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Ward Melville coach Sammy Prahalis ejected vs. Commack in her former gym

Ward Melville girls basketball coach Sammy Prahalis was ejected from a 75-57 loss to Commack in Suffolk I at Commack High School on Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018. She was ejected with about two minutes left in the fourth quarter for arguing a backcourt call. (Credit: Newsday / Kenny DeJohn)

Tensions ran high in Sammy Prahalis’ return to Commack, as the first-year Ward Melville girls basketball coach was ejected Tuesday night with two minutes left in the game after receiving her second technical foul for arguing with officials.

Commack won in Suffolk I, 75-57, behind 18 points apiece from Katie Kelly and Amanda McMahon. Prahalis starred for the Cougars (2002-08) before a prolific career at Ohio State and two-plus seasons in the WNBA. She served as a volunteer coach for Commack briefly last season before taking an opportunity to play overseas.

“I think it’s pretty sensitive. When you’re a female coach, I think to a male referee, I don’t know,” Prahalis, 27, said. “I think it’s a pretty sensitive thing. It’s like an alpha male, he doesn’t want to hear it, especially from a female. It’s almost like, ‘Stop talking.’ It’s almost like, if I were a male, would he be a little bit more lenient? I don’t know.”

According to Section XI executive director Tom Combs, Prahalis must sit out a mandatory one-game suspension for being ejected. She will miss Friday’s 4 p.m. matchup at Brentwood.

Willie Crespo ejected Prahalis after she argued what she felt was a backcourt violation. Carl Nelson, the president of the Suffolk Board of Women’s Basketball Officials, said, “No comment,” when asked for his reaction to Prahalis’ statement.

“As for Crespo,” Combs said, “he is a fantastic official, one of our highest rated in three different sports. He is a man of integrity and does a fine job.”

Crespo said he couldn’t comment.

Prahalis frequently questioned calls made by Crespo. He appeared to give her multiple warnings before issuing the first technical foul midway through the fourth quarter. When Prahalis was ejected, she simply gathered her things and walked quietly into the visiting locker room.

Commack associate head coach Russ Tietjen, previously a longtime coach at Harborfields, said he thinks Prahalis will learn from the ejection.

“When I was her age, I was just as fiery,” he said. “If you saw her play, you’d know how competitive she is. She brings that same intensity to the coaching arena. She’ll learn what things she can say or how to say things. She became a great player because of all the hard work. She’s going to be a great coach because she has that intensity.”

Commack’s gymnasium, which features posters of Prahalis over the main entrance, was packed to near capacity. The fans cheered loudly as their former hometown star continued to argue.

The crowd’s volume grew as the 14-point halftime lead for the Cougars (3-1) ballooned to a 24-point advantage at 63-39 after McMahon’s layup early in the fourth quarter.

But Ward Melville (1-2) staged a comeback immediately after that basket, going on a 9-0 run and cutting the deficit to 14 with about six minutes to play. Lauren Hansen was exceptional, scoring 39 points.

Prahalis’ excitement increased as the Patriots made their late push.

“I got to do a better job keeping my composure, especially here,” she said. “I can’t put myself in that situation and get a tech, and then get another tech. I’ll learn from it, and we’ll learn from it as a group and move on.”


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