It was not a question of if so much as a question of when the Mattituck Tuckers would clinch a spot in the high school boys basketball playoffs. The way the Tuckers have been playing this season, it was really only a matter of time.
That time came on Tuesday.
The Tuckers booked a place in the postseason for the first time in seven years with an 82-54 rout of the Bishop McGann-Mercy Monarchs at Mattituck High School.
How much was the playoff-clincher on the minds of the Tuckers beforehand?
“We talked about it, but to be honest with you, I totally forgot,” Mattituck senior guard Connor Davis said. “I just went out there thinking it was just another game. When, after the game, somebody said, ‘We clinched playoffs,’ it was a great feeling.”
The last time the Tuckers were in the playoffs, Davis and teammate Mike Mangiamele were sixth-graders and ballboys for the team.
The Tuckers will return to the playoffs for the first time since 2004, when they won a Suffolk County Class C championship. Mattituck is now a Class B team, and its playoff road could be more challenging, but it still has a way to go before it has to worry about that. The win over McGann-Mercy brought Mattituck’s record to 10-4, 6-2 in League VII. McGann-Mercy fell to 1-12, 0-8.
Tuckers Coach Paul Ellwood said his team still has an outside shot at the league title, and is playing for a home playoff game. “It’s going to be tough because every game is going to be a slugfest” in the playoffs, said Ellwood.
Tueday’s game, however, was anything but, as the Tuckers had too many weapons and too much depth for McGann-Mercy to counter. Tom Ascher scored 15 of his game-high 21 points in the second half and Davis netted 12 of his 15 points in the first half for Mattituck. Yianni Rauseo contributed 13 points, and Steve Ascher, Tom’s twin brother, passed for seven assists.
Pat Stepnoski supplied McGann-Mercy (1-12, 0-8) with 20 points and nine rebounds. Justin Vasquez added 14 points with the aid of four three-pointers.
It was a “home game” of sorts for two of the Monarchs. Although Joe Crosser and Danny Hartmann never attended Mattituck High School, they both live in Cutchogue and are familiar with some of the Tuckers outside of school. Crosser is a friend of Tom Ascher’s while Hartmann and Davis are next-door neighbors.
Crosser received some ribbing from some Mattituck fans during the game, but he said he enjoys playing in Mattituck. “It feels kind of nice playing here actually because I know a lot of people here,” he said.
Hartmann had eight points, nine rebounds, four assists, three steals and a block. Crosser finished with seven points, three assists, three rebounds and a block.
But the Monarchs were no match for the Tuckers, who trailed only briefly in the first quarter before using a 14-0 run to pull away to a 20-9 lead that was never in jeopardy. Nine Tuckers scored as Mattituck received 22 points off the bench.
Ellwood showed his appreciation for the efforts of reserve players Ryan Dinizio and Ryan Malone, who both got playing time. “Those guys are great practice players,” the coach said. “I was happy they got out there on a clinching night because they’re a big part of the team.”
The glaring statistic of the game was turnovers. McGann-Mercy had 33 of them, while Mattituck had 13. The Tuckers stole the ball 26 times. Those numbers were a reminder that McGann-Mercy has nine first-year players.
“We’ve been improving every game, and I think today we took a step backwards,” McGann-Mercy Coach Mike Clauberg said. “Tunovers, you know, credit Mattituck. They have a great trapping press. They did a great job with it, but our kids aren’t doing pump fakes, our kids aren’t flashing to the ball. They’re not doing the little things that make things count. When you don’t do basic basketball stuff, you can’t win games.”
Asked to compare the 2003-4 Tuckers to the current squad, Davis said: “We’re totally different because we have lots of guards who can shoot. It’s not like a one-man show. The whole team is involved. When people come to watch, it’s not to watch one guy, it’s watch Mattituck. When we work together we’re very, very good. That’s how we play.”
The last time the Tuckers made it into the playoffs, it was Ellwood’s first season as the team’s coach. Since then, the Tuckers have had some lean seasons. Last year at this time they had only one league win before going on to split their final six games of the season and turn their fortunes around.
“My first year I took [getting to the playoffs] for granted,” Ellwood said. “I certainly didn’t this year. Now we’re here.”