As a deep freeze continued to envelop Long Island, Mattituck didn’t freeze in the big moment. Instead, Mackenzie Daly iced things for the Tuckers down the stretch.
Just three days into the new year, Mattituck put itself in the driver’s seat in the race for the Suffolk County League VII girls basketball championship. Daly made a one-handed floater and then sank 3 of 4 free throws in the final 7.9 seconds to secure a hard-earned 40-36 triumph at Bishop McGann-Mercy Diocesan High School in Riverhead Wednesday night.
The ironic thing about it was early in the fourth quarter, Daly, apparently unhappy with her play, had asked coach Steve Van Dood to take her out of the game. Van Dood didn’t want to hear that.
“I guess she was a little frustrated she wasn’t scoring as much as she should be,” he said. “My job is to quiet the storm.”
Van Dood said he told the senior guard: “Mackenzie, you just do what you need to do and the points will come. That’s the icing on the cake. You handle the ball, you distribute the ball, you don’t turn over the ball, and that’s what we need from you right now. Anything else is icing on the cake.”
Sure enough, Daly’s moment came. Successive three-point shots by Mercy’s Caryn Nabrizny and Sarah Penny tied the score at 35-35 with three minutes and 35 seconds left to play before Daly’s basket put Mattituck (8-2, 6-0) ahead to stay.
But Mattituck wasn’t out of the woods yet. Chelsea Marlborough picked up her fifth personal foul, taking her out of the game and sending Mercy’s Gianna Santacroce to the foul line. Santacroce made one of her two attempts, cutting Mattituck’s lead to 37-36 with 49 seconds to go.
After Mattituck turned the ball over, Jane DiGregorio (four points, seven assists) raced back on defense, stole the ball from a Mercy player and called timeout with 19 seconds remaining.
Mercy (6-4, 4-1) needed to use three intentional fouls before sending Daly to the foul line, where she came through with some clutch free throws, giving her seven points to go with five assists.
Does Daly like those pressure situations?
“I’ve come to really embrace those moments a little bit more,” she said.
The showdown between Class B Mattituck and Class C Mercy lived up to expectations, with the marquee players for both sides, Mattituck’s Liz Dwyer and Mercy’s Melina Santacroce, being given extra defensive attention.
Dwyer scored Mattituck’s first 12 points, but was held to seven points the rest of the way on 8-for-16 shooting with a pair of threes. She was a defensive force, blocking six shots.
“We’ve both been kind of playing against each other for long enough and coaching against each other long enough that we know how to somewhat pick apart each other’s offense, but overall it was a good defensive effort,” Mercy coach Meaghan Smith said. “That’s probably the best defense we’ve played in a while.”
Melina Santacroce shot 3-for-8 from the field and had 11 points with 11 rebounds. But she isn’t the only Santacroce Mercy’s opponents have to worry about. Her younger sister, Gianna, turned in a strong performance, scoring 15 points and grabbing eight rebounds. The 5-10 freshman forward hit four three-pointers.
“It’s all about stepping up and trying to help your team out,” Gianna Santacroce said. “I just try to go out there and do my best in every game.”
The Monarchs could feel good about how they played, if not the result.
“We came out, played a complete game and played hard,” Smith said. “There was few things in a few different places — missed foul shots, missed layups, silly turnovers.”
Mattituck is seeking what would be its third straight league title. Last year the Tuckers shared the crown with Port Jefferson, but this year they are not in a sharing mood. “We want it for ourselves,” said Daly.
Meanwhile, Mercy is still very much in the hunt, with a return game in Mattituck scheduled for Feb. 2.
“We’re striving for not only that Class C championship, but we’re going for that league title and I foresee it coming,” Smith said. “If we keep playing like this, it will come down to the two of us again.”
Things should really heat up down the stretch.
Photo caption: Mackenzie Daly’s one-handed floater over Bishop McGann-Mercy’s Melina Santacroce put Mattituck ahead to stay. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)