On one hand, Thursday could have been the start of a deep run into March. Even as the No. 4 seed in the Class B bracket, the Mattituck Tuckers had reason to dream big.
After all, they had defeated their first-round opponent, Center Moriches, twice in the regular season. They split the regular season series against No. 1 Southampton, both games decided by five points.
On the other hand, the Tuckers knew nothing would come easy. As they took the court at Mattituck High School to face the fifth-seeded Red Devils, the Tuckers expected a tight game that would likely come down to the wire just as both wins in the regular season had.
“You go in thinking, hey, this run could go three weeks or a month and then it’s over in 32 minutes,” said Mattituck coach Paul Ellwood. “It hurts. It’s frustrating.”
The Red Devils, behind 10 3-pointers that matched a season high, pulled away late in the fourth quarter to prevail 70-57 in the Class B outbracket game, bringing an abrupt end to the Tuckers’ season and careers for their five starting seniors.
An offense that had been electric in recent weeks — averaging 75 points over five prior games — came to a standstill after a first quarter that saw the Tuckers put up 18 points. The Red Devils’ zone made it difficult for the Tuckers to get many clean looks from deep. Mattituck was held under 60 points for the first time since Jan. 15 against Bishop McGann-Mercy.
The Tuckers faced an arduous uphill climb once Center Moriches took the lead in the first minute of the second quarter. Each time the momentum appeared ready to swing in Mattituck’s favor, the Red Devils had an answer.
Ellwood said he was encouraged to be down just three going into the fourth quarter.
“Play one good quarter and we’ll win the game,” he said. “I thought the senior experience would come through for us and pull it out in the fourth. It just didn’t happen.”
The Tuckers had a chance to tie the game while down 50-47 when Parker Tuthill, who scored a career-high 41 points in the regular season finale two days earlier, lined up a 3-pointer. The shot missed and Center Moriches’ Pat Weber drilled a pair of corner treys on the Red Devils’ next two possessions to push the lead to nine — the largest of the game at that point.
“If you had told me they would outshoot us from the arc today, I would say that’s a recipe for disaster,” Ellwood said.
The Red Devils shot 25 of 51 from the field (49 percent) while the Tuckers were 22 of 60 (37 percent). The Red Devils shot 10 of 26 (38 percent) from beyond the arc.
“We actually emphasize not shooting as many threes,” said Center Moriches coach Nick Thomas. “It gets a little tempting for the kids. Luckily we made enough.”
Mattituck senior Joe Tardif led the Tuckers with 19 points. He was the only Mattituck player in double figures. He scored 10 points in the fourth, in what would be the final quarter of a four-year varsity career.
“He was trying to put the team on his back,” Ellwood said.
Tardif started as a freshman on the varsity, earning rookie of the year honors, before become an all-league player over the next three seasons.
Ellwood said Tardif ranks up there as one of the top players he’s coached at Mattituck. And it’s not just about statistics.
“What he does out there with his speed and skill is second to what he does for the team,” he said. “He’s all about the team.”
Seniors Jon Dwyer and Ryan Mowdy both scored nine points in their final games. Tuthill finished with eight and did not hit a 3-pointer after Tuesday’s magical night where he hit 10.
“We really talked about guarding the perimeter and closing up the dribble lanes,” Thomas said. “We gave up a lot of penetration and easy buckets last game we were kind of disappointed in.”
Center Moriches will advance to play on the road at Southampton Saturday.
Usually the outbracket game, Ellwood said, is one that serves up a “sacrificial lamb” to the waiting opponent. Not this year.
“That’s why it hurts,” he said. “We could have made a deep run. We also knew tonight there was a good chance we could lose.”
Photo Caption: Mattituck guard Joe Tardif scored 19 points in Thursday’s playoff loss to Center Moriches. (Credit: Garret Meade)