Tuckers lose in LI final to cap a comeback season

A somber Mattituck/Greenport/Southold boys lacrosse team slowly walked off the Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium field at Stony Brook University Saturday afternoon.

The Tuckers had just been defeated by Cold Spring Harbor 8-2 in the Long Island Championship game. Yet they held their heads high after achieving their goal of advancing deep into the tournament and taking home the Suffolk County crown.

“I’m not even upset about the way we played and the outcome because we made it this far,” senior co-captain Sean Lawson said. “We had doubters. We proved them all wrong. We made it this far. I couldn’t be any prouder of my team.”

The postseason for both Tuckers’ lacrosse programs had an unusual symmetry this year. The boys and girls teams defeated their respective Babylon H.S. opponents to win Suffolk County crowns before losing to Cold Spring Harbor in the LI championship games.

The Seahawks (12-6) demonstrated why they are the favorites to repeat as New York state champions with another overwhelming performance, dominating both sides of the ball while winning their fifth consecutive game.

“They’re good players, but they play as a team,” senior co-captain and midfielder Marc Zappulla said. “They don’t solely rely on No. 21 [CJ Reilly]. So that’s a good thing. And it’s both hands to the field. They’ve got a lot going on.”

With the Seahawks coming off a 14-1 victory over Friends Academy in the Nassau County Class D final, the Tuckers (6-11) realized they were going to have their hands full.

“We knew they were going to be very good, but I know the heart and the hard workers that we have, the grittiness,” head coach John Amato said. “That’s why I wasn’t nervous about today’s game because I knew that they would fight till the very end. We put some pressure on them. We made them earn it. It wasn’t the result we wanted. But we fought to the very end, and that’s all we could ask for. I couldn’t be more proud to be the Mattituck lacrosse coach.”

The Tuckers did a fine job of holding Reilly, CSH’s points leader (21 goals, 20 assists) to a single assist. But he had a dangerous supporting cast. Eighth grader Roy Testa, who tallied the first and last goals for CSH, and Hayden Calabretta scored two goals apiece. Matt Donaldson, Reagan Reilly, Brady McKean and Alex Bauer also added goals.

Lawson and Lex Horton — with 36 seconds left — found the net for the Tuckers.

The Seahawks were on the front foot from the opening faceoff, holding possession for 7:14 to start the half. Some tough defense by the Tuckers forced a handful of wide shots. On CSH’s sixth shot, Testa connected from the left side. Donaldson and Reagan Reilly each added goals as the Seahawks boosted their advantage to 3-0 by the end of the first quarter.

The Tuckers Sophomore goalie, Andrew McKenzie, who produced another outstanding performance, made four saves during that opening sequence to keep the game scoreless.

“In big moments he steps up,” Amato said of McKenzie. “I’m not surprised at all about the way he performed today because he’s been doing it all season long. He’s only a sophomore, which is exciting for the future.”

While defenses often don’t get enough credit in lacrosse, the Seahawks used their quickness to close down the Tuckers and double-teamed players to force turnovers.

“They were sliding early because they knew they would be able to recover fast enough,” Zappulla said. “Not a lot of weaknesses on their defense.”

Lawson snapped the shutout with a sidewinding shot from 20 yards past goalie Carsen Kirchner (six saves) to cut the deficit to 5-1 with 2:19 remaining in the third quarter.

“We had a rough season, losing games by one, two goals or three goals,” Lawson said. “We made it this far, so that’s all that matters. This is what we worked for the whole season. I could not be prouder of my teammates.”

Amato was encouraged by the way his team has grown since the Tuckers overcame an emotionally draining 2021 season, in which their lacrosse teammate Ryan Oliver died suddenly and the team won only once.

“We lost a friend that we loved,” Amato said. “We’re very close. He would have been a senior. I feel like that year was really hard to deal without him. We only won one game and it was a long, long season. We came back the next year and started to build and responded. We finally got to where we wanted Mattituck lacrosse to be. It was because of our seniors’ dedication, passion, hard work and leadership that embodied the last three years. That really got us to this moment.”