ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | Joe Tardif of Mattituck facing some opposition from Port Jefferson as he drives toward the basket during Friday’s game.
TUCKERS 61, ROYALS 48
From top to bottom, Suffolk County League VII boys basketball may be the strongest the league has been in many years. With the big three — Babylon, Center Moriches and Southampton — ruling the top few places, the league’s five other teams are left to battle it out, trying to scratch out a treasured playoff berth with little room for error. It makes every win precious and every game important.
That included Friday’s league game between Mattituck and Port Jefferson.
Things didn’t start out well for the visiting Tuckers, who got off to a slow start and found themselves on the short end of a 28-13 score in the second quarter.
Was it panic time? No, but it did give the Tuckers cause for concern.
“When they made that 28 to 13, I was like, ‘It don’t look good,’ ” said Mattituck coach Paul Ellwood, who chuckled at recounting the memory.
Ellwood could afford to smile and have a laugh afterward. His Tuckers had acquitted themselves quite well the rest of the way, staging their biggest comeback win of the season, 61-48. The result leaves Mattituck (8-4, 5-3) needing only two wins from its final six regular-season games — four of which will be at home — to secure a playoff berth.
Port Jefferson (4-7, 2-6), the loser of five straight games, finds itself needing a virtual miracle to get into the playoffs. The Royals would have to win five of their final six regular-season games in order to do that, an unlikely scenario.
After the Tuckers found themselves in that 15-point hole, they started digging themselves out of it. They closed the second quarter on a 10-3 run, with baskets by Parker Tuthill, Chris Dwyer (one of his five 3-pointers), Joe Tardif and Will Gildersleeve (another 3-pointer). That sliced the deficit to 8 points by halftime.
Then the Tuckers whittled down Port Jefferson’s lead some more. They opened the third quarter on a 17-4 surge for their first lead since a game-opening 3-pointer by Dwyer.
Mattituck’s inside force, Gene Allen, didn’t score his first points of the game until he sank a pair of free throws with 4 minutes 23 seconds remaining in the third quarter, pulling the Tuckers within 35-34. A conventional 3-point play by Allen and a trey by Tuthill then put the Tuckers ahead for good.
Port Jefferson endured a scary moment shortly after that. One of the Royals’ top players, Jasper Rubin-Sigler, suffered a horrific hard fall to the court after contesting a shot by Tardif with 3:29 left in the third quarter. Rubin-Sigler was attended to, rose to his feet and walked to the bench within two minutes of the fall. The senior later returned to the game.
Mattituck’s 3-point shooting hurt Port Jefferson. The Tuckers shot 9 for 21 from beyond the arc. They also shot 18 for 28 from the free-throw line.
Dwyer’s long-distance act helped him to 16 points. Gildersleeve, who was 3 for 8 from 3-point range, had 15 points, and the speedy Tardif added 11. Allen came down with 18 rebounds to go with 10 points.
Cody Steiner was Port Jefferson’s top scorer with 21 points. Rubin-Sigler, who shot 4 for 9 from the field, finished with 10 points. Harry Colucci grabbed 11 rebounds for the Royals.
After surviving the scare, Ellwood and his players could breath easy in the knowledge that they gave themselves a little more breathing room.
It was just another day in League VII boys basketball.