a 33-pin advantage to a 60-pin deficit in Game 4.
"It was definitely a difficult way to end the season, but you know, you gotta roll with the best and see what can happen," said senior Mike Kissel, who bowled a 258 in Game 2. "We tried fighting back, but every time we tried fighting back, they fought just as hard."
East Islip and South Colonie bowled in adjacent lanes all day, drawing an increasingly suffocating crowd of spectators with every roll. And despite what they considered to be a disappointing finish, the Redmen experienced bursts of optimism watching its troupe of sophomores: John Kavanaugh, Matt Amin and Nick Salentino.
"We're ready to win next year," Klein said in reference to the emerging talent. "I expect nothing but to be an absolutely dominant team. I think we can win absolutely everything."
But far from that antique repetition of 'there's always next year,' Klein's certainty is backed by fact: East Islip will only graduate two seniors and the state tournament is coming to Suffolk County next year. Cheadle, too, couldn't help be satisfied -- both by his team's performance and their chances for next year.
"When you get this close, the disappointment hurts of not winning," he said. "They really wanted to do this for Rick," who died of stomach cancer last year. "But no regrets. No regrets. I have no complaints. I couldn't be more proud."
Though East Islip didn't quite accomplish the final phase of its goal, the tribute is complete.