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ALBANY, N.Y. — In a hotel room late Friday night, Lauren Chafizadeh was practicing with her teammates. The Irvington sophomore reserve was imagining the bright lights shining and all eyes on her as veteran Lexi Martins peppered her with questions.
They had nothing to do with basketball, really. Chafizadeh was preparing for her first television interview.
“We told her that she had to be ready tomorrow,” Martins said. “With how she played in the semifinal, we knew she’d get her chance.”
Chafizadeh, a seldom-used role player who had just 54 total points all season, got her moment in the spotlight on the court and in postgame on Saturday. The guard came off the bench to score 10 points during Irvington’s unthinkable 26-4 second-half rally as they stunned Long Island Lutheran, 74-64, in the Class B Federation title game at the Times-Union Center.
The Bulldogs (27-1) trailed by 14 points early in the third quarter before Chafizadeh sparked the comeback and erased the taste of last year’s bitter loss. Long Island Lutheran rallied from 15 points down in the fourth quarter last season to win a stunner.
On Saturday, the Bulldogs got their revenge.
“They earned it. I’m just so incredibly happy for these kids because they didn’t give up,” Bulldogs coach Gina Maher said. “I mean, Lauren Chafizadeh. Wow. I didn’t see it coming.”
Irvington, the three-time state champs, won its second Federation title in three seasons and fourth all time. The Bulldogs improved to 80-4 in the last three seasons as Maher won her 561st overall game in 36 seasons.
This one, though, ranks among the sweetest.
“It’s probably the most satisfying one I’ve had,” Maher said. “I thought it was the leadership of Lexi (Martins), Marley (Giddins) and Brittni (Lai) that was the difference. They kept their poise.
“This may be the biggest. Winning states in really the biggest. But this is really sweet.”
Irvington’s Big 3 delivered once again. Giddins, the lone senior starter, had 16 points and 12 rebounds to earn MVP honors. Martins, the MVP of the Section 1 tournament, had 16 points and 14 rebounds. Lai, the MVP of the state tournament, had 18 points and four assists.
Alyssa DiCampli and Ryan McMahon each contributed six points and were solid defensively as Irvington held LuHi scoreless in the first 6:34 of the fourth quarter to push its lead to double-digits.
Chafizadeh finished with 12 points, all in the second half, to pass her previous season-high of seven.
“We all remember last year,” Chafizadeh said. “We just kept pushing. We got an adrenaline rush and we pushed it to the last second.”
Although she didn’t realize it, Chafizadeh was pretty much an afterthought in Long Island Lutheran’s game plan. Whenever she touched the ball on the perimeter, the LuHi coaches yelled “Leave her” to their players.
Chafizadeh responded by hitting 4 of 6 shots, including 2 of 3 from 3-point range and 2 for 2 at the line.
In talking about Chafizadeh, Maher reflected back to her mother, Kelly Murphy, who played on a sectional championship under Maher in 1987. In the sectional final, Murphy dislocated her finger and needed to go to the hospital. It was put back into place and she rushed back to the arena.
“She asked to go back into the game,” Maher said. “I couldn’t put her in. But she played in regionals.”
Irvington sped out of the gates before a 17-0 Long Island Lutheran run put the Bulldogs in a 13-point hole in the second quarter. They rallied to get back within two just before the half before LuHi opened the third with an 11-2 spurt.
Enter Chafizadeh and the rest is history.
“They just wouldn’t give up,” Maher said. “For these kids, they were expected to do so much. And they won a game that nobody really expected us to win. They should be proud of themselves.”
Reach Kevin Devaney Jr. at email@example.com
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