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ALBANY, N.Y. — Irvington’s journey through the postseason the last three seasons has been marked by a host of lopsided games. But on the eve of what the players consider their biggest game of all, they finally got the test they’ve been looking for.
The Bulldogs outlasted a physical and aggressive Cardinal O’Hara squad 74-57 in the Class B Federation tournament on Friday, setting up a championship grudge match with Long Island Lutheran on Saturday back at the Times-Union Center.
“I had heard that (Cardinal O’Hara) were big, they were strong, they were deep and that they’d come to play,” Irvington coach Gina Maher said. “They believed they could beat us and they took us out of our game in the first half. But we showed our mettle as a team.”
Irvington and LuHi have met in the title game the last two seasons. Irvington won in 2010. LuHi rallied from a 15-point fourth quarter deficit to win last year.
“Tomorrow is the biggest game we’ve played in a long time,” Irvington senior Marley Giddins said.
Irvington must play far better than it did on Friday, a game it led by single-digits most of the way before breaking it open in the fourth.
The Bulldogs sealed it at the line. They made 40 of 55 free throws in the game (74-percent), including 26 of 32 in the second half.
Lexi Martins had 14 of her 24 points in the third quarter and finished with 16 rebounds and four blocks. Brittni Lai added 21 points, nine steals, seven assists and six rebounds. Giddins had 20 points on 7-of-10 shooting with 10 rebounds.
The Bulldogs, though, were erratic from the start, turning the ball over 27 times. Many of the turnovers came in transition as they admittedly tried to play at too fast a pace early on.
“In the first half, we’d get into an offensive set and we just wouldn’t run it,” Giddins said. “We weren’t patient. We’d tried to make a crazy pass at the beginning of a play and we weren’t really settled. We talked at halftime about being up and playing our worst basketball.”
“We pushed the ball way too much and we didn’t get into our offense,” Maher said. “We didn’t have a lot of touches, and when we do that we’re in trouble.”
Martins settled things down in the third, taking over the game in the post. Irvington also got great second-half contributions from sophomore Lauren Chafizadeh, who had six points and solid defense off the bench.
“Lauren Chaf today saved us,” Maher said. “I took her out with a minute to go so I could tell her that we’re taking the next step because of her. I thought she played great.”
After watching LuHi dominate PSAL champion Scholars Academy in the tournament’s opening game, Irvington understands it heads into Saturday’s final an underdog.
“I would say so,” Giddins said. “But I kind of like that. There’s no pressure on us. We have nothing to lose. It’s our last game of the season. We’re going to be playing our best basketball, hopefully.”
Reach Kevin Devaney Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org