The Mattituck High School girls basketball players have a way of getting pumped up for games. They huddle up and chant.
“It’s called, ‘Sink Your Teeth, Draw Blood,’ ” senior forward Julie Seifert said. “It’s a little aggressive, but we all chant it.”
Not that the Tuckers really needed added motivation Thursday night in their final regular-season game. A share of the Suffolk County League VI championship was at stake — not to mention a chance for a bite of revenge in their biggest game of the season to this point.
Mattituck had a seven-game winning streak going until a nine-point loss to Pierson/Bridgehampton/Shelter Island on Jan. 14. The Tuckers had been anticipating the rematch.
“Even though we go game by game, this is the one we’ve been looking forward to,” said coach Steve Van Dood.
That loss to Pierson in January was the sole league loss on Mattituck’s record entering Thursday night’s game at Pierson High School. Pierson had already clinched a share of its sixth league title since 1980 and needed a win to claim the title outright. A Mattituck win would have made the teams co-champions.
Sharing wasn’t in Pierson’s plans, though.
Pierson used an 18-0 second-half run to pave the way to a 38-32 triumph — its 17th in a row — and sole possession of first place, just the way the Whalers wanted it.
In a game played with playoff intensity, Pierson (17-3, 16-0) turned things around in a big way. After a first half in which the Whalers shot 4-for-22 from the field and trailed by as many as 11 points, they recovered with a forceful response in the second half. Katie Kneeland scored eight of her 15 points during that 18-0 explosion, which started early in the third quarter and ended less than three minutes into the fourth with Pierson ahead, 35-26.
Pierson shot 9-for-19 in the second half.
By the time Mattituck’s Rachel Janis put an end to the run by banking in a shot off the glass with 3 minutes, 19 seconds left in the fourth quarter, it was really too late.
A deafening roar was followed after Pierson’s Celia Barranco converted a layup while being fouled, making it 37-28 with 2:29 left. Mattituck’s Jaden Thompson fouled out on the play.
A Mackenzie Hoeg layup had pulled Mattituck (16-4, 14-2) to within 37-30, but the only points after that came from a Chastin Giles free throw for Pierson and a Seifert bucket in the final moments.
Pierson proved to be too much for Mattituck, with Giles’ expert ballhandling, Barranco’s strong post play and the performance of Kneeland, who Pierson coach Kevin Barron called one of the most dominant players in school history. Barranco had 12 points, six rebounds, three blocks and a steal.
Seifert turned in a strong game, with 11 points, 11 rebounds, three assists, three steals and one block. Hoeg added eight points.
The result snapped a seven-game win streak for Mattituck, which was seeking its fourth straight league crown and eighth overall.
“They know what’s at hand,” Van Dood said before the game.
As Van Dood saw it, the pressure was on Pierson on its Senior Night, an emotional occasion in which the team’s nine seniors were honored. “The bull’s-eye’s off our back and now it’s on them,” he said.
Mattituck showed its intensity from the start, blocking Pierson’s first two shots. Pierson opened the game in a 1-for-12 shooting funk.
Meanwhile, the Tuckers snapped a 4-4 tie with a putback by Seifert, two free throws by Thompson, a drive by Hoeg and a step-back jumper by Janis.
Mattituck went on another 8-0 burst in the second quarter through a Seifert layup, a Hoeg steal and runner, a Seifert putback and a pair of Dominique Crews foul shots for a 21-10 lead. Kneeland downed a three-pointer to cut Mattituck’s lead to 21-13 by halftime.
Mattituck had junior guard Sarah Santacroce available. Santacroce was struck on her nose in the second quarter of Mattituck’s 49-13 win over Hampton Bays Tuesday. She received medical clearance Wednesday and came off the bench Thursday.
The Tuckers faced a tough opponent in Pierson. The Whalers had lost their first three games of the season to Westhampton Beach, Sayville and Harborfields — all on the road — before embarking on a massive string of 17 successive wins.
The game drew a good deal of media interest, with at least four news organizations covering the contest.
Bigger things lie ahead for both teams in the playoffs. Class B Mattituck and Class C Pierson could meet yet a third time in the Suffolk Class BCD final. The seeding meeting is scheduled for Friday.
“I love the playoffs,” Van Dood said. “It’s my favorite time of the year.”
Photo caption: Mattituck coach Steve Van Dood speaks with Julie Seifert and Rachel Janis (15) during a break in Thursday’s game. (Credit: Bob Liepa)