Steve Van Dood can’t help but think that it’s always something.
Whether it be injuries, illness or both, Van Dood’s Mattituck High School girls basketball team has had its share of obstacles thrown in its way in recent years.
“That’s the name of our game in Mattituck,” the Tuckers’ coach said. “It seems like every year we have to overcome adversity. Adversity just seems to be the theme here for our basketball team.”
Adversity struck the Tuckers on Tuesday when Lauren Guja broke a finger in a loss to the Hampton Bays Baymen. The sophomore forward/center was in the starting lineup for the team’s next game against the Southampton Mariners on Friday night. But Guja, who is averaging 8.0 points per game and is Mattituck’s biggest scoring threat, did not stay on the court for long. She soon exited the game with only one point next to her name in the scorebook.
“We tried to get her in tonight, but you could see she couldn’t catch the ball,” said Van Dood.
On top of that, another Mattituck player, Stefanie Loverde, watched the game in street clothes. Van Dood said Loverde had tweaked a knee.
And then there was some more bad news for the Tuckers to digest. With their 49-42 home loss to Southampton, they have put themselves in a precarious situation that one might even say is close to desperate. The last-place Tuckers (2-9 overall, 0-4 Suffolk County League VII) would need to win six of their remaining eight league games in order to reach the playoffs.
“We have to win across the board, pretty much,” said Van Dood.
The Tuckers didn’t do themselves any favors Friday when they failed to convert 15 layups or putbacks and missed 12 free throws.
“We missed a lot of easy shots,” Mattituck’s sophomore guard, Alexa Orlando, said. “I just don’t know.”
Kesi Goree scored 10 points during a 14-2 run that closed out the third quarter and spurred Southampton on to the win, its ninth in 12 games. It also brought Southampton’s league record to 1-2 after tough league losses to the Wyandanch Warriors and the Center Moriches Red Devils. Goree, a sophomore forward already in her fourth varsity season, finished with a game-high 21 points before fouling out with 57.0 seconds remaining.
“Kesi Goree played a big game for us,” Southampton Coach Rich Wingfield said. “That’s why she’s a captain. That’s why she’s set up to take the lead.”
Another Southampton player, Paris Hodges, was good for 19 points and eight rebounds. She shot 9 of 10 from the free-throw line.
The leading scorer for Mattituck was Shannon Dwyer with a career-high 10 points. Katherine Wilcenski added nine points and nine rebounds.
Southampton won despite being outrebounded by the taller Tuckers, 42-24.
One of Mattituck’s starting guards, Liz Lasota, was in foul trouble almost the entire game. She picked up three personal fouls in the first quarter, was assessed a fourth foul 80 seconds into the third quarter, and fouled out with 14.5 seconds left in the game.
The play was ragged at times. It took 3:30 before either side scored in the third quarter.
Following a first half that ended with the score even at 23-23, Wingfield made an adjustment, changing his team’s defense from a 3-1-1 man-to-man full-court trap to a 2-3 extended zone. Dominique Taylor, a forward who didn’t score, “did a great job” under the boards, said Wingfield. As a result, Southampton held Mattituck to four points in the third quarter. The Tuckers also committed 30 turnovers, nearly twice as many as the visitors.
Hodges said the positive result was important for her team. She said, “I felt like if we didn’t win tonight, then we would be lost.”
Southampton is on the young side, starting four sophomores and a freshman, but it has talent. The Mariners won three non-league games last month in Orlando, Fla., where they got to see some sites as well as fine-tune their game. “I felt like it gave us confidence going into the league games,” said Hodges.
And what about the Tuckers? They didn’t sound ready to panic, and are looking at the bright side of things.
“I think we’re just going to take it day by day,” Orlando said. “I think we’re playing harder every game, and we’re just going to get better from here. So, there’s only room to improve now.”
Van Dood said the good news is that some of his younger players such as Allie Wilcenski, Dwyer and Orlando played well. He said the Tuckers acquitted themselves well against a Southampton team that is projected to contend for the league title, and did so largely without Guja’s services.
“Our girls respond well to adversity,” he said. “I think they come back, and that’s life. It’s a life lesson. Life’s not always going to be a bowl of cherries, but you got to come back, you got to show up, and you got to play hard, and I think they did that.”