Boys lacrosse: Tuckers clinch playoff spot despite loss to Red Devils

During a timeout in a scoreless first quarter of a match against Center Moriches Thursday, Mattituck/Greenport/Southold head lacrosse coach John Amato asked his players, “Who’s going to get the party started?”

As it turned out, the Tuckers struggled to get things going and the Red Devils went on to spoil the party in a 7-3 loss on Senior Day in the Suffolk County Division II encounter in Mattituck.

The defeat, which snapped the Tuckers four-game winning streak, also delayed news on whether the team had qualified for the county Class D finals.

“It’s really frustrating, especially with the way were playing recently,” co-captain and senior midfielder Alex Clark said. “We didn’t come out with the fire we’ve had the past couple of games.”

Calculating power points — the secret sauce in lacrosse playoff positioning — uses a formula that is a bit complicated and factors the team’s record and strength of schedule. Prior to the match, the Tuckers (5-11, 5-9) had 82.51 points, compared to Center Moriches’ (6-10, 5-9) 67.12, a comfortable 15-point cushion. When the updated rankings were posted on the Section XI website Friday morning, Mattituck stood mostly pat at 82.62, but the rival Red Devils had jumped to 76.30 points.

“Because our records are so similar, they actually don’t benefit too much,” Amato said Thursday ahead of the rankings change. “I figured out our records are similar, but our power ranking points were so far apart from theirs that I don’t think it’s enough to make up the deficit. Plus, we had a strength of schedule that was harder than that. We actually get strength of schedule points.”

Bottom line: the second-seeded Tuckers will get an opportunity to defend their county title against No. 1 seed Babylon at Longwood High School on Wednesday, May 22 at 4 p.m.

“I want to do it for my seniors out there,” said junior attacker Tate Foster. “They deserve it.”

Clark, who was honored along with fellow seniors, midfielder-defenseman William Gammon and defenseman Bruce Walling, after the game, said that he would love to finish his final season on a high note.

“It’s important to me and the program, especially two wins over Babylon,” he said, referring to the 12-5 victory over the Panthers in last year’s county final. “It would be pretty impressive in back-to-back years.”

But the Tuckers hardly looked like a playoff team Thursday as Center Moriches grabbed a 3-0 halftime lead.

Ryan Person lifted the visitors to a 1-0 edge with a low sweeping shot past goaltender Andrew McKenzie 3:04 into the second quarter. Gavin Javetski doubled the lead with a high shot at 4:31 and Colin Casey tallied the first of his three goals with a man-advantage score from the right side with 1:33 remaining in the half.

“We could have done better,” Foster said. “We underestimated them a little bit. That was one of the reasons we played out there a little worse than we normally do. We just weren’t playing as a team.”

“Senior night, a bunch of people here, maybe playing a little tense,” Clark added. Once we started off slow and they jumped on us right away, it was harder for us to bounce back.”

The Tuckers had trouble maintaining possession in the attacking zone in the first half, making many unforced turnovers.

“You just can’t do that,” Amato said. “It’s not playoff lacrosse. That’s not how you win games. That’s how you lose games. I think we were a little intimidated and they started to kind of get in our kids’ faces. I think our kids just clammed up a little bit.”

The Red Devils increased their lead to 5-0 in the third quarter on long-distance shots by Caden Leslie (2:14) and Matthew Alino (6:45).

The hosts finally found the range during a 2:40 span in the period, as junior attack Tanner Vaccarella (7:24), Foster (8:41) and Clark (10:04) scored against goalie John Marino to pull within 5-3. But Casey made sure the hosts couldn’t stage a comeback, striking twice in the fourth period with man-advantage goals at 6:59 and at 8:18.

Despite the loss, the Tuckers will get an opportunity play another day with an opportunity to avenge a 4-3 four overtime loss at Babylon on April 25.

“The last couple of times that we’ve been in that championship game, we’ve been the favorite,” Amato said. “Looking forward to being the underdog and upsetting Babylon. That’d be a great win for us, program-wise. We’ve got the guys to do it. We just got to play better.”