A down-to-the-wire, tense one-goal championship victory would be cause for an enthusiastic celebration for most teams.
Not for the Mattituck/Southold girls lacrosse team.
As defending Class D New York State champions, the Tuckers take the field each game with that championship pedigree and an expectation to win. Saturday’s Long Island final against Carle Place at Adelphi University represented a steppingstone for the Tuckers.
So as the girls walked off the field as 9-8 winners, having survived nearly 10 minutes without a goal, they wore business-like expressions on their faces.
“I think if we played our best today we would have been more excited and a little more amped up,” said senior Francesca Vasile-Cozzo. “But also we’re focusing on a lot bigger of a picture — going up and winning states again.”
The Tuckers (13-5) will get that chance now as they advance to the state semfinals at SUNY/Cortland for the third consecutive year. They’ll play Friday morning against Plamyra-Macedon, the winner of a regional final against Eden.
The Tuckers never trailed against the Frogs (12-3), but could never get the separation to put them away. The Tuckers led by four goals at different points in each half, but the Frogs fought back each time.
“I think they did a great job putting the pressure on us,” said Mattituck coach Matt Maloney. “I think they had a good game plan and they competed their butts off against us. I feel like they gave us everything they had.”
It was the third straight year the Tuckers and Frogs met for the Long Island title. The Frogs were better prepared this time around and were focused on slowing down Mattituck’s offense with an effective slide that it made it difficult for the Tuckers to get good looks at times.
“They’re a very aggressive defense and they did a good job sliding and limiting our shot opportunities,” said Mattituck senior Riley Hoeg, who scored two goals with one assist.
In the prior two championship games, the Tuckers outscored the Frogs 31-10.
The Tuckers Saturday were limited to one goal over the final 22:59. Junior Kaitlin Tobin scored to put the Tuckers ahead 8-4 early in the second half. The Tuckers struck for two quick goals to open the second half and it appeared to be the start of a repeat of the county final when Mattituck blew the game open against Babylon.
Instead, the Frogs answered with a pair of goals. Carle Place seventh-grader Paige Selhorn scooped up a ground ball in front of the Mattituck cage and scored to trim the Tuckers’ lead to 8-6 with 10:56 left.
“We didn’t play like ourselves today,” Hoeg said.
Vasile-Cozzo delivered the decisive goal for Mattituck, storming from behind the cage to beat her defender one-one-and and scoring past Carle Place goalkeeper Jen Tumino. The goal put the Tuckers ahead 9-6 with 9:53 left.
“We do a lot of crease work and that’s usually where I hang out,” she said. “I think over the years I’ve gotten pretty good at reading my defender.”
As she saw the play develop, she knew she needed to attack.
“I had to finish it,” she said.
Vasile-Cozzo was active all over the field. She picked off a pass and caused a turnover with eight minutes left after the Frogs had closed within two goals. The teams ended up trading a few turnovers in the final 5 1/2 minutes before Carle Place junior Emiline Biggin scored. Her goal made it a one-possession game with 2:50 left. It was the first time the Frogs had gotten to within one goal since early in the first half.
“It was pretty stressful,” said senior defender Lauren Zuhoski. “I knew we could pull through. I knew we could come out with the win.”
The Tuckers won the all-important draw and maintained possession the remainder of the game to seal the victory.
“Going to states for third time we need to keep this mindset that we’re reigning champs and we need to keep our heads up high and play how we know,” Zuhoski said.
The Tuckers had a balanced attack on offense as a different player scored each of the six first-half goals. Vasile-Cozzo was the only other Mattituck player with multiple goals besides Hoeg. She finished with two goals and an assist.
“It was cool that our offense was so spread out to start,” Maloney said.
The immediate end of the game came with more of a sense of relief for the Tuckers than anything. But as the moment began to sink in, and the players posed for photos with the championship plaque, the smiles began to emerge.
“We’re really excited,” Hoeg said. “We just have to stay focused on what’s in front of us.”
Top photo caption: Mackenzie Hoeg on the attack. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)