The defending New York State Class D champion Mattituck/Southold girls lacrosse team entered this season with many pieces in place. Among the 17 returning players are 10 with starting experience, so the Tuckers looked to be in a good position to make a run at a second straight state title.
If there was a question about this year’s team, it would have been about how well its defense would come together. Mattituck graduated three defenders.
Well, the Tuckers have laid those concerns to rest. The people playing in front of goalie Claudia Hoeg have been getting the job done. They did so again Thursday when Mattituck stormed to its third straight county championship.
Babylon was held to only one second-half goal as No. 1 seed Mattituck’s tight defense did an admirable job of keeping close tabs on Babylon’s top threats, Emma Ward and Erin MacQuarrie. Following a first half in which they clung to a 3-2 lead, the Tuckers blew the game open in the second half, rolling to a 12-3 win at Farmingdale State College.
Mackenzie Hoeg, who scored four goals and controlled seven draws, said this title is as sweet as the previous two. “Winning never gets old,” she said.
Mattituck (12-5) will take aim at a third straight Long Island crown when it faces Nassau County champion Carle Place (12-2) Saturday at Adelphi University.
The Tuckers weren’t exactly enthralled by their first half, which was more interesting than they would have liked. “I think we played almost as poorly as we could,” said coach Matt Maloney.
Mattituck shot out to a 3-0 lead. Francesca Vasile-Cozzo opened the scoring 3 minutes, 57 seconds into the game. She then assisted on Maddie Schmidt’s strike before Riley Hoeg connected off a feed from Rachel Janis with 11:14 left in the half.
But Ward pulled No. 2 Babylon (8-10) within 3-2 on a pair of goals, a low shot set up by Karlyn Antolini and an unassisted goal with 6:48 to go in the half.
Rebecca Guerra had a chance to even the score, but bounced a free-position shot over Claudia Hoeg and the goal late in the half.
“We had a little sloppy start,” said senior Riley Hoeg (two goals, three assists), who raised her career assist total to 201. “That’s just the nerves. We had to shake it off a little and then we picked it up.”
Mackenzie Hoeg scored twice as Mattituck opened the second half on a 5-0 burst. The last three of those goals by Vasile-Cozzo, Schmidt and Riley Hoeg had the Tuckers leading 8-2 with 15:09 left.
“That was what we were aiming to do,” said Vasile-Cozzo.
When Ward finally scored Babylon’s third goal, it snapped a goalless spell of 19:11 for the Panthers.
That’s a testament to the tenacious Mattituck defense of Lauren Zuhoski, Emily McKillop, Sarah Bihm, Payton Maddaloni and Maggie Bruer, who saw to it that Claudia Hoeg (one save) didn’t have much to do.
Ward had two and sometimes even three people surrounding her when she had the ball. “We needed to pay attention to her,” said Riley Hoeg.
“Limiting shots, touches to their better players was the key,” Maloney said. “Winning draws is one way to do that.”
Mattituck won 12 of 17 draws. “Our mentality coming into the game today was definitely to just, right off the bat, win the draws and work hard,” said Vasile-Cozzo.
Sisters Mackenzie and Riley Hoeg aren’t the only Tuckers who can score. Vasile-Cozzo, Julie Seifert and Schmidt had two goals apiece, with Vasile-Cozzo also notching three assists.
“There was obviously attention to Mac and Riley, and then some other people started to open up and finish,” Maloney said. “We’re a team that it doesn’t matter who finishes, so they shared the ball pretty well.”
Before making its sixth straight playoff appearance, Mattituck posted some big wins: 9-5 over Riverhead, 5-4 over Mount Sinai, 9-7 over Suffern. The Tuckers hope there are more to come.
“We’ve shown a lot of growth through the season,” Maloney said. “So, we maybe weren’t the strongest team in the beginning, but you want to be the strongest team at the end.”
Top photo caption: Mattituck/Southold’s Mackenzie Hoeg (four goals, seven draw controls) is guarded by Babylon’s Rebecca Guerra. (Credit: Daniel De Mato)