When the Suffolk County boys bowling all-stars won the state sectional championship title in Syracuse earlier this month, it wasn't a coronation, but a homecoming.
Suffolk's Section XI has won the title five times in the last eight years. Its bowlers routinely place among those with the highest tournament series. Those plaques and medals are theirs until proven otherwise. Composed of Sachem East's Nick Caruana, Comsewogue's Nicholas Eckert, Longwood's Mike Ka- rolewski, Newfield's Mike Ruben, Lindenhurst's Josh Sposito and Deer Park's Adam Zimmerman, the talented team easily cashed in on its "favorite" status.
And yet . . .
"It was very important to me . . . but it's hard to explain," Caruana said. "We just won."
He took a moment to reflect, and then amended his story.
"It's important because of Rick," he said. "Rick died and it was very important for us to come back and do what he wanted."
Last year was one of only a handful of recent losing campaigns for Suffolk bowling. Coach Rick Papandrea, denied of a much-coveted team title after a down year for powerhouse East Islip, was denied the sectional title as well. One month later, he was diagnosed with stomach cancer. Seven months after that, he passed away.
Papandrea's unfinished business found its proper end under Comsewogue coach Eric Sorenson. Caruana, who was perfect through 11 frames of his first game, finished with a tournament-high 1,450 series. The second-place finisher, Western New York, lost by 178 pins -- 6,804-6,626.
"They did what they were supposed to do," Sorenson said. "They all kept doing what they had to do: Just shoot really, really good shots and keep everyone's head in the game."
And, of course, bring that title back home.