Free throws. The very description implies they are easy. No defenders. No obstructions.
Mattituck’s extraordinary difficulty at sinking free throws nearly cost the Tuckers on Tuesday. Then Mattituck’s sole senior, Corinne Reda, took matters into her own hands and helped the Tuckers land their second county championship.
Reda equaled her career-high with 19 points to lead Mattituck to a 52-44 triumph over Bishop McGann-Mercy in the Suffolk County Class B girls basketball final at Riverhead High School.
Defending Long Island Class B champion Mattituck will play Port Jefferson in a Class B-C game Friday at Riverhead High School. The Tuckers have also earned a place in a regional semifinal against Carle Place or Oyster Bay on March 6 at SUNY/Old Westbury.
A Jane DiGregorio basket spotted Mattituck (18-2) a 46-37 lead before Mercy (11-8) closed the gap with a runner by Olivia Kneski, a pair of free throws by Melina Santacroce and a three-pointer by Chastin Giles, making it a two-point game.
After Mattituck missed eight consecutive free throws, Reda finally broke that spell, hitting the first of two foul shots for a 47-44 edge with 42 seconds remaining.
Reda attacked the basket for a layup on a play in which Mercy’s Savannah Hauser was assessed a flagrant foul. Reda missed both of the foul shots she was awarded, but Liz Dwyer later sank a pair of free throws and Reda downed another to wrap up the win, Mattituck’s third this season over Mercy. The Tuckers, who shared the League VIII championship with Port Jefferson, won both of their league games against Mercy, 57-52 and 39-32.
Mattituck coach Steve Van Dood said he has one of the better foul-shooting teams in the county with a rate of 68 percent, but the charity stripe wasn’t charitable to the Tuckers Tuesday. They struggled mightily in that area, going 10 of 33 from the line.
Mattituck was without two juniors. First-string point guard Mackenzie Daly banged her left kneecap in a scrimmage against Sayville and reserve guard Emily Mowdy was away on vacation.
Reda helped make up for it with her point production, not to mention 13 rebounds, five steals, three assists and a block. Dwyer had nine of her 14 points in the second half, giving the junior 1,301 points for her career. DiGregorio had 12 points and four assists.
Mercy, which sought its first county title since 2004, received a strong game from Santacroce (14 points, 15 rebounds, three blocks, two steals, one assist). Like teammate Mia Behrens (10 points), though, Santacroce also fouled out in the final minutes. Giles put up 10 points.
Both teams were even in field goals made (nine) and points (26) at the half. A followup by Reda tied it at 26-26. Reda had 10 points at the break.
Santacroce was a force for Mercy. She had eight points, nine rebounds and a pair of blocks in the first half.
The biggest lead of the first half came when Mattituck took a 23-16 advantage on a conventional three-point play by Dwyer with 5:09 left in the second quarter.
Photo caption: Mattituck players hug after the team defeated Bishop McGann-Mercy for its second straight Suffolk County Class B championship. (Credit: Garret Meade)