It’s up for debate whether Mattituck and Bishop McGann-Mercy share a girls basketball rivalry. Is it a full-fledged rivalry or merely case of familiarity breeding contempt?
Asked how she would you describe the playing relationship between the two teams, Mattituck’s Liz Dwyer answered: “Nasty. We both just really want to win so we go out there and give it our all and sometimes it gets a little messy.”
Over the past two seasons, the teams have met six times. Mattituck has triumphed on all six occasions. That includes last year’s Suffolk County Class B final and Friday’s Suffolk Class BCD final. And, yes, it was a little messy at times as the three game officials were kept busy. A total of 38 fouls were whistled and three Mattituck starters fouled out before the Tuckers held on for a 58-52 win at Centereach High School.
Both sides helped each other, in a sense, getting good value out of the game, which is preparation for regional semifinals they both have coming up in March.
“People are like: ‘Why do you play these games? It really doesn’t mean anything,’ ” said Mattituck coach Steve Van Dood, whose team won the BCD game for a third straight year. “But to me, we would be booking scrimmages anyway. You can’t take two weeks off. You got to keep it running.”
The game offered an intriguing matchup of two talented senior forwards, Mercy’s Melina Santacroce and Mattituck’s Dwyer.
Santacroce showed her resolve under the basket, battling for 20 rebounds to go with 15 points. “She just plays with more passion and desire than most kids,” said Mercy coach Meaghan Smith.
Dwyer, meanwhile, turned in a double-double herself with 26 points (five three-pointers), 12 rebounds and six assists. Mattituck’s all-time leading scorer raised her five-year points total to 1,806.
“In grand fashion, I thought Dwyer just showed up tonight,” Van Dood said. “She showed her experience and maturity, her leadership skills, taking the ball, driving to the basket, shooting outside, going inside when she needed to.”
Dwyer scored nine first-quarter points, all on her first three three-point attempts, to help Mattituck (19-2) to an 18-5 lead.
Mercy’s only lead of the game was 2-0 and Mattituck led by as many as 15 points when a Chelsea Marlborough three-pointer made it 27-12. But then Mercy (15-6) immediately went to work, closing the gap. Before the first half ended, Mercy pulled to within 27-20 thanks to a three by Caryn Nabrizny (six points, eight rebounds, six assists), a conventional three-point play by Melina Santacroce and two foul shots by Nabrizny.
A three-pointer from the wing by Gianna Santacroce (15 points) a couple of minutes into the third quarter made it a one-possession game, cutting Mattituck’s lead to 31-28.
But the Tuckers held their lead. Thanks to 8-for-16 shooting in the quarter, they were up, 45-35, after three.
Things got for dicey for Mattituck in the fourth quarter. “That was the longest three minutes of my life,” Dwyer said of the closing minutes. Three Tuckers — Mackenzie Daly, Jane DiGregorio (12 points) and Alex Beebe — fouled out in the final 64 seconds.
Mercy pulled to within 56-52 when Karina Ellis (11 points) banked in a runner in the final minute.
Dwyer, who went 7-for-8 from the foul line, then sank two free throws, making it 58-52 with 21.1 seconds to go.
“She’s ice,” Van Dood said. “Ice in her veins.”
After Gianna Santacroce’s failed three-point attempt, a scramble for the rebound ensued and a jump ball was called. The possession arrow pointed in Mercy’s direction with 5.4 seconds left. Ellis put up an air ball and Marlborough (11 points) came down with the rebound, dribbling forward as the final buzzer sounded. Mattituck had secured its 12th straight win.
“It’s a step in the right direction for us, which I think we needed,” Dwyer said. “It definitely helps when your team can handle the pressure and end up with the ‘W’ because if we got frazzled or anything, we wouldn’t have won that game.”
Both teams will play regional semifinals March 7 at Suffolk County Community College in Brentwood. Mattituck will face Carle Place (15-6). Mercy is paired against East Rockaway (9-10). Before then, Mattituck will play Mount Sinai or Hauppauge for the Suffolk small school title Tuesday night in Centereach.
“Ideally, we would have wanted to win this game,” Smith said. “We had a slow start and were playing catch-up the whole game, unfortunately. I think no matter what, win or lose, this game was good to play just so we could play a little bit higher level of competition in these last-second, last-minute situations.”
Now, what about this rivalry thing? Yea or nay?
“I guess you could say it’s a rivalry,” Melina Santacroce said. “It just gets kind of intense. A lot of words go around on the court.”
Asked for his take, Van Dood said: “It’s always a battle. I’m not going to say bad blood, but it’s definitely a rivalry.
Photo caption: Mattituck’s Liz Dwyer is guarded by Bishop McGann-Mercy’s Melina Santacroce. (Credit: Garret Meade)