LuHi girls capture Federation crown

Long Island Lutheran players celebrate after their 59-57 Long Island Lutheran players celebrate after their 59-57 win over Irvington in a New York State Federation Tournament of Champions Class B girls championship basketball game in Albany. (March 26, 2011) Photo Credit: AP

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ALBANY -- They turned a page. They turned to Paige. It was a fourth-quarter comeback for the history books.

The Long Island Lutheran girls rallied from a 15-point deficit to defeat Irvington, 59-57, Saturday and capture the state Federation Class B championship at Times Union Center, the first state title for the program.

"We had such a vengeance after last year, when we got off to a bad start and just folded," Paige Kriftcher said, referring to Lutheran's 70-42 loss to Irvington in the Federation semifinals. "We wouldn't let them beat us this time."

Kriftcher was a major reason. She scored 11 of her 15 points in the fourth quarter, including a three-point play with 1:44 left that put LuHi on top 56-55. The 5-9 junior capped a remarkable 15-0 run with a spinning one-hander in the lane for a 58-55 lead with 55 seconds remaining.

"We were on such a roll. I couldn't believe it," Kriftcher said. "No one was selfish. We believed in each other. We had each other's backs. I couldn't be more proud of this team."

One of her best friends, junior Christina Raiti, also played a major role in the comeback that stunned Irvington (26-2), which led 49-34 with 7:28 remaining in the game. Raiti, who made 5 of 8 three-pointers in Friday's semifinal victory, missed her first seven treys as the Crusaders were 0-for-12 from downtown entering the fourth quarter.

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"Deep down, everyone was worried a little bit," Raiti said of the large deficit. "We were way behind last year against them, too. But the difference is that last year, we folded. This year, we played as one. The coaches told us to stay calm at halftime and we trusted each other."

Raiti trusted her shot, too. She nailed her first three-pointer with 6:13 left to cut the margin to 51-41. Her second one came with 4:30 left during the 15-0 surge and made it 55-48.

"It fires you up. It gives the team a boost," Raiti said. "You allow yourself to crack a little smile."

The Crusaders (21-5) kept finding cracks in the Irvington defense. Kriftcher was relentless inside, scoring seven straight points to give LuHi the lead. She hit a putback to make it 55-53, tied it with a little banker that drew a foul and completed the three-point play for a 56-55 advantage with 1:44 left. Kriftcher, who also had nine rebounds, finished the fantastic flurry with a neat spin move in the lane to make it 58-55 with 55 seconds left.

Irvington had the ball down by two with 20 seconds left, but missed three close-in shots before gaining possession off a loose-ball scramble with one-tenth of a second showing on the arena clocks. After a referees' huddle and two timeouts, the Bulldogs' tip play on the inbounds pass failed, setting off a joyous on-court celebration. It seemed to take an eternity to play the final 0.1 seconds, but the overflow of emotions endured long afterward.

"I've played with Paige since the fourth grade. To be her teammate and to share this moment is something so special," Raiti said. "I was tearing up, crying, laughing, jumping on my teammates."

Only a few minutes earlier, that was not the case.

"It was a war between us. You had to play every possession like it was the last," said Kriftcher, who won two key rebound scraps for big-time putbacks in traffic during the winning rally and was voted MVP of the tournament.

"Sometimes, to be a great player, you have to put the team on your back," Lutheran coach Rich Slater said. "That's what Paige did."

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