Slowly, but surely, this Mattituck High School girls basketball team is forging an identity for itself.
The Tuckers have become a hard-hosed defensive side that makes the opposition work for its points while turning turnovers into key baskets.
Just ask Babylon, which entered Monday night’s Suffolk County League VI encounter undefeated in four league games while outscoring its foes by an impressive 16.5-point margin.
The Tuckers, however, were not impressed as they went out and upset the Panthers with a stunning 53-26 home triumph.
“It’s a big rivalry with Babylon and the girls were amped up,” coach Steve Van Dood said. “We knew this could have playoff and league implications. So we said, ‘Girls, we’ve got to win this one at home. This is a game we must win at home because it’s tough winning at Babylon.’ I thought the girls rose to the occasion.”
And then some.
“We’ve been hearing things about them being 4-0 so we knew we had to put a little bit extra spirit into playing tonight,” said senior guard-forward Jaden Thompson, who scored all of her 10 points during the third quarter while producing five steals. “We’ve been getting better and better each game. So, we used our passion and our fire to put it together.”
So many things went right for the Tuckers (4-2, 2-0), who deployed several defenses and presses to coax the Panthers (4-3, 4-1) into 27 turnovers, including 17 in the opening half.
That defensive pressure also forced Babylon into a cold shooting night as its converted only 21.3 percent of its shots (10 of 47) and sank 3 of 14 foul shots.
“When the other team turns it over, it definitely helps to shift the momentum, especially for us,” said junior guard Mackenzie Hoeg, who led Mattituck with 14 points while adding three steals. “We work on it all the time in practice — press really hard, get the ball, score and repeat.”
Which the Tuckers did plenty of times. In fact, their first steal gave them a lead they would never relinquish as Hoeg converted that into a 6-4 lead with 3 minutes and 34 seconds remaining in the opening quarter. No one would have guessed Mattituck would outscore the Panthers, 16-4, to grab a 20-8 halftime lead.
“The defense was great tonight,” Van Dood said. “We were able to stymie them, getting them to play east-west instead of north-south. That was our game plan.”
When Babylon solved one of Mattituck’s presses, the hosts deployed another version.
“We changed up a couple of presses and we did them at the right time,” Van Dood said. “They were able to break one, we put another one on them and they had to figure that one out, a 1-3-1. We went a diamond-and-one, we did a 2-2-1. It seemed to work out well for us.”
The Tuckers had a quick answer for the Panthers when they connected for seven consecutive points to whittle the lead to 24-15 with 4:51 left in the third quarter: Thompson.
After a timeout, Thompson sank back-to-back three-point shots within a 32-second span to give Mattituck some breathing room at 30-15 with 3:21 left in the period.
“Especially when we started turning it over a little bit, we definitely needed that,” Hoeg said. “We needed somebody to shift the momentum again and say we’re still in this game and to get the lead to where it was.”
Thompson credited her teammates.
“I knew we couldn’t get too comfortable because things like that could happen, leads can come down to two or tied,” she said. “I knew I had time to take it because our girls were shifting the ball enough that I had enough time to take the shot.”
Hoeg spread out her 14 points over the four quarters as she has become a team leader.
“She doesn’t turn the ball over,” Van Dood said. “She’s got good control. She knows when to pull it back, she knows when to push it forward. She’s gotten better every game. She listens a lot. She’s a smart kid and she takes everything into consideration. She’s unselfish and shares the ball when she has the ball and she gives a lot of defense. She’s a motor, she’s back and forth, always a hand in the face … Her patience and maturity on the court is huge. It’s uncanny for an 11th-grader.”
Van Dood also was pleased because so many contributed, which included forward Julie Seifert (five points, 11 rebounds, three steals), guard Sarah Santacroce (nine points, six rebounds, three steals) and guard-forward Alexi Burns (seven points off the bench). In fact, he emptied his bench as 12 players got playing time and eight found their way onto the scoresheet.
“I told them at the end of the game, ‘If you would have told me that we would have had everybody in this game and have all these girls contributing the way we did, I would have said that wouldn’t have happened,’ ” Van Dood said. “But it just goes to show that on any given night any girl off the bench can come in and contribute.”
Photo caption: Mattituck’s Julie Seifert and Babylon’s Karlyn Antolini both get their hands on the ball. (Credit: Garret Meade)