For a moment, the Ward Melville boys fencing team looked human.
After losing its first two matches in sabre, and three of its first four overall, the Patriots trailed fellow unbeaten Commack. And coach Jeff Salmon had doubts.
“I was concerned that our guys wouldn’t rise to the occasion,” he said.
But Ward Melville left no doubt, winning eight straight matches at one point in a 22-5 victory Tuesday, its 168th straight regular-season win.
With the Patriots trailing 3-1, Mike DeSando won his foil bout with Joon Lee, 5-3, and Chris Ancona beat Jason Duffe, 5-0, to forge a 3-3 tie and set the stage for an epee showdown between two-time All-Long Island selection Ben Rogak and Commack’s Bart Wisniewski, who entered the match 13-0.
With the bout tied at 2, Rogak finessed two consecutive touches to take a 4-2 lead. After Wisniewksi’s touch made it 4-3, the pair double-touched on the final point, giving Rogak a 5-4 win and Ward Melville a 4-3 advantage.
“Our epee squad really picked us up, and after we saw the score 4-3, we knew what we had to do,” said Albert Tian, who went 2-1 in sabre. “We had to get more energy, and we needed the bench to get hyped.”
A split over the next two epee matches gave Ward Melville (6-0) a 5-4 lead heading into the second round.
Then Tian led the charge.
After taking a loss in the first round, Tian responded with a 5-4 win over Eric Huang, punctuated with an aggressive charge for the winning touch.
“For me, it’s always go forward. If you go backward, you’re gonna get hit,” Tian said. “It’s not rocket science.”
The Patriots won eight straight bouts to take a 13-4 lead before Sean Pak of Commack (7-1) beat Dylan Matleas, 5-2. Tian opened the third round with a 5-3 victory to claim the match-clinching 14th point.
“Commack fenced well today,” Tian said. “But it feels good to make another statement. We made a statement against [Half Hollow] Hills with a 25-2 win [Dec. 18], and we made another one tonight.”
“Even if we didn’t start the way we wanted to, we let it known that we’re the best and we’re here to stay.”
Although initially skeptical, Salmon was impressed after seeing his team keep its streak alive.
“I wouldn’t say this is one of my strongest teams,” he said. “But they are starting to prove me wrong.”