It wasn’t until after a bumpy ending that the Mattituck Tuckers could breathe a collective sigh of relief. Sure, they had won, but their Suffolk County League VII girls basketball game in Center Moriches on Monday night was a little more interesting than they would have liked.
The Tuckers, who twice held 20-point leads in the third quarter before coach Steve Van Dood pulled his starters to the bench, hit some speed bumps in the fourth quarter. Center Moriches mounted an 18-4 run, trimming Mattituck’s lead to a mere 5 points at 56-51 when Caroline Casey converted a conventional 3-point play with 13.7 seconds remaining.
A free throw by Liz Dwyer and a steal and two more free throws by Katie Hoeg in the closing seconds allowed the Tuckers to preserve their sixth straight win, 59-51.
“You got to worry when you see a team like Center Moriches keep it close like this,” said Van Dood.
Nonetheless, the first-place Tuckers (14-1, 12-1) are edging closer to what would be their first league championship since the 2009-10 season when they shared the title with Center Moriches. They played yesterday at home to Wyandanch and will close the regular season Friday at Southampton. Mattituck’s closest challenger for the league crown is second-place Port Jefferson (11-3, 8-1).
Van Dood has been keeping an eye on Port Jefferson. “Absolutely,” he said. “Every night I check the box scores and see how they’re doing.”
Dwyer, on the other hand, has taken a different approach. The sophomore forward said she isn’t worried about being overtaken by Port Jefferson for the league crown.
“We definitely got it,” she said. “No matter what, we’re a great team.”
Center Moriches (8-7, 7-6), which needs one more win to qualify for the playoffs, brought energy and tenacious defense to its senior night game.
“It was their senior night, so they just came out with a lot of intensity, and then we got off the bus kind of flat, but we picked it up,” said Mattituck forward Corinne Reda.
The first quarter was telling. While the Tuckers made only three of their first 14 field-goal attempts, Center Moriches shot 7 of 12. And yet, the Red Devils had only a 2-point lead to show for it.
The Tuckers led, 27-21, at halftime.
Dwyer said: “At halftime we were like, ‘We got to get it together. We cannot be playing the game like this.’ So, I think everyone stepped up because we knew we had to.”
The Tuckers have the ability to turn things on, and they did. They ran off a string of 15 consecutive points for a 34-21 lead early in the third quarter. Later in the quarter, a basket by Mackenzie Daly extended Mattituck’s lead to 45-25, and a free throw by Hoeg made it 48-28.
With 58.3 seconds left in the third quarter, Hoeg headed to the bench. Dwyer joined her shortly after.
But Mattituck’s two major scoring threats didn’t get much of a rest. After Center Moriches pulled to within 11 points of the Tuckers with 3:27 to go in the game, it was Dwyer and Hoeg to the rescue. They were inserted back into the game. Another starter, Reda, joined them 33 seconds later.
Dwyer ended up with 16 points, 10 rebounds, 5 steals and 1 assist. Hoeg, who shot 4 of 12 from the field, had 14 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 steals. Reda added 12 points.
Kristina Baldanza brought Center Moriches 19 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals. Casey, one of Center Moriches’ seven seniors who were recognized in a pregame ceremony, put up 16 points before fouling out in the final seconds.
The Tuckers didn’t help themselves at the foul line, where they shot 18 of 36.
The bottom line is the Tuckers got the W.
Dwyer said, “That’s all that matters.”
Photo caption: Mattituck coach Steve Van Dood gives instructions to his players during a first-quarter timeout. (Credit: Bob Liepa)