It could be said that Center Moriches stole the Suffolk County Class B boys basketball championship.
Not that the Red Devils didn’t earn every bit of their 88-66 defeat of Mattituck Saturday, from every single one of Micah Snowden’s 34 points to every one of the 19 steals Center Moriches made to every one of the 28 turnovers it forced Mattituck into committing.
It was pilfery at its best.
Center Moriches has a way of leading opponents into believing a player is open to receive a pass — only to see a Red Devils player sweep into the passing lane, pick off the ball and race to the other basket. It’s like a mirage.
“Guys look open,” Mattituck coach Paul Ellwood said after the game at William Floyd High School’s John Pidgeon Gymnasium.
But they’re really not.
Mattituck fell victim to it time and time again.
“That’s why they’re so good,” Mattituck senior Ryan Seifert said. “They’re quick, they’re big, they’re long. They deceive.”
Top-seeded Center Moriches (16-5) used its high-pressure, in-your-face defense to wear No. 3 Mattituck (12-10) down. Snowden scored 11 points in the third quarter when the relentless Red Devils outscored Mattituck, 29-14, for a 75-48 cushion entering the fourth quarter.
“We’re built off of defense and a simple recipe that these guys play off is they give all their energy on defense and I give them all the freedom on offense,” said Center Moriches coach Nick Thomas.
Halfway through the third quarter, the Tuckers had exhausted all of their timeouts.
Center Moriches has a way of sapping teams’ strength.
“It is exhausting,” said Ellwood, who called this Center Moriches team one of the best, if not the best, teams he has ever coached against. “They keep rolling out guys. You take away the inside, they bring out their shooters. You go out to their shooters, they bring in their big guys. They have depth at every position. I want to see a team that’s going to beat them in our class.”
Trevor Poole, who had 14 points for Mattituck, said: “It seemed like a game of stamina. I would say that was a big part of it.”
Center Moriches handled Mattituck in similar fashion during the regular season with 80-52 and 90-51 wins last month, so the Tuckers knew what they were in for.
But Mattituck could find encouragement in a first quarter in which it took the lead five times before trailing, 21-19, entering the second quarter.
“That start of that second quarter I was feeling pretty good,” Ellwood said. “I was like, ‘We might be able to go with these guys for a while.’ ”
From there, though, it started slipping away. Center Moriches led at halftime, 46-34, before turning up the heat in the second half.
“Snowden was too much for us,” Ellwood said. “Our guys were trying hard and he made it look like it was very easy.”
Center Moriches romped with one of its top players, 6-6 senior Sean Braithwaite Jr., picking up three fouls in the first quarter and seeing limited playing time because of foul trouble. He had five points.
But that was OK because Snowden, a 6-5 senior, and 6-4 senior David Falco Jr. (17 points, eight rebounds, six assists, three steals, one block) were extraordinarily productive. Edmond Frazier (seven points, 10 rebounds, five assists, four steals) helped, too.
“We’ve had some good teams over the years … but they’re certainly one of my strongest,” said Thomas, in his eighth year as Center Moriches’ coach. “Talent-wise, they’re certainly the most talented.”
Center Moriches is ranked 12th in the state in Class B by the New York State Sportswriters Association.
Xavier Allen supplied Mattituck with 23 points, Jayden Ford had 11 and Seifert had eight to go with five assists.
It was Center Moriches’ 17th county title. Mattituck was seeking its first county crown since 2011.
Center Moriches advances to play Bridgehampton (13-8) in the Suffolk Class BCD game Tuesday at William Floyd. The Red Devils will also play in the Long Island Class B final March 6 at Farmingdale State College.
It was around this time last year, after Mattituck’s playoff loss to Babylon, when Ellwood had his players write out goals for the 2018-19 season. One of those stated goals was to reach the county final, and they did. No one — not even Center Moriches — can steal that away from them.
Photo caption: Mattituck coach Paul Ellwood and his players try to figure out a way to solve Center Moriches’ high-pressure defense. (Credit: Bob Liepa)