By no means did Mattituck expect its playoff game at Babylon High School to be a walk in the park. Even so, the Tuckers couldn’t have expected an orange crush.
A high school boys basketball game typically goes for 32 minutes, but it took only the opening few minutes for Babylon to essentially win the Suffolk County Class B outbracket game on Saturday.
“The first three and a half minutes, 16-nothing,” Mattituck coach Paul Ellwood said. “That was basically the game.”
Babylon, cheered on by home fans clad in the school’s orange and black colors, showed it was ready. After Ray Whittaker opened things up with a three-pointer for Babylon, the Panthers converted five — that’s right, five! — successive steals into layups (three by Joe Rende and two by Gejuan Booker). And then Aidan LaRock nailed a three from the corner.
Just like that it was 16-0 Babylon.
“That was tough,” said Mattituck forward Ryan Seifert.
Mattituck never really got into the game as Babylon pulled away to a 67-42 win. For its reward, Babylon (18-3) will play League VII champion Center Moriches (18-1) in the county final Tuesday night at Suffolk County Community College in Selden.
In its two regular-season games against Babylon, Mattituck (13-8) had lost by four and 13 points. This game, though, wasn’t nearly as competitive as those. Babylon used superb ball movement and its trademark pressure defense, which made things rough for Mattituck.
“I was surprised that we were rattled and turned the ball over that easily,” Ellwood said. “I thought we’d handle their pressure better. We handled it better last time.”
Opening the game on a 12-for-19 shooting tear, Babylon shot out to a 26-7 lead, 10 of those points coming from Rende.
“We had a pretty good idea of what we were going to get,” said Mattituck forward Chris Nicholson, who had nine points, six rebounds and four assists. “We practiced a lot of stuff and just didn’t really execute that well.”
Babylon had something else in its favor: seniority. While Babylon has eight seniors among its ranks — including all five of its starters — Mattituck had only two seniors who don’t see significant playing time.
“You just got to credit Babylon,” Ellwood said. “They brought it up a notch. A senior team, they weren’t going to let their season end today. I’ve had teams like that where senior leadership just took over the game. You could just see the maturity in them. They came in here with a purpose.”
Babylon had good offensive balance, with 14 points from Whittaker and 13 apiece from Rende and Greg Forstner.
Xavier Allen led Mattituck in scoring, but 14 of his 19 points came in the second half, when the result was fairly beyond doubt.
“He had it tough,” Ellwood said. “The kid Booker, so good on top, made Xavier work so hard. Xavier battles. He’ll bounce right back.”
Babylon shot 52.9 percent (27-for-51). Shots weren’t dropping as easily for Mattituck, which shot 37.2 percent (16-for-43).
“They came out fast today, faster than us,” Seifert said. He added, “I thought it would be closer, but once they had that big run in the beginning, we tried to chip back at it, but it was tough.”
The future looks bright for Mattituck, though, with its top eight players expected to return next season.
“Everyone coming back, tons of experience, we’re going to be a very good team next year,” Ellwood said.
Reflecting on the season, Ellwood said: “It was tight for us. They worked through pressure games to get here, and this experience is going to help them. They’re going to mature from this. Going into the offseason, we have to be physically stronger. Everyone has something to work on so it’s not the worst thing in the world that we got a little exposed [today] because now we know what we have to work on in the offseason.”
Seifert said: “I see a lot of potential in this team because we’re young. We’re going to have to work in the offseason and get better so when we get to this point next year, we could win this game.”