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Girls Basketball: Last-second shot sinks Tuckers in opener

It was anything but an example of offensive artistry. The shooting, for the most part, wasn’t much to look at. Points were hard to come by — really hard.

Yet, the non-league season-opener between the West Islip and Mattituck high school girls basketball teams was intriguing, dramatic and exciting, nonetheless.

For all of the shooting misfires, baskets by each side in the final two seconds brought a wild ending to last Wednesday night’s game at Mattituck High School. With overtime looking like a virtual certainty, Alexandra Gagliardi scored on a close-range shot at the buzzer off a long inbounds pass to lift West Islip to a 19-17 triumph.

And, yes, that score is correct.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a lower-scoring game than that,” said Mattituck guard Emily Nicholson.

Mattituck, which never led, evened the score at 17-17 when Sarah Santacroce swished in a shot from just inside the three-point arc with 2.0 seconds left. Santacroce said, “I just thought, ‘I can’t believe I did that.’ ”

Mattituck’s Mackenzie Hoeg knew the game wasn’t over, though. “After Sarah scoring, it was definitely exciting, but I also knew that there was still time in the game and anything can happen,” she said.

West Islip’s Jenna Vallinoto attempted an inbounds pass that Hoeg deflected out of bounds, taking 2/10ths of a second off the clock.

Following a timeout, Vallinoto inbounded again, this time from left sideline near the endline. She pushed a high-arcing pass to the other side of the rim, where Gagliardi caught it and put it up for the winner.

Game over.

“I don’t have words,” Santacroce said. “I mean, kudos, kudos, that’s what I have to say. It caught us by surprise, for sure.”

What a way to usher in a new season.

New-look Mattituck has made a number of changes. The Tuckers started Hoeg and Santacroce along with Halle Foster, Julie Kosmynka and Nicholson, a trio who made their first career varsity starts. Foster, Kosmynka, Aaliyah Shorter and Aniah Thompson made their varsity debuts. Mattituck coach Steve Van Dood said Shorter was called up to the varsity team literally two hours before the game.

Kosmynka’s game lasted only 125 seconds before she took a terrible fall while trying to block a shot and fouling a shooter. She appeared to have injured her left knee.

“We don’t have a definitive answer yet, but it looks like she took a hard fall,” Van Dood said. “She was in some pain, so we’re going to be praying for her and the girls all have their hopes that she’s going to be better and back with us soon.”

The tone of the game was set early, with the teams missing one shot after another. West Islip held a 6-1 lead after one quarter.

A Thompson free throw stood as Mattituck’s only point for 13::44 before Hoeg snapped Mattituck’s game-opening 0-for-15 shooting slump. At the half, the score was 8-3, more like a middle school score. Mattituck shot 1-for-18 from the field while West Islip wasn’t much better at 3-for-19.

For the game, West Islip shot 19% to Mattituck’s 21%.

“It was insane,” Santacroce said. “We just kept the pressure on and kept it low scoring, and their defense was phenomenal as well.”

The team statistics were remarkably close, with the sides within one of each other in rebounds, steals and turnovers, and even in assists.

Asked what the Tuckers need to work on, Hoeg, who led Mattituck with eight points on 4-for-11 shooting, answered: “I think we need to improve in everything. I mean, I think every good team, or any team in general, can always improve.”

What did she learn about her team?

“I definitely learned that we won’t give up on ourselves and each other and we definitely always have each other’s back,” she said.

Foster came down with nine rebounds.

Nicole Vallinoto had seven points, 11 rebounds, five steals, one assist and a block for West Islip. Isabelle Romano added six points and 10 rebounds and Gagliardi five points and seven rebounds.

Nicholson said she was proud of how Class C Mattituck battled with West Islip, a Class AA playoff team last season. “We play with heart,” she said. “We give it all that we can. We leave it all out on the court.”

Van Dood was encouraged by the defense.

“I liked the way our press worked and I liked the way our girls moved and hustled,” he said. “We played with heart. You can’t teach that. They got to care and they got to want to do that, and they did.”

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Photo caption: Mattituck’s Mackenzie Hoeg (eight points) tries to dribble past West Islip’s Nicole Vallinoto in the low-scoring season-opener for both teams. (Credit: Daniel De Mato)