Boys lacrosse: Tuckers are county champs

The Mattituck/Greenport/Southold boys lacrosse team could not have played much better in the Suffolk County Class D championship game Thursday.

After a slow start, the Tuckers ran on all cylinders, playing their best game of the season, a dominating 12-5 win over Babylon at the Lincoln Avenue Sports Complex in Mastic.

They scored key goals, won the loose ball battles, played smart defense and when all else failed, sophomore goalie Andrew McKenzie picked up the team with vital saves.

“We played a really complete game today,” said McKenzie, who garnered nine saves. “We didn’t have many turnovers. Our offense played really well, and our defense played really well.”

“It’s pretty awesome,” said junior midfielder Alex Clark, who finished with a hat trick. “It’s crazy because it could have been the end of our season today, but we did our best to keep going.”

The Tuckers (7-10) will take on the yet-to-be determined Nassau County champ for the Long Island title at Stony Brook University on Saturday, June 3 at 12:30 p.m.

The victory kicked off one of the most memorable and remarkable days in Tuckers’ lacrosse history as the girls team followed the boys lead with a 12-6 win over Babylon to secure the Class D title in the second game of the doubleheader at the same venue.

“That’d be great for both girls and boys to come home with county championships,” senior co-captain Sean Lawson said prior to the girls match. “That’d be great for our school and community.”

Lawson got his wish, after he led the Tuckers with three goals and one assist. Seniors Erik McKenna (one assist) and Marc Zappulla contributed two goals apiece. Senior Lex Horton and sophomore Justin Fox each tallied a goal and sophomore Shane Psaltis added two assists.

“They just rose to the occasion, played together and believed in each other, believed in themselves,” head coach John Amato said — minutes after getting soaked by his players with a Gatorade bath. “They just went for it. Fearless.”

Lawson, who entered the match with 14 goals, helped set the pace early. After Ben Dellafranca gave the Panthers (6-10) the lead two minutes into the game, Lawson set up Clark’s first goal at 4:03. Cole Conboy then lifted Babylon to a 2-1 advantage at 5:02, but Lawson answered again with an unassisted tally, beating goalie Patrick Costa for a 2-2 tie at 6:23. He added his third score with a brilliant run up the left flank at 1:52 of the third quarter.

“Sean has been just getting better and better as the season goes along,” Amato said. “He’s worked himself to be one of our better offensive players. Just his confidence with the ball. He is our fearless leader.”

A key for the Tuckers was their ability to turn ground balls into goals.

Trevor Zappulla (two assists) scooped up a ball that led to Fox’s goal, which gave the Tuckers a 3-2 lead with 2:17 remaining in the first quarter, and they never looked back. Marco Calise’s ground ball scoop led to Clark’s goal at 4:49 of the second period, giving the team a 5-2 halftime advantage.

“Ground balls win games,” Zappulla said. “It’s just hustle. Those plays change the pathway in games.”

Defensemen Gavin Richards, Dylan Cifarelli and Calise made Babylon work hard for its shots. When they got through, McKenzie came up big.

“He was pretty stout today,” Amato said. “He played on his head at times. He made saves when we needed him to.”

Added Lawson: “Huge respect to Andrew because it’s hard for a sophomore playing against all these guys. He won the game for us.”

It was an emotional game for Lawson, who remembered his late teammate, Ryan Oliver, who passed away in January 2021 at age 16.

“I just want to be the best teammate possible,” he said. “I want to say thank you my teammate Ryan Oliver. I just wanted to dedicate the game to him.”

The game culminated an emotional and memorable week for Trevor Zappulla, who became a double county champion after winning the Class D crown in the 800-meter run at the Suffolk track championship.

“Probably the best experience in my high school career,” he said. “The high school championship is the best experience I’ve had in sports.”

Now Zappulla and his teammates will have an opportunity to surpass that accomplishment — and make some more history.