The question was, was there a question? Was there a question as to whether or not Mackenzie Hoeg would play Wednesday?
Actually, there was.
Hoeg had rolled her left ankle in the Mattituck High School girls basketball team’s previous game five days earlier. “I went up for a rebound and landed on it wrong, but I’m all better now,” said the 5-9 junior point guard.
Playing with a heavily-wrapped ankle, Hoeg did her part, but it wasn’t enough for Mattituck against Pierson/Bridgehampton/Shelter Island in the Suffolk County Class BCD game at Centereach High School. Katie Kneeland scored her 1,000th career point and had 19 on the night as Pierson held off Mattituck’s second-half charge to prevail, 46-41.
Hoeg was Mattituck’s “sixth man” last season, but with the Tuckers having graduated all five of their starters from that team, her role changed. That meant more playing time for her and more leadership from her.
That leadership showed by her presence and play on the court.
“She played with a lot of heart, she really did,” Mattituck coach Steve Van Dood said. “You know Hoeg. She’s a warrior. She’s a fighter and she came out ready to go. So, she was ready and she did some good stuff tonight. She got to the rim. She distributed the ball; she didn’t turn it over. She played really good defense. I thought she had a great game tonight.”
Hoeg finished with a team-leading 14 points, not to mention seven assists, five rebounds and three steals. Perhaps more importantly for Mattituck, she said her ankle felt “fine” while out on the court. “While you’re playing you don’t even think about it,” she said.
That’s good news for the Tuckers because they will need her when Mattituck plays Carle Place or Cold Spring Harbor in the Long Island Class B final March 6 at Farmingdale State College. Hoeg has been a valuable piece for Mattituck, averaging over 10 points a game and running the offense.
Senior forward Julie Seifert called Hoeg “a little bit of a mastermind.” Seifert said,“Everything goes through her.”
But not even Hoeg’s efforts were enough to overcome League VI champion Pierson (19-3), which defeated Mattituck (17-5) for the third time in as many meetings this season. The margins of those games, in order, were nine, six and five points. “Closer and closer,” said Van Dood.
The Whalers, winners of 19 straight, had uneasy moments when Mattituck ran off a string of 13 consecutive points to pull ahead, 34-33, in the third quarter. Pierson coach Kevin Barron told a reporter it was the worst third quarter his team had played this season.
“All it takes is one play to get the momentum going your way,” Hoeg said. “Every possession matters.”
Jaden Thompson stuck a three-point shot for a 39-37 Mattituck edge early in the fourth quarter. It was Mattituck’s last lead. Celia Barranco (nine points) made a layup and Chastin Giles (14 points, six rebounds, five rebounds, five assists) banged in a three for a 42-39 Pierson advantage.
An extreme-angle bank shot by Sarah Santacroce pulled Mattituck to within one, but Pierson closed out the win with baskets by Giles and Kneeland.
Kneeland needed five points to become the third Pierson girl to reach the 1,000-point mark. She achieved that with 32.7 seconds left in the first quarter when she made the first of two free throws. The game was stopped while Pierson athletic director Eric Bramoff presented Kneeland with a commemorative basketball. Then the Whalers posed for a team photo, with the beaming Kneeland in the middle.
“She’s very versatile,” said Barron, who called Kneeland one of the best players he has ever coached. “She can beat you from the outside, the three-point shot, and she can score from the inside. She’s a tough player to stop.”
Pierson will play Mount Sinai (20-3) in the Suffolk small schools final Friday at Walt Whitman High School.
Asked if she was worried that Hoeg might not be able to play Wednesday, Seifert (12 points, 12 rebounds) answered, “A little bit in the back of my mind, but Mackenzie is one of the toughest players I’ve ever met in my life.”
Van Dood said Hoeg is “steady Eddie. You can count on her every night. She’s going to get her eight points. She’s going to play good defense. She seldom takes a bad shot.”
And it takes a lot to keep her off the court.
Photo caption: Mattituck’s Makenzie Hoeg (14 points) hoists a shot over Pierson/Bridgehampton/Shelter Island’s Carly Browngardt. (Credit: Bill Landon)