Liz Dwyer doesn’t like to lose.
More importantly, she loves to win.
Case in point: With her high school girls basketball team down by seven points with less than four minutes remaining in the Suffolk County Class B-C championship game, the 5-foot-8 junior forward put on one of the most epic performances in Mattituck playoff history. She scored 10 of her 14 fourth-quarter points in the final 3 minutes and 43 seconds to rally the Tuckers to a stirring and dramatic victory over Port Jefferson, 58-54, at Riverhead High School Friday night.
“I really talk to myself, pump me up,” said Dwyer, who finished with a team-high 24 points while adding six rebounds. “I don’t want to lose, no matter what. So, I just get going. Once I get going, you can’t stop it.”
Coach Steve Van Dood has seen that plenty of times this season.
“She did it again,” he said. “She hates losing. Liz Dwyer despises losing. That’s what it all comes down to. She put the team on her back. She’s been doing it all season. It doesn’t surprise me.”
Both teams will advance to the Long Island championship game in their respective classes. The Tuckers (19-2) will meet Carle Place in the Class B title game on March 6 at SUNY/Old Westbury.
Mattituck also will get an opportunity to play in another competitive game — against the winner of the Class A championship game between Harborfields and Mount Sinai at Suffolk County Community College’s Brentwood campus on Tuesday.
“Playing in that game would be great for us. Both these teams are very good,” Van Dood said at courtside as the Class A finalists warmed up for the second game of the doubleheader. “Hats off to them. Harborfields very good defensively, Mount Sinai very good offensively. So we’ll get a game plan together. Hopefully, we’ll lick our wounds and get ready to come back on Tuesday.
“I’m proud of all the girls. They did a great job. Great effort, a great effort.”
The Tuckers were down three key players. Starting guard Mackenzie Daly was out with a knee injury. Their first two players off the bench also were unavailable. Guard Emily Mowdy was on vacation with her family and Mackenzie Hoeg was in Albany, watching her brother compete in the New York State wrestling championships.
Dwyer’s clutch performance was reminiscent of another standout fourth quarter against these same Royals (17-4) when she scored 18 points in the final period, trying to boost the Tuckers past their League VII rivals in what turned into a 51-43 away loss on Feb. 2. The teams split the season series.
“It really fueled us to really want to win this game,” Dwyer said.
“This game was a rubber match,” Van Dood said. “We wanted to win it. We wanted to show who was the best team in the league. I think we made that statement today.”
This time the result went the other way as the Tuckers had to dig themselves out of a seven-point hole. Corinne Reda (nine points) scored all her 11 points to help keep Mattituck within striking distance before Port Jefferson started to pull away in Mattituck’s nightmare third quarter. The Tuckers saw a 32-29 halftime advantage evaporate as they were outscored 13-4 while hitting only one of 11 field-goal attempts to start the fourth quarter with a 42-36 deficit.
After Courtney Lewis (game-high 29 points) put in two free throws with 4:36 remaining in the fourth, Van Dood called a timeout. The Tuckers seemed to be a different team, outscoring the Royals 14-3 the rest of the way.
“We made some changes, changed our press a little bit, made some adjustments, key adjustments,” Van Dood said. “That’s what wins games.”
Dwyer led the charge, driving towards the basket for most of her points while Jane DiGregorio (11 points) sank a layup to pull Mattituck within 51-50 with 2:40 remaining.
Dwyer canned her only triple of the game from the right corner to boost the Tuckers into a 53-51 lead they never relinquished with 1:19 left.
“That dagger, that put us right back in the game,” Van Dood said.
With Mattituck leading 56-54 with three seconds left, sophomore Julie Seifert knocked in two foul shots for her lone points of the night to ensure Port Jefferson could not pull off any 11th-hour heroics with a trey.
“She got key rebounds,” Van Dood said. “We were getting beat on the boards. I said, ‘Julie, you’ve got to get in there and rebound and box out’ and she boxed out. She made those last two foul shots. That showed a lot of poise for a young kid at the end. I’m very proud of her.”
Photo caption: Liz Dwyer, who finished with a team-high 24 points, scored 10 of her 14 fourth-quarter points in the final 3 minutes and 43 seconds for Mattituck. (Credit: Garret Meade)