In the tradition of championship lacrosse teams, the Mattituck Tuckers raced onto the Hofstra Stadium field to mob, hug and congratulate their goalie, Shaun Howell, after securing the Long Island Class D boys title Saturday morning.
That postgame celebration might have extra meaning after Howell’s outstanding performance. The senior goalie made 12 saves, some of them vital stops, to kill off any momentum Oyster Bay attempted to build in the Tuckers’ 10-4 victory.
The Tuckers received a plaque for their historic achievement and trophy case — their first LI boys lacrosse crown. Though officials did not hand out an MVP award, Howell might have won hands down because his kept his hands up behind some head’s-up play.
“Shaun was killing their momentum, but he’s done that all season,” said sophomore attack Dane Reda, who, along with sophomore attack Ethan Schmidt, registered a hat trick. “Today wasn’t anything special for him, except it was just a big day, a big game.”
It certainly turned into a special day for Mattituck (12-6), which secured another first only four days after winning its first Suffolk County championship.
“I’m pretty ecstatic right now,” Reda said. “That’s a big win. We haven’t ever done that in program history and coming off winning the county championship. That’s a big momentum swing, too.”
Indeed, it was.
“It’s unreal,” said coach John Amato, who was ceremoniously dumped with water by his players for the second time this week. “I’m so proud of these guys. All the work throughout the year, starting in January and to see it pay off, it’s rewarding. You see it in the kids’ eyes. It’s special.”
Howell, a senior, produced some of the most special moments for Mattituck. It seemed that every time the Baymen (4-12), the Nassau County champion, tried to make a run to get back in the game, Howell produced a key save.
With the Tuckers enjoying a 5-2 advantage, Howell denied Luke Puccio with seven minutes and 20 seconds remaining in the second quarter. Only 20 seconds later, Schmidt, off a Ryan Hermann (two goals, two assists) feed, gave Mattituck a four-goal lead. After Puccio’s goal with 5:45 left in the period closed the gap to 6-3, Howell stopped Patrick Wygand with 1:54 remaining before halftime.
“He’s been great all season,” Amato said. “In the big moments, he just steps up that much more. He never shies down from the big moments.”
Howell? He just followed the basics.
“I was just seeing the ball,” he said. “I just remember what I was taught earlier, just keep my eye on the head of the stick. That’s where the ball comes out and it has helped me out a lot.”
The turning point came in the opening period. With Mattituck leading 2-0 on goals by Schmidt and Reda, the Tuckers found themselves in a man-down situation for three minutes after Max Kruszeski was ruled to have an illegal stick with 8:30 remaining. The penalty was non-releasable so the Baymen enjoyed a three-minute power play.
Some 28 seconds in, Bradley Beck sliced the lead in half at 2-1.
Mattituck managed got possession and took valuable time off the clock.
“You have to stop the runs in championship lacrosse,” Amato said. “Our kill in the beginning was phenomenal. It really showed that the defense was dialed in. We put ourselves in that situation and we got ourselves out.”
And then some.
As an added bonus, junior midfield Greg Hauser scored a short-handed goal with 6:06 for a 3-1 margin, helping the Tuckers break even during the three-minute penalty.
“Ryan Hermann did great … outran them and dumped it to me right in the crease,” Hauser said.
“It’s a huge momentum boost for us,” Howell said.
The Tuckers will play Pleasantville (19-1) in the state semifinals at the University at Albany Wednesday at 4 p.m. The Panthers registered a 21-5 win over Schuylerville Saturday.
“Pleasantville’s a very good team,” Amato said. “They’re having a great season. If we just play our best ball, I think we have an opportunity.”
Just another opportunity to make some more Mattituck history.
Photo caption: The Long Island champion Tuckers. (Credit: Bill Landon)