Mattituck’s final four bid doesn’t fly against Eagles

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Connor Davis of Mattituck tried to penetrate John S. Burke Catholic's defense.

FARMINGDALE — The Mattituck Tuckers, the high school boys basketball team that never gives up, conceded defeat and acknowledged the inevitable with 3 minutes 4 seconds remaining when an emotional Connor Davis was substituted for.

Then, 27 seconds later, it was Cody Huntley’s turn to head to the bench. That led to a touching scene in which teammate Jovan Booker, sitting between Davis and Huntley, held a consoling arm around each of them.

Shortly after, it was Yianni Rauseo’s turn to exit. Finally, with 54.6 seconds left, the twins Steve and Tom Ascher walked off the court before hugging Coach Paul Ellwood and the assistant coach, Kevin Chartrand.

A season — and, in the case of eight Mattituck seniors, high school careers — ended on Saturday night. This time there would be no dramatic ending. The mighty John S. Burke Catholic Eagles saw to that.

Burke Catholic snuffed out Mattituck’s hopes of reaching the New York State Class B final four by trouncing the Tuckers, 75-59, in the Southeast Region final at Farmingdale State University. It will be the Eagles who will play in a state semifinal on Friday night in Glens Falls against either Westhill or Binghamton Seton Catholic. Burke Catholic lost to Westhill in last year’s state final.

“It’s just disappointing,” Rauseo said. “We made a hell of a run, but …”

Burke Catholic (21-2) got in the way. The Eagles are a formidable squad that has won three straight Section IX titles. Ten of their players are listed at 6 feet 2 inches or taller, including the 6-7 Brendan Miller and the 6-6 David Polman.

“They have an answer for everything,” Ellwood said. “They’re at just a different level. They can do everything.”

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | For Tom Sledjeski and the rest of the Mattituck players, the loss to John S. Burke Catholic marked the end of a memorable season.

He might as well have been talking about the active Zach Rufer, a 6-3 junior guard who can seemingly do anything on the basketball court. Rufer shot 7 for 14 from the floor, 6 for 7 from the foul line, and finished with 21 points, nine rebounds and seven assists — all game-high numbers — as well as four steals.

Miller was a considerable force inside. The senior forward hit all eight of his field-goal attempts for 16 points and was credited with six blocks.

Dante Cowart tallied 11 points, Richard Douglas had 10 and Billy Garreau nine, giving the Eagles splendid scoring balance. Burke Catholic shot 57.1 percent from the field and outrebounded Mattituck by 35-25.

“A different person scores every night, and that’s the good thing about our team,” Cowart said. “We have different weapons, and everyone has a certain role. As long as we always bring the intensity, I believe that we can do anything.”

While the opposing fans from the two facing sides of the gym exchanged barbs and chants, the teams went at it on the court.

A 15-2 Burke Catholic run spotted the Eagles a 35-18 lead late in the first half. Rufer had 12 points at the half. Five Eagles scored during that spurt. Burke Catholic closed out the half on a hot 10-for-13 shooting spell, many of those baskets coming on layups or other shots in the paint.

The 14-point halftime deficit turned to 16 points after three quarters. As the game progressed deep into the third quarter, Mattituck fans encouraged their players by chanting, “Don’t give up!” But as time went on, Glens Falls seemed further and further away for Mattituck (16-7), which was playing in its first regional final since 1979. The Tuckers had their hands full trying to keep tabs on the Eagles, who received a pair of second-half dunks from Miller, the second of which ignited a 14-0 run that made it 73-45.

“When we tried pressing, they spread us out and really killed us,” said Rauseo.

Steve Ascher, the hero of the regional semifinal three nights earlier with his last-second tip-in against the Malverne Mules, said, “We just couldn’t do it today.” He was the top Mattituck scorer with 18 points and had five assists. Tom Ascher was good for 14 points.

But it was Burke Catholic that won the prize it was looking for: a return trip to Glens Falls.

“Knowing that feeling that you’re going to Glens Falls, that’s the best,” Rufer said. “It feels great. Our goal this whole season was to get back to Glens Falls and to win the state championship. … We’ve been really motivated and determined.”

As each of the five Mattituck starting seniors bowed out of the game, they were greeted at the bench by Ellwood, who had some words to whisper in their ears.

“I just wanted to say something different to each kid, unique to that personality, and what they meant to me,” the coach said. “I just said something a little special to each one of them. Each one of those kids means a lot to me. I did a lot of stuff, was with them a long time. I’m so proud of them.”

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