At the end of Tuesday night’s practice, Mattituck High School boys basketball coach Paul Ellwood had some final business to attend to. He gave the Tuckers’ scorekeeper, senior Dez Whitehurst, a jersey to wear for the team’s final regular-season game the following night.
“I said, ‘This falls in the category of better late than never,’ ” said Ellwood.
Whitehurst, in his third season as the team’s scorekeeper, had never played in a high school game before, but he had his moment in Mattituck’s Senior Night game against Babylon. With 2 minutes, 42 seconds left in the game, Whitehurst, wearing a No. 3 jersey, entered the game to the loudest applause of the night.
“It was just a good feeling,” Mattituck senior Jayden Ford said. “He never touched the court before and he wanted to.”
It was all part of the Senior Night 2019 experience for the Tuckers, who honored nine senior players and six senior cheerleaders before the game.
Mattituck had already secured a playoff berth, but that didn’t mean pressure wasn’t involved in its 70-38 win over Babylon.
“There’s a lot of pressure,” said Ellwood, who for the second time in three years had nine seniors on his squad. “The parents are there. You want it to be special for everyone.”
And players themselves felt pressure with a gym full of eyes on them.
“It was a lot of pressure, to be honest,” Ford said. “Everybody was coming out.”
They saw the Tuckers (11-9, 6-6 Suffolk County League VI) shoot 51.1 percent from the field, 23-for-45, through the first three quarters. Mattituck never trailed, taking leads of 20-7, 36-17 and 57-30 after each of the first three quarters.
“It was a good note to end the [regular] season on,” Mattituck senior Trevor Poole said. “I would say we had a good all-around performance.”
Xavier Allen led the way for Mattituck with 22 points. Poole and Ryan Seifert added 12 points each.
Babylon (3-15, 2-10) was led by Peter Szuchy (12 points) and Luke Lassen (nine).
Three of Mattituck’s seniors — H’Nahdari Joyner, Poole and Seifert — were in the starting lineup. Other seniors were later called off the bench. Matt Sledjeski entered the proceedings when Joyner got into early foul trouble. Nick Perino knocked down a pair of three-pointers late in the second quarter. More seniors came off the bench. Bryce Grathwohl and Tyler Olsen drew applause when they reported to the scorer’s table.
All nine seniors played and seven made it into the scorebook. It was a demonstration of appreciation for Mattituck’s practice players more than anything else.
“I value those guys as much as the guys who put up 20 [points] a game,” Ellwood said. “I haven’t had to motivate these kids at all. It’s just a great group.”
During his pregame remarks to the crowd during the Senior Night ceremony, Ellwood said: “The night is always bittersweet. It gets harder every year.”
Wednesday’s game is the final one Mattituck has played in its gym this season. Although the seeding meeting is Friday and the playoff brackets haven’t been released, Ellwood said the Tuckers will play a Suffolk Class B semifinal at Southampton next week.
“For the last time playing a team game on our home floor, it is a little upsetting, I’m not going to lie,” said Poole, who battled in the paint for nine rebounds.
Following the game, Ellwood called it the second-best Senior Night game he ever coached, rating it behind the 2010 game in which his current assistant coach, Tom Ascher, hit a buzzer-beating three-point shot to beat Port Jefferson.
All in all, Ellwood was happy with how things turned out.
“You want to get everybody in” the game, he said. “You want to win. We got to check all the boxes.”
Photo caption: Posters were hung up in honor of Mattituck’s nine seniors. (Credit: Bob Liepa)