First Marlboro shot the lights out. Then the lights went out on the greatest high school girls basketball season Mattituck has ever enjoyed.
In the end, there were no visible tears on the Mattituck bench. That was pretty cool, and rather telling. What it said is that the Tuckers knew Marlboro fully deserved what it was presented with: the Southeast Region Class B championship plaque.
Call it the reward for an exceptional shooting exhibition by the Dukes, who earned their first regional title since 1984, according to coach Marion Casey.
The unquestioned sense among the Tuckers and others was that the better team had won, 74-61, at St. Joseph’s College in Patchogue, and Mattituck did just about everything it could against Marlboro, which had knocked off the No. 1 team in the state, Irvington, in the regional semifinals.
Mattituck guard Mackenzie Daly described her feelings afterward as “just overwhelming pride. We went into this game with confidence, but we knew this game wasn’t going to be a cakewalk. We knew this team was going to be a great team and we knew about Sadler.”
That would be Missy Sadler. The 5-foot-10 senior forward was a major force, as her numbers indicate: 24 points, 14 rebounds, four steals and two assists.
One had to wonder: Is there anything Sadler cannot do on a basketball court?
“She was amazing,” Mattituck guard Jane DiGregorio said. “She did everything. She could do everything.”
For a team to reach the state semifinals, as Marlboro (22-2) will do on Friday, it needs a player or two or three like that.
Mattituck’s pressing defense took the Tuckers (20-3) far this season. They finished atop League VII for their fifth league title, adding to league crowns they had won in 1982, 1988, 1989 and 2010. Reaching the playoffs for the ninth time in 10 years, Mattituck went on to capture its first Suffolk County and Long Island championships, largely on the strength of its turnover-inducing defense and the scoring talents of Liz Dwyer and Katie Hoeg.
“An extraordinary year,” said Mattituck coach Steve Van Dood, whose 10-year record at Mattituck stands at 119-91.
In its previous two playoff games, Mattituck had shooting troubles. The Tuckers shot 29.5 percent from the field in a loss to Islip in the Suffolk small schools final and hit at a 28.9-percent rate in the Long Island final win over Carle Place.
But one can’t lay the blame on Mattituck’s shooting on Saturday. The Tuckers raised their shooting accuracy to a respectable 44.9 percent. The only problem for them was that Marlboro shot even better: 50.0 percent. Not only that, but the Dukes handled Mattituck’s pressure defense exceedingly well with good ball distribution.
“I predict them [to become] state champs,” a convinced DiGregorio said. “They’re going all the way.”
Daly believes what the Tuckers accomplished this season will have a lasting affect. “I know going forward that this season will have an impact on every team to go through this program,” she said.
It was a season made all the more impressive by the fact that the Tuckers started three sophomore Ds — Daly, DiGregorio and Dwyer, who struck for a game-high 28 points.
“We left it all out on the court,” said Hoeg, the senior guard whose name was chanted by appreciative Mattituck fans after she fouled out with 2 minutes 29 seconds left in the game. “Even though we lost, we gave 110 percent. We’re happy to come this far even though we lost. We left it all out there. It was an honor to be a part of it even though it didn’t end the way we would like it.”
Clutching the team’s regional finalist plaque, Dwyer could see the bright side of things. “We made it the furthest we’ve ever done,” she said. Then she added, “We go down in history for that, too.”
Photo caption: Mattituck fans make their preference known during the regional final against Marlboro at St. Joseph’s College in Patchogue. (Credit: Garret Meade)