The fact that it had never won a Suffolk County championship before made the occasion all the more sweeter for the Mattituck High School girls basketball team.
Judging by the smiles on the faces of the Tuckers, it was worth the wait.
Top-seeded Mattituck recovered from a halftime deficit, survived a scare when one of its best players, Liz Dwyer, picked up her fourth personal foul in the third quarter, and surged past No. 3 Center Moriches, 59-42, in the Suffolk Class B final on Tuesday night at Riverhead High School.
After the final buzzer, Mattituck coach Steve Van Dood pumped his fist triumphantly and the Tuckers embraced each other.
Van Dood sent his four seniors — Katie Hoeg, Courtney Penny, Brianna Perino and Phurlamu Sherpa — out to the center of the court to receive the championship plaque. Then began a long succession of photos and media interviews.
“History was made,” said Dwyer, who finished with 21 points, shooting 6 of 9 from the field, with one three-pointer, and sinking 8 of 9 free throws.
Van Dood called it “the biggest win in Mattituck program history.”
The Tuckers (18-1), winners of 10 straight games, had to endure a couple of scares along the way, not the least of which was Dwyer’s fourth personal foul, sending her to the bench as a precautionary measure with 2 minutes 52 seconds left in the third quarter. At the time, Mattituck led, 37-33.
“I think just refs don’t like me,” cracked Dwyer, a sophomore forward who led Mattituck with 18 points per game during the regular season.
Dwyer re-entered the game at the start of the fourth quarter and helped the Tuckers finish strong. They shot 9 of 12 from the field in the final quarter. For the game they shot a healthy 45.8 percent.
Before the game, the Tuckers, appearing in their third county final since 2010, looked happy, loose and ready to claim a title that had eluded them for so long.
Hoeg (16 points, eight assists, eight rebounds, four steals, one block) said: “We were like, ‘We’re going to do whatever we can to win this game. If I lose a leg, whatever it takes, like we’re going to go out there and we’re going to leave winning a county championship.’ ”
And they did.
Not before finding themselves in an unusual position, trailing by five points at halftime. But the Tuckers retook the lead for good with the help of a 10-0 surge, six of those points coming on Dwyer free throws.
Mattituck also received 10 points from Mackenzie Daly.
Center Moriches (11-8) outrebounded Mattituck, 37-23, but negated much of that by turning the ball over 34 times while under pressure by the Tuckers. The Red Devils received 17 points and 12 rebounds from Kristina Baldanza. Caroline Casey chipped in 11 points.
Dwyer acknowledged that this would have been a tough loss to take. “I wouldn’t have been able to sleep for like a week,” she said.
Instead, the Tuckers have at least two more games to prepare for. They will face the Suffolk Class C champion, Pierson/Bridgehampton, in the B-C game on Saturday in Riverhead. More importantly, they will face Carle Place or Oyster Bay in the Long Island final on March 1 at St. Joseph’s College.
What does this Mattituck team have that its predecessors may not have had?
“It’s the most well-balanced team that I’ve seen,” said Van Dood.
And now the Tuckers will have an addition to the banner in their gym listing their various titles.
Corinne Reda, a junior forward, said, “The first day of practice, looking at that banner on the wall, it was so empty, and now just to come back and be like, ‘I filled it up,’ it’s just awesome.”
Photo caption: Katie Hoeg and Liz Dwyer, facing the camera, hug after Mattituck secured its first county championship. (Credit: Garret Meade)