Two last-place teams, former league champs, chase a win

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Mattituck's Claire Finnican, who scored a team-leading 11 points, examined her options under the basket.

The similarities are striking. Last season, both the Mount Sinai and Mattituck high school girls basketball teams might have felt as if they were on top of the world. Well, at least they were on top of their respective leagues. Now they have both hit hard times as last-place teams, stricken by injuries and illness. They have found wins difficult to come by and their playoff chances look all but impossible.

So, when the opportunity to put a mark in the win column presented itself with these two teams meeting on Monday night, it was a chance both sides had to jump at.

In a Coaches vs. Cancer non-league game, Mattituck snapped a six-game losing streak by downing Mount Sinai, 43-38, at Mattituck High School.

“It’s been a long losing streak,” Mattituck junior guard Liz Lasota said. “Playing our hearts out and playing as good as we did tonight really felt good.”

The teams had entered the game with a combined 2-21 record, and both of those wins belonged to the Tuckers. Mattituck (3-10, 0-5 Suffolk County League VII) made sure to keep Mount Sinai (0-12, 0-6 League VI) winless as Claire Finnican scored 11 points, Lasota had 10 and Jackie Berkoski nine for the winners.

“It’s amazing how time flies,” Mount Sinai Coach Kevin Walsh said. “Last year we were on top, and now we’re on the bottom looking up again.”

Mattituck played without sisters Katherine Wilcenski (concussion) and Allie Wilcenski (swollen glands). Katherine Wilcenski is not only a regular starter, but could be considered the team’s best player. Mattituck Coach Steve Van Dood said he hopes Katherine Wilcenski receives a doctor’s clearance in time to play Thursday night against the Wyandanch Warriors. Van Dood said he expects Allie Wilcenski to be out a couple of more days.

But that’s nothing compared to what the Mustangs have been through. Mount Sinai’s two top players and only two seniors, captains Diana Lopez and Elizabeth Debski, have been out for most of the season. Lopez, a center, has had kidney problems and is in a hospital. Her teammates wear green bands on their uniforms to show their support for her. Debski, a point guard who has had a history of concussions, suffered a concussion early in the season that led doctors to determine that it would be too risky for her to continue playing.

“I didn’t anticipate that it was going to be this way this year,” Walsh said. “It’s certainly a humbling situation, but having one serious injury and one serious illness kind of puts it in perspective.”

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Shannon Dwyer of Mattituck prepared to hoist a runner in the lane.

The Mustangs, who lost all five of their starters from last season’s team, which reached the county Class A semifinals, have learned the value of experience. They have seen firsthand what a difference it can make from one season to the next. Despite the losses, players appear to have remained upbeat.

“Obviously, no one likes to lose, but we try and learn from it and, obviously, you can’t let it bring you down,” said Alexandra Rose, a junior who plays forward and center.

Rose had 12 points, 12 rebounds, three blocks, two assists and two steals on Monday. The Mustangs also received 12 points and nine rebounds from Megan Presser, who fouled out with 35.2 seconds to go. Danielle Diaz added nine points and eight rebounds.

A game-opening basket by Marisa Colacino gave Mount Sinai its first and only lead at 2-0 before Mattituck pulled in front. But the Tuckers never took a double-digit lead. They built nine-point leads on four occasions, the last being when a Berkoski three-point shot off a steal and pass from Lasota made it 40-31 late in the fourth quarter.

It was an often sloppy affair, with the teams combining for 64 turnovers, 33 by Mount Sinai. Neither side shot particularly well, either, with Mount Sinai hitting on 24.4 percent of its field-goal attempts and Mattituck making 32.6 percent.

Both teams would have to win the remainder of their league games in order to salvage a playoff berth, an unlikely prospect.

“I do see the girls getting better, and that’s something we’re just going to keep working on and, again, we have a lot to look forward to,” Van Dood said. “The playoffs, if we get there, we get there. That’s something we’re going to look at and work for.”

This season has been a learning experience for both teams. Van Dood said his younger players learned what the varsity game entails. “It’s all about speed, quickness and toughness,” he said. “They’re learning that and they’re seeing that.”

The lessons learned this season should help next season when all the Mustangs will return.

“Everyone’s coming back,” Rose said with a smile. “No one’s going anywhere.”

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