BELLPORT — When you’re a second-year program in any sport, progress comes slowly and sometimes painfully.
A week after improving its defense, the Mattituck/Greenport/Southold high school girls lacrosse team came as close as it has to winning this season, losing a heart-breaker to the Bellport Clippers, 9-8, on Friday.
That first elusive win was so close, yet just out of the grasp for the Tuckers (0-7, 0-7) in the Suffolk County Division II match.
“You can taste it,” said senior Michelle Waters, who finished with two goals. “But that’s the thing. When we had those girls down we didn’t have the fresh feet. We were just a little bit away. It was a close one. We could have had it.”
Coach Kaitlin Leggio chalked it up to her team’s inexperience in handling close games.
“This is the first time it’s been so close, so back and forth,” she said. “It’s new for them because even with last year, we had one win. So to get to that level and to actually coach and teach them how to keep our composure, we can only do that with experience. So it’s a learning experience for all of us.”
In the process, the Tuckers discovered other aspects they need to work on, such as throwing and catching. After losing to the Bayport-Blue Point Phantoms, 17-1, Leggio worked on team defense and it showed in a 12-2 loss to the East Hampton Bonackers.
“Our level of play, it wasn’t our best today,” she said. “A lot of basic mistakes like throwing and catching were our biggest problems and that held us back from the victory. Our last game was against East Hampton and our defense [improved]. We played all together. This game, we weren’t playing our game.”
The Tuckers still had an opportunity to win in the waning minutes. But goalie Courtney Wickline stopped penalty shots by Waters with 3 minutes 40 seconds remaining and sophomore Sydney Sanders (team-high three goals) with 1:46 left.
“We couldn’t fake as much towards the end,” Waters said. “At first we had her. Then towards the end she caught on to what we did.”
Bellport (3-5, 3-4) grabbed a 2-0 advantage, but the Tuckers battled back to take the lead three times in the first half. The visitors took their first lead of the season when Sanders scored for a 4-3 edge with 12:16 left.
The Tuckers enjoyed a 6-5 halftime advantage. But the Clippers struck twice in the opening 71 seconds of the second half behind Pahola Bautista (two goals) and Jasmyn Merrit (game-high four goals) to take a lead they would never relinquish.
“That kind of brings your morale down a little bit,” Leggio said. “But on the other hand, that should pick you up.”
Bellport extended its lead to 8-5 before Waters tallied twice to bring the Tuckers within 9-8.
To appreciate the Tuckers’ progress, they had lost their previous six games by an average of almost 14 goals. They had scored 15 goals entering the match.
“It was close,” Sanders said. “It felt good to be finally being up. I was doing the draw and I wanted to keep going. It felt good to finally to have a close game and be up there and not being 12-0 at halftime.”
Leggio feared the Tuckers may have suffered another loss in Stefanie Loverde, who incurred a right knee injury with 1:12 remaining in the first half. Loverde tore her anterior cruciate ligament last year.
“It might be another meniscus,” she said. “She was walking on it a little bit. She’s going away for spring break. After that she will get checked up.”
Leggio and the Tuckers should know Loverde’s availability by April 28, when they host Center Moriches.
Despite the loss, the Tuckers were upbeat.
“We’re meshing more as a team,” Sanders said. “Even though it didn’t show in the score, deep down we knew we played hard. We think we were a better team than them. We could have beat them, but just fell short.”
Added Waters, “If we can stay within grasp of the girls, it’s a win for us. In the next couple of years, you’re going to see a lot come out of this Mattituck team. I can really tell it. It’s going to be really great.”