SUFFOLK COUNTY CLASS B SEMIFINAL | TUCKERS 49, RED DEVILS 44
By all accounts, the Mattituck Tuckers were one happy group on their bus ride to Center Moriches High School on Friday. They were singing happily as they headed toward their biggest game of this high school girls basketball season.
“Oh, we sing so loud,” forward Shannon Dwyer said. “We have a chorus group. It’s a little pitchy, but we were awesome.”
Among their number were young players like Tiana Baker and Liz Dwyer who had never experienced a playoff game before. Maybe they didn’t know just how big this Suffolk County Class B semifinal was. Perhaps that was a good thing for the Tuckers. As they say, ignorance is bliss.
“Some of them may not have known that that was for counties, which is fine,” said Shannon Dwyer.
About an hour before tip-off, before her team even took the court for pregame warmups, Center Moriches coach Kelley Watts was presented by her junior varsity coach, Michelle Ceruso, with a small, heart-shaped box of chocolates, the cover of which looked like a basketball. A sweet thought on this Valentine’s Day.
But the sweeter gift went to the visiting Tuckers: a place in the county final.
The Tuckers took the lead for good early in the second quarter and never relinquished it despite several charges by Center Moriches. In the second half, Center Moriches pulled to within 3 points of Mattituck five times, to within 2 points once and to within 1 point once, but each time the Tuckers held the Red Devils off for a 49-44 victory. When the final buzzer sounded, Mattituck coach Steve Van Dood punched the air in exultation, and the happy Tuckers met on the court for a group hug.
Van Dood called it a “huge step” for the Tuckers, who have never won a county championship. “That’s our goal,” he said, “to put a banner on the wall.”
The third-seeded Tuckers (13-6) had cause to be of good cheer, having earned a place in the county final against No. 1 Hampton Bays (17-2) on Tuesday at Northport High School.
Significant contributions came from several sources for the Tuckers. Baker, the freshman guard, said she was really nervous, but she didn’t look it, shooting 9 of 17 from the field and scoring 22 points. Shannon Dwyer, a senior who wasn’t ready for her high school career to end, scored 8 of her 14 points during crunch time in the fourth quarter when the Tuckers really needed them. Her younger sister, eighth-grader Liz Dwyer, turned in 9 points, 10 rebounds, 5 steals, 4 assists and 3 blocks. And Katie Hoeg, the sophomore point guard, pulled down 16 rebounds, all in the first three quarters.
“No one was extremely on, but we all did enough,” Shannon Dwyer said. “No one was off.”
Three baskets by Shannon Dwyer, along with a free throw by Liz Dwyer, in the final two minutes gave the Tuckers enough of a cushion with a 49-41 lead. By the time Caroline Casey converted a 3-point play for No. 2 Center Moriches (8-8) with 15.4 seconds remaining, it was too little, too late for the Red Devils.
Baker said it was vital to retain the lead the entire second half. “We needed that lead,” she said. “We honestly did.”
Van Dood said: “We had momentum most of the game, but it seemed like there were times when Center Moriches was pushing it, and every time they did, we answered back.”
It was Mattituck’s first playoff win in Center Moriches’ gym in at least nine years, according to Van Dood.
By playing pressure defense and driving to the basket when they had the ball, the Tuckers caused Center Moriches problems. Two Center Moriches starters fouled out. Tamia Rowland picked up her fifth foul five seconds into the fourth quarter. Pamela Schenck made her exit with 4:02 left to play.
In her final game for Center Moriches, senior point guard Claire Brady produced 12 points and 7 assists. Casey had 11 points.
Shannon Dwyer and her teammates were ebullient over the outcome. “I couldn’t be happier,” she said. “We came out on top.”
That might have merited some singing on the bus ride home.