Immediately after one drama ended, another began.
To see players crying on Bayport-Blue Point’s side of the volleyball net could be expected. The Phantoms, after all, had just lost. But there were also tears on Mattituck’s side, where the Tuckers had congregated in a victory pile. They were tears of joy, however.
In what could possibly go down as one of the biggest victories the Tuckers have ever enjoyed in their own gym, they defeated Long Island champion Bayport for the second time in three meetings this year, 25-17, 26-24, 22-25, 25-23, in a Suffolk County Class B semifinal Thursday. As a result, second-seeded Mattituck (13-3) will play in its first Suffolk Class B final, according to coach Frank Massa. The Tuckers will face No. 1 Elwood/John Glenn (12-1) for the county title Nov. 9 at Suffolk County Community College.
“That’s the first time the game has brought me to tears,” Mattituck senior outside hitter Madison Osler said. “I think it just meant a lot to the seniors and I think it meant a lot to the team.”
Another senior, setter/defensive specialist Julia Vasile-Cozzo, said, “Emotionally, it was insane.”
Osler turned in a superb performance, putting away 23 kills.
“Her level of play has always risen against the better teams,” Massa said. “She has played her best against the best teams.”
Viki Harkin’s presence on the court was seen as vital for Mattituck. The sophomore outside hitter had sat out the team’s previous five matches after rolling an ankle. But Harkin showed no ill affects from the injury. Wearing a brace around her tightly taped right ankle, she finished with 15 kills.
“I was in my zone,” she said. “I blocked out everything and I just did what I had to do.”
Fittingly, perhaps, Harkin scored Mattituck’s first point of the match and the last. On match point, Osler dug a ball that a scrambling Ashley Chew (31 assists) got to. With one of her knees on the court, Chew managed to set Harkin, who drove it past a double-block attempt and between two back-row players for the winning point.
“To be able to get it around two blockers, to split the defense in the back, she just put the perfect ball down to end the match,” said Massa.
Osler said, “We had huge pickups on the court, huge digs, huge blocks and that’s a big part of what this team is.”
And then there was the home-court advantage. Better yet, make that the home-crowd advantage.
Mattituck players said playing in their own gym made a difference and brought the team energy. It was LOUD! It was the loudest the gym has been “in a while, if ever,” Osler said. “I couldn’t even hear myself. That’s the first time that’s happened.”
Harkin said she and her teammates had trouble hearing each other on the court. “That crowd, even when we were losing, they just kept on screaming and it really helped us out,” she said.
Both sides pounded away at each other. No. 3 Bayport (9-5), which reached the state tournament last year for the first time, said coach Toni Mulgrave, had some big hitters of its own. Isabella Imbo (11 kills), Emma Fiorentine (eight kills) and Cathleen Farrell (six kills) did their part to keep Mattituck’s defense busy. Lauren Wilke had 26 assists for Bayport.
Mattituck gave itself some breathing room by winning the first two sets. The Tuckers fought back from a 14-7 deficit in the third set to take a 22-21 lead. But Bayport served notice that victory wasn’t going to come easily. A service ace by Imbo and a kill by Lyndsey Ingber closed out that set and forced a fourth. That fired up the Phantoms.
“I knew it was not going to be easy, but I also knew that we had to fight hard,” said Osler.
Bayport led for much of the final set, but the score was tied six times, the last time at 23-23. Bayport’s seventh service error of the match preceded Harkin’s dramatic match-winner.
Both sides had difficulties at times, but it seemed to balance out. Bayport had 20 hitting errors; Mattituck had 19.
In the end, Mattituck had cleared its first playoff hurdle, and it was a big one.
“This is huge,” Harkin said. “We did what we had to do.”
Photo caption: Mattituck’s Macie Grathwohl, left, and Jordan Osler embrace following their team’s Suffolk County Class B semifinal victory over Bayport-Blue Point. (Credit: Garret Meade)