After winning county crown, Tuckers fall in Long Island final

Moments after Tuesday night’s final buzzer, the Mattituck girls team was summoned to the middle of the St. Joseph’s University basketball court to be presented with a trophy.

Only it wasn’t the one the Tuckers had strived for.

A wooden plaque shaped in the form of Long Island read: Long Island Girls Basketball Class B finalists 2023-24.

Mattituck’s memorable season came to an end as the squad dropped a 55-32 decision to Carle Place in the LI championship game in Patchogue.

Still, the Tuckers walked off the court with their heads held high despite having their six-game winning streak snapped.

“Nobody pegged us to win anything this year,” head coach Steve Van Dood said. “Nobody predicted us to win the county. It was one of the years that was satisfying because the kids put in the work. I told the kids they are playing with house money now. So, it’s okay if we don’t win it. We got the county. We did some good things.”

Mattituck (15-8) just wasn’t good enough against Carle Place (16-6), which features the Nassau County girls scoring champion, senior guard Caitlin Leary. She bedeviled the Tuckers with a game-high 25 points.

“We definitely could have played better,” said Tuckers sophomore guard Claire McKenzie, who scored a team-high 11 points. “The score could have been closer, but Carle Place is a really good team.”

Added senior forward Sofia Knudsen: “We really stuck it out and we gave it our all the whole entire game, no matter what.”

Mattituck started the game strong. McKenzie sank consecutive three-pointers for a 6-4 lead 91 seconds into the contest. Then Leary took matters into her own hands, scoring the next nine points with a combination of drives, field goals and free throws, boosting the Frogs to a 13-11 advantage by the end of the period.

“It was pretty hard when you have someone who can shoot but also drive,” said senior forward Caroline Little, who scored nine points. “It’s very hard to cover her. But total props to her. She’s an amazing player.”

Mattituck never recovered, going almost the entire second quarter without a field goal, until Knudsen (six points) canned a trey with 51 seconds remaining to cut the deficit to 24-17. Leary countered with a triple with 28 seconds left, before Madison Reedy converted a Tuckers turnover into a basket seconds later for a 29-17 halftime margin.

“I think we were getting trapped with the ball dribbling,” Little said. “I don’t think we were making the best passes as we had all season. I think honestly morale just started to drop at that point.” The Tuckers went 1-for-11 from the field in the second quarter, including 0-for-8 from two-point range.

“We played at their tempo,” Van Dood added. “We didn’t try to slow it down a little bit more. [Shots] just didn’t seem to go down for us.”

The drought continued into the third period as the Tuckers failed to sink a bucket on 11 shots. Carle Place outscored them, 14-4, to grab a 43-21 lead. McKenzie and junior guard Riley Corrigan each recorded two foul shots for the lone points.

Regardless of the result, it was a season to remember for the Tuckers, who opened the year with five consecutive losses, then bounced back to earn the second seed in the playoffs. They bested arch-rival Greenport/Southold in the semifinals before defeating Babylon, 42-29, in the March 1 county championship game, on the same St. Joseph’s court. It was Mattituck’s fifth county crown in eight years as Little led the way with 13 points, nine rebounds and three steals. Team defense also continued to stand out as the Tuckers went 13-0 when limiting foes to less than 40 points.

Knudsen, who will be a captain of the defending Class B county champion lacrosse team this spring, enjoyed the ride.

“I wasn’t always into basketball my whole life,” she said. “This season was really fun.

“I wasn’t expecting our team to be as good as we were. Winning like that was really exciting. That proves how good we actually were.”

McKenzie has two more seasons left in her high school career. But she still savored the season, understanding winning championships is no small feat.

“The girls on the team helped make the season a lot better,” she said. “All the hangouts and practices, I’ll definitely remember, especially making it this far. I don’t know if I’ll be able to do this again.”