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Girls Lacrosse: Mattituck-ESM game has playoff feel

It could have been mistaken for a playoff game, if not for the biting wind and cold or the fact that these two high school girls lacrosse teams will not meet in the playoffs, being in two separate classes.

The level of play, however, was playoff caliber, and that had to warm the hearts of both coaches, Mattituck/Southold’s Matt Maloney and Eastport-South Manor’s Becky Thorn, on this raw Tuesday morning.

Both teams brought impressive credentials into the Suffolk County Division II game, Mattituck having reached the New York State Class C final four last year (this year the Tuckers are a Class D team) and Eastport being the defending Suffolk Class B champion.

Not surprisingly, the game came down to one possession.

Eastport midfielder Kasey Choma slammed down a shot off a high pass from Lluna Katz to snap an 8-8 tie with 3 minutes, 30 seconds left to play. After Mattituck secured possession on the ensuing draw, the Tuckers called timeout to plot their strategy for the final minutes. “We were waiting for like the last 30 seconds, maybe a little bit more, just to go at it,” said Mattituck attack Francesca Vasile-Cozzo.

After Mattituck worked the ball around to kill some clock, Riley Hoeg’s intended pass for her cutting sister, Mackenzie Hoeg, was deflected in front of the Eastport goal. Eastport’s Ellie Masera scooped the ball up with about 30 seconds left and the Sharks ran out the remaining time for what has to be regarded as a quality 9-8 win.

“It’s a tricky situation,” Maloney said. “I think at that point, the last couple of possessions they had come down offensively and scored … so we thought that we would kill a little clock, get it down to about two minutes, a minute and a half and go from there, try to execute the play that we wanted to get. That got broken up, which usually happens against good defenses, and then the kids kind of have to adapt and have to adjust, and they did. I think we were about to get a good shot opportunity, it looked like, on that pass, and the girl got her stick in the passing lane.”

Despite losing, the Tuckers (2-1, 1-1) couldn’t feel too bad, considering how well they played.

“They’re the best kind of games,” said midfielder Jane DiGregorio, who scored four Mattituck goals within a span of 10:35 in the second half. “I mean, the game where you blow a team out or get blown out is not going to help us prepare for states … These games really help us prepare and they help us learn a lot about ourselves, which is good.”

Maloney wouldn’t argue that point.

“That’s why we like the [challenging] schedule this year,” he said. “It’s good for us, to prepare us. Everyone always says take it one game at a time, but in the back of your mind, you’re thinking about the playoffs, you’re thinking about the teams that we lost to last year, and you always try to be better than them, and I think games like this, the schedule this year, really helps us prepare for down the road.”

Thorn said the Eastport players had removed snow from the field the day before (and enjoyed a snowball fight in the process) to make sure the game would be played. Both sides were glad it was.

Mattituck fell behind by two goals on three occasions, yet fought back. Strikes by DiGregorio, DiGregorio again, Mackenzie Hoeg and DiGregorio gave Mattituck its first lead at 7-6 with 11:25 left in the game.

After Katz equalized for Eastport (2-0, 2-0), DiGregorio put away a free-position shot for an 8-7 Mattituck edge with 8:25 to go.

That was Mattituck’s last lead, though. Hope Steuerwald’s goal off a feed from Hannah Kenneally evened terms at 8-8, setting up Choma’s go-ahead goal.

Katz had two goals and two assists while Eastport received two goals apiece from Masera, Choma and Steuerwald. Jaime Biskup also scored for the Sharks, who received five saves from Katie Vahle.

The Sharks, like the Tuckers, are dogged defenders. “They always have their sticks in their lanes,” said Vasile-Cozzo (two goals, three assists). Yet, Mackenzie Hoeg managed two goals, Riley Hoeg assisted twice and Chelsea Marlborough had an assist for Mattituck.

“I said to my group, they really didn’t have anything to hang their heads about,” Maloney said. “They really came out and performed really well and rose to the occasion, even when some things weren’t going our way.”

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Photo caption: Jane DiGregorio, who scored four goals for Mattituck/Southold within a span of 10 minutes, 35 seconds in the second half, is pursued by Eastport-South Manor’s Alexandra Giacolone. (Credit: Bob Liepa)