If this was going to be Ryan Shuford’s final game in his high school basketball career, he and his Mattituck teammates made sure they were not going to look back and doubt themselves.
The Tuckers did just about everything they could to beat Babylon Saturday, everything but win the game.
With a Suffolk County Class B Tournament place on the line, they dropped an excruciating 58-52 League VII decision to Babylon in Mattituck.
The result meant the Tuckers’ nine seniors played the final game of their high school careers on Senior Day despite playing their hearts out.
Had the Tuckers (8-12, 4-6) won, they would have qualified for the playoffs.
“Coming into the game, we knew it was going to be our last home game in here, so I could prepare myself for that,” said Shuford, who scored 10 of his team-high 16 points in the fourth quarter. “We didn’t know whether or not our season was going to continue.
“Now it’s finally hitting me that we’re going to play competitive basketball for the last time in this gym and it [stinks]. It’s sad.”
It was a difficult ending for everyone, including coach Paul Ellwood.
“I told the kids I would be upset tonight, but I’m not upset at them,” he said. “I’m upset that the season ended. I don’t get to spend any more time with them because they’re great kids. Our kids executed our game plan tremendously at both ends of the floor.”
The Tuckers also showed much resilience, coming back from deficits on three occasions.
After Babylon (12-6, 7-2) grabbed a 16-7 first-period advantage, Mattituck outscored the Panthers 20-13 in the second quarter to close the gap to 29-27 by halftime.
The third quarter was a back-and-forth affair as the Tuckers took the lead twice, the last time on Joe Mele’s basket with 2 minutes and 9 seconds remaining. The Panthers then rattled off nine consecutive points over the final 1:52, with Aidan LaRock scoring seven of his game-high 18 points to enter the final period with a 44-36 lead.
Again, Mattituck rallied and came within 46-54 on Tyler Seifert’s foul shot with 3:20 remaining in the fourth period before Babylon took advantage of some sloppy passing and turned steals into layups by Jeffrey Espinal (game-high 18 points) within a 20-second span to enjoy a 50-45 margin with 2:49 left.
The Tuckers came back once again to tie it at 50-all with 1:48 remaining on Seifert’s driving basket and Shuford’s trey.
But Espinal sealed their fate, sinking a triple with 1:17 to play and converting a steal with 58 seconds left for a 55-50 lead.
“I thought it was a great high school game,” Ellwood said. “It was the best game of the year, so it was nice to play the best game in the last one of the season. If it was a little better, we would have extended the season. But it didn’t happen.”
Besides Seifert (12 points), Shuford and Mele, Mattituck’s six other seniors who played their last game included Dale Stonemetz, Matt Mauceri, Alex Burns, Brendan Kent, Ryan McCaffery and Carter Montgomery.
Photo caption: One of Mattituck’s nine seniors, Tyler Seifert, takes the ball to the basket while Babylon’s Gregg Forstner tries to stop him. (Credit: Daniel De Mato)