Haven’t we been here before?
Yes, we have. Well, not literally. Last year this game was at St. Joseph’s College in Patchogue. On Monday it was at SUNY/Old Westbury. But it was the same stage of the playoffs (a Long Island Class B girls basketball final), with the same two teams (Mattituck and Carle Place) and, yes, the same result (a Mattituck victory).
Of course, what was different was how it was achieved.
With Mattituck clinging to a 48-45 lead, Carle Place eighth-grader Erin Leary let loose a long-range shot from the corner as time expired — and hit it! Some of the Carle Place players rejoiced, some on the Mattituck side cringed.
Following some brief confusion, the officials conveyed their ruling, which was backed up by a video reply. The basket was deemed worth two points, not three. Leary had stepped over the three-point line with her right foot. Instead of going to overtime, Mattituck was a 48-47 winner and a Long Island champion for a second straight year.
Now the Tuckers are 2-0 in Long Island finals.
“Last year it felt great,” junior forward Liz Dwyer said. “This year it felt even better.”
“I never thought I would be part of a team that does that, let alone in basketball, and yet here we are the second time around and it’s just about embracing what we’re going through,” junior guard Chelsea Marlborough said. “I’m really proud of what we accomplished and where we’re going.”
Where they are going is back to SUNY/Old Westbury’s Clark Athletic Center Thursday for a Southeast Region final against Section I champion Irvington (23-1). It was at that stage last year when Mattituck finally bowed out with a loss to Marlboro Central.
So, a chance for redemption is at hand.
The most notable difference from last season for Mattituck is the loss of the graduated Katie Hoeg, who worked so well with Dwyer and was an inside force. But the Tuckers still have the aforementioned Dwyer, a standout who can score just about any way possible: taking a three-pointer, a mid-range jumper, driving to the basket, converting a putback, sinking a free throw. Whatever it takes.
Despite Carle Place’s considerable efforts, Dwyer was a difference-maker once again, scoring a game-high 26 points and coming through in the clutch. Her drive in the lane through traffic for a layup with 1 minute, 50 seconds left put Mattituck ahead to stay and her free throw with 2.0 seconds to go proved to be the game-winning point.
Mattituck’s turnover-inducing press defense is its trademark. They lead to transition points in the form of layups while at the same time causing opponents to fall into disarray. Along with Dwyer, it’s a big reason why the Tuckers are 40-6 over the past two seasons.
Against the young Carle Place team, though, it didn’t work.
“They didn’t get frazzled by our press like we hoped they would,” Mattituck’s sole senior, Corinne Reda, said. “I thought once we started getting ahead with our lead, I thought we were just going to take it from there, but they came back in that one stretch and that was just crazy.”
Carle Place starts four sophomores, but they can play, and they didn’t appear intimidated by the scenario.
“I haven’t found a moment that’s too big for them,” Carle Place coach Michael Bello said. “They’re competitors, they’re athletes, they’re basketball players, and you see, they trust each other. We threw the ball to an eighth-grader with 1.8 seconds on the shot clock. It’s not the first time we’ve done that. It’s not the first time she’s made the shot. Unfortunately this time it was an inch and a half short.”
These Tuckers have been together for quite a while this season. Said Marlborough, “We’re onto five months already.”
They hope it continues through March 17-19 when the state final four will be played at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy.
Now that’s someplace they haven’t been before.
Photo caption: Emily Mowdy and teammates react to a wild ending that left Mattituck with its second straight Long Island championship. (Credit: Garret Meade)
Bob Liepa is the sports editor of the Riverhead News-Review and The Suffolk Times. He can be reached at [email protected].