Mattituck’s girls basketball team hit very few bumps in the road after losing all five starts and six players total from last season’s team. But Wednesday, the Tuckers ran into a wall.
Mattituck (17-6) just couldn’t keep up with Carle Place’s speed, fight through its defense, or counter the Frogs’ sharpshooters in a 66-25 loss in the Long Island Class B championship game at Farmingdale State College March 6.
“Their defense was everywhere — exactly where we wanted to pass the ball,” senior Rachel Janis said. “And they were there before we even thought it.”
With the win, the Frogs leveled the playing field, splitting the difference over the last four straight years the two teams have faced off in the title game, but senior Julie Siefert said the Tuckers did exactly what they set out to do — step up.
“We didn’t have any doubts that we were going to be a force to be reckoned with,” the forward said. “We knew those players that left, they were great, helped build Mattituck basketball to what it is today, but we also knew it was our job to morph to fill those roles. I think it’s such a negative outlook if you go into a season thinking, ‘Oh wow, we’re not going to do good.’ We worked hard in the offseason, competed in a summer league, and we were ready for this.”
Multiple stops early and some of the total of 29 turnovers Mattituck would have on the night helped the Frogs jump ahead 20-7 at the end of the first. Erin Leary scored 14 of her game-high 21 Carle Place points during that span. Leary also had seven rebounds, three steals, and two assists, and teammate Giana McKeough was the second of three double-digit point scorers with 12 points, six steals, five assists, and four rebounds.
“They were shooting the lights out,” Mattituck head coach Steve Van Dood said. “We even changed our defense, and it was hard to get a stop. They were a lot quicker than us — the way they moved the ball, the speed of their feet, the way they side-stepped — that was key. And even when we keyed in on who we thought were the top two shooters, two other girls stepped up.”
Siefert (nine points) said the shooting placement also proved to be a struggle.
“They were able to drive and shoot outside, so we didn’t know where to pack it in,” she said. “They’re just very good all around.”
Carle Place did all of this with two 1,000-point scorers sitting on its bench. Seniors Leah Burden (knee) and Abby Selhorn (foot) were both injured. But Mattituck also had trouble making baskets, scoring nearly half its points (12) off free throws.
With 6:20 left in the second, Sarah Santacroce (four points) found Ashley Perkins (three points) under the basket for an easy layup to bring the score to 23-9 before Carle Place went on a 20-0 run.
“I thought if our energy was up and we were a little more positive … the momentum just wasn’t in our favor, our shots weren’t falling, and we were just really down on ourselves,” Janis said. “We’re year-round lacrosse players, and they’re year-round basketball players, and it showed.”
Perkins and Jaden Thompson (four points) play on the Tuckers’ softball team, and Santacroce is a soccer goalkeeper, while the rest of the Mattituck players frequently find themselves head-to-head with Carle Place during Long Island championship battles in lacrosse.
“We wanted to prove to everyone we could still do this,” Thompson said. “It got a little frustrating — they were even faster than we expected — but at that point we decided we just need to breathe, play our game.”
The senior received a pass from her on-the-diamond teammate with 5:11 left in the third for a score, and made the second of two free-throw attempts with 1:38 to make it 57-12.
Van Dood said although his players couldn’t keep up with the tempo this time around, he’s proud of what they were able to accomplish at the county level, even topping teams that have two or three Amateur Athletic Union players.
“They have nothing to be ashamed of,” the coach said. “This is a testament to how athletic these girls are, how dedicated they are to the program, how dedicated they are to the school and the community. They have a lot of pride. They played hard right to the last minute. We’re going to build upon this.”
Siefert, who swished both her attempts at the foul line to end the third, and made five more in the fourth, has been around for three of the last four Mattituck-Carle Place matchups. Van Dood said it’s girls like Siefert who bought into the program, filling the shoes of the girls before her, and instilling the same work ethic and passion in the players that will come after her. Siefert said she already sees it: “If anyone says things are going downhill, making it here is proof that we’re not.”