As the old saying goes, defense wins championships. The Mount Sinai High School girls lacrosse team knows a thing or two about both.
Mount Sinai has won three state championships in the past five years and defense had more than a little to do with it. That said, Al Bertolone believes this current defense may be the best he has had since taking over as Mount Sinai’s coach in 2008.
Mattituck/Greenport/Southold may want to testify to that. The Tuckers had trouble finding cracks in Mount Sinai’s defensive wall Wednesday. In a captivating, strategic Suffolk County Division III game, visiting Mattituck gave Mount Sinai a good run, but ultimately fell short, 6-4. It was the lowest single-game goal total of the season for Mattituck (9-3, 5-3) while Mount Sinai (7-2, 6-1) equaled its lowest goal total of the year.
Both teams are highly ranked in the New York State Sports Writers Association poll that was released Monday. Mattituck is ranked No. 1 in the state in Class D and Mount Sinai is No. 2 in Class C.
The game was a test for Mattituck’s coaches and players, who had spent the previous two days preparing for the showdown.
“Even though we’re still considered a young team, I think they’re ready for these type of moments,” Mattituck coach Matt Maloney said. “These are the games that prepare you for the playoffs. These games make you better.”
When it comes to defense, Mount Sinai is a tough nut to crack. The Mustangs don’t give up cheap goals, not with college-bound defenders like Emily Vengilio (Penn State), Meaghan Scutaro (Notre Dame), her sister Kirsten Scutaro (Notre Dame) and Julia Markey (Campbell University in North Carolina). Any opponents that get past them must then find a way to solve all-American goalie Hannah Van Middelem.
“It’s all our best players,” Bertolone said. “They’re high-level lacrosse defenders.”
Mattituck’s strategy was a logical one: slow the game down, limit Mount Sinai’s possessions and be patient while probing for openings in Mount Sinai’s tight defense.
“I thought they had a pretty good game plan,” Bertolone said. “I just think defensively we’re excellent. We’re beyond excellent.”
Mount Sinai took the lead for good when Meaghan Tyrrell (two goals, two assists) snapped a 2-2 tie off a pass from Leah Nonnenmann 12 minutes, 3 seconds into the game.
The Mustangs went on to take two-goal leads at 4-2 and 5-3 before Mackenzie Hoeg’s second goal of the game, assisted by Francesca Vasile-Cozzo, pulled Mattituck to within 5-4 at 7:06 of the second half.
Hoeg said, “The past couple of years we’ve played them, we always had a tough game against them, and today we were like, ‘We may never have this opportunity again, so let’s go out and kill it.’ ”
But Camryn Harloff converted a feed from Morgan Mitchell, making it 6-4 with 8:36 left. Over the final three and a half minutes, Mount Sinai played keep-away, retaining possession to seal the victory.
“Our coach did a really good job to prepare us and unfortunately we just came out on the short end,” Hoeg said. “Even though we didn’t come out on top, we still want to learn from the experience.”
Veronica Venezia scored twice for Mount Sinai, which also received a goal from Rayna Sabella. Sabella also controlled 7 of 12 draws.
Mattituck’s Jane DiGregorio had a goal (assisted by Riley Hoeg) and an assist, with Vasile-Cozzo also finding the net for the Tuckers. Goalie Claudia Hoeg played perhaps her best game of the season, making six saves against the highly regarded Mustangs. “It’s a little nerve-racking at first, but I think you have to play to the best of your ability and don’t let yourself down,” she said.
Along with others, Maloney couldn’t help but admire Mount Sinai’s defense. He said, “That’s been a premier defense for the last five or six years.”
Photo caption: Mattituck/Greenport/Southold’s Mackenzie Hoeg is pursued by Mount Sinai’s Kirsten Scutaro. (Credit: Garret Meade)