FARMINGDALE — During the regular season, the Mattituck Tuckers lost twice to the Center Moriches Red Devils, both times by 19 points. With that in mind, prior to the Suffolk County Class B boys basketball final between the two teams on Friday, the Tuckers might have been thinking something along the lines of, “We have them right where we want them.”
Did those losses to Center Moriches hurt Mattituck’s confidence?
“Not at all,” Mattituck guard Tom Ascher said. “I think it motivated us even more. I think it hurt them. They probably came in with a sense of being relaxed.”
Whether the Red Devils suffered from a false sense of security or not, there was no doubt that Mattituck was on top of its game. The Tuckers executed. They attacked Center Moriches’ press. They hit their shots.
And then they celebrated.
Four Mattituck players scored in double figures as the Tuckers triumphed, 64-52, for their first county championship since 2004. Center Moriches had won the previous eight meetings between the two teams, which shared the League VII title this season.
With Mattituck fans clapping and hollering, the Tuckers dribbled out the game’s final seconds at Farmingdale State College, and then the players jumped for joy and hugged each other.
“We stepped it up big time,” Mattituck center Cody Huntley said. “The way we came out, we just wanted it.”
Mattituck Coach Paul Ellwood, whose first season in charge of the team was highlighted by that county title in 2004, said his team played its best game of the season. “This is the most rewarding day of my life from a coaching” perspective, he said. “It’s not going to be topped any time soon.”
Then again, the second-seeded Tuckers (15-5) will have more opportunities. They assured themselves of at least two more games. With this victory, they qualified for a Southeast Region semifinal against the Malverne Mules on March 9 at SUNY/Old Westbury. Before then, though, Mattituck will play the Port Jefferson Royals in the Suffolk Class B-C-D game on Wednesday at Farmingdale State College.
If Center Moriches was expecting to see the same team it beat twice during the regular season — the second time to clinch a share of the league title — it had a rude awakening.
“It motivated us,” Huntley said. “It’s like, we know they’re not ready for how well we played today. It just gave us that extra edge, I think.”
Steve Ascher and Connor Davis scored 15 points apiece, Yianni Rauseo netted 12 and Tom Ascher had 10. Davis also had six assists. Huntley had a big game, totaling eight points, 13 rebounds, five assists and four blocks.
No. 1 seed Center Moriches (12-8) was led by Maleek Harris, who accounted for 16 points, seven rebounds, five steals and four assists. George Williams added 10 points. Elijah Gonzalez and Harvey Houpe chipped in nine each.
Mattituck knocked down 62.5 percent of its field-goal attempts to Center Moriches’ 39.6 percent. While the Tuckers shot 5 for 7 from three-point range, the Red Devils struggled at 3 for 14.
“We’re playing some of the best basketball that we’ve played in a while,” Huntley said. “I think we just wanted it more than they did. It meant so much more to us because we haven’t even made the playoffs in seven years.”
Mattituck looked sharp from the start. Four Tuckers scored in the opening five and half minutes for an 11-5 lead. Center Moriches started the game on a 3-for-15 shooting funk and trailed, 15-8, after the first quarter.
With good work under the boards by Huntley, who grabbed rebounds and swatted away shots, Mattituck built its lead to 20-12 about midway through the second quarter.
Center Moriches pulled to within 20-18 on three straight baskets by Houpe, Gonzalez and Williams, prompting Ellwood to call a timeout with 2 minutes 13 seconds left in the second quarter.
The Red Devils went on to tie the score three times in the final 63 seconds of the first half on a layup by Harris and two free throws apiece by Houpe and Williams. That left the score at 26-26 at the half.
It seemed as if momentum was turning Center Moriches’ way early in the third quarter when the Red Devils scored the first six points of the quarter for a 32-26 lead.
That was when Mattituck showed its quality, going on a 15-4 run that featured three three-pointers, including two by Davis. The Tuckers took a 51-42 lead going into the fourth quarter, the last two of those points coming on a fine spinning move for a layup by Steve Ascher that beat the buzzer ending the third quarter.
Mattituck used a 9-0 spurt to build a 62-46 advantage with 3:11 remaining.
It was over.
“Unbelievable,” said Tom Ascher, clutching the championship plaque during an interview. “It looks like a plaque, but the emotions going with it are awesome.”