Max Kruszeski was feeling good, moving fast, and wasn’t ready to slow down.
The senior scored six of Mattituck/Southold’s first seven goals — all in the first quarter — to aid the Tuckers in avenging a mid-season loss to Port Jefferson and win a second straight Suffolk County Class D title. Mattituck (9-8) will defend its first Long Island championship when it faces Oyster Bay (4-11) Saturday, June 1, at Hofstra University.
“There’s no better feeling,” Kruszeski said after the 14-10 May 28 win at Farmingdale State College. “I told myself, ‘We can’t come out slow.’ I did everything in my power to help pick my team off the ground, get the boys going in the first couple minutes. Once we get the ball moving and once we get that momentum I feel there’s nothing that any other team can do to slow us down.”
Kruszeski scored the game’s first two goals, then answered Aidan Kaminska’s first score for Port Jeff by bookending a 3-0 run to make it 5-1. His fourth shot, from close range high over goalkeeper Peter Murphy’s left shoulder, found the back of the cage less than halfway through the quarter on a feed from Ryan Seifert (two goals, one assist).
“I saw the fire in his eyes,” head coach John Amato said. “I told him before the game that he’s been doing this since he was in eighth grade, that this is nothing for him, and he came out and did what he’s capable of doing.”
Even when Kruszeski was facegaurded by Gage Jampol the entire second half, his team, ahead 10-4 at halftime, maintained a six-goal advantage that swelled to 14-6 on consecutive goals from Seifert and Ethan Schmidt (two goals, one assist). The Royals scored the last four goals of the game — two more by Kaminska — but it was too late.
“It feels great to know that I have teammates fighting for me, fighting for each other,” Kruszeski said. “We had a few plays where if I was blocked off I could set screens or get involved without me needing to get the ball, but when that doesn’t happen they can do it themselves, put the team on their backs.”
The victory was payback for the Tuckers’ 12-7 April 4 road loss — amid a four-game stint — where the Marquette University-bound senior was held to a goal and an assist. Teammate Dane Reda (two goals, one assist) called it “an awful game.”
“It was in the back of my mind, but it wasn’t something that was haunting me,” Reda said. “It was more like, ‘We can’t play them like we did the first time,’ and obviously, we didn’t.”
Employing the same defense made it easier for Mattituck to game-plan against the Royals. Reda said the Tuckers made sure they were passing the ball where they should be when Port Jeff’s defensemen were sliding to their dodgers. Even when the Royals switched things up to guard against Kruszeski, the team adjusted nicely, with Kruszeski and sophomore longstick midfielder Cole DiGregorio forcing their fair share of turnovers.
“We worked so hard for this, especially coming back from a tough loss in the state final last year,” Kruszeski said. “We knew we wanted to get back here, we knew we wanted to win this game, and it feels great to actually come back and accomplish that goal. Today was night and day different from last time, but we have a dedicated group of guys and we were ready for this game. We knew there was no chance of us losing.”