SOUTHAMPTON — The Southampton High School girls basketball coach, Juni Wingfield, certainly understands what the Mattituck Tuckers are going through because he has been there.
His rebuilt Mariners are on the verge of clinching a playoff berth for the first time in five years after defeating the Tuckers, 69-40, in a Suffolk County League VII game on Friday night.
The Tuckers (6-12, 2-7), eliminated from playoff contention last month, had bounced back by winning three of their last four games.
“It was a wake-up call,” Coach Steve Van Dood said. “The girls were playing better. We had high hopes for tonight.”
Wingfield, however, said he saw a different team on Friday.
“Mattituck is a very good team,” he said. “They came back in the second part of the season. They already had beaten two teams which they had lost to. They’re a much better team in the second half of the season than they were in the first. Some of the wounds have healed. I give those girls a lot of credit. They’ve got a nucleus of kids and two great coaches that keep working with those kids.”
But Southampton had other ideas. Sophomore forward Kesi Goree fired in 25 points, including a trio of three-pointers, adding 10 rebounds and three steals. Sophomore guard/forward Paris Hodges chipped in 15 points, seven rebounds and six assists. Sophomore guard Cassidy Guida had 13 points.
“It wasn’t about them not playing well,” said Wingfield, whose team brought its record to 12-5, 4-4. “It’s that we played very, very well.”
Wingfield rebuilt Southampton by moving promising middle-school prospects onto the varsity team to gain valuable experience.
“We don’t so much reload, we rebuild,” he said. “Once a class goes out, we may have this little lull. We have worked hard to have these young ones to build a program.”
He used Goree as an example.
“Can you imagine? She’s going to her fourth year on varsity,” Wingfield said. “We brought her in as a seventh-grader. Our kids, age-wise might be young, but basketball-wise they are getting old. They play a lot of AAU ball, a lot of travel ball, a lot of competitive ball at a higher level and it’s starting to show for us.”
Mattituck might not have that type of luxury, though. Van Dood believes more year-around players are needed.
“They have to play in the spring,” he said. “They have to play in the summer. They’ve got to play in the fall because these [Southampton] girls are. That’s where we have to pick up because our girls play other sports. So we need girls who are playing year-round. That will be key for us.”
Tuckers sophomore forward Lauren Guja, who scored eight of her team-high 11 points in the first quarter, felt getting experience was vital.
“The younger girls are going to get better playing at varsity level,” she said. “For most girls, this is their first year, so they’re not used to the aggression and the new speed.”
Van Dood saw some encouraging signs, such as freshman guard Shannon Dwyer (10 points), sophomore center Allie Wilcenski, with her strong rebounding, and Guja.
“This was a rebuilding year,” he said. “This is a good team, Southampton. We know we got blown out. I see the young kids doing some good stuff. It bodes well for our future.”
With the score tied at 4-4 when the game was 2 minutes 20 seconds old, Southampton reeled off a 12-4 run the rest of the quarter and never looked back. The Tuckers could not cope with the pressing game and threw the ball around like a hot potato.
“They’re a very fast team, a quick team,” Van Dood said. “They’re more aggressive. We came out flat. We got down some points. It just seems we had a hard time breaking the press, turning the ball over and playing at their tempo. We had a hard time getting the ball inside. We missed a lot of open shots in the beginning. They seemed to cash in.”
Indeed they did. The Mariners (11 turnovers) converted Mattituck’s 30 turnovers into 21 points.
“They were really strong and fast,” Guja said. “We had a lot of taller girls. We’re strong, but maybe slower than them. It makes it hard.”