ALBANY -- From late in the third quarter until late in the fourth, nothing the Long Island Lutheran girls tried seemed to work. Not their zone defense and not their motion offense. Not their passing and not their shooting. It was all, pointless.
The Lady Crusaders were vanquished by an 18-0 run that lasted 6:14 as they fell to Irvington, 74-64, Saturday in the state Federation Class B girls basketball championship game at the Times Union Center. The Bulldogs have beaten Lutheran in two of the last three Federation title games. LuHi overcame a 15-point fourth-quarter deficit to beat Irvington last year.
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"We're a very close-knit team. We never got frustrated with each other. There was no finger-pointing," senior forward Yuni Sher said. "But we got frustrated with how the game was going. The way our team rolls, it's defense first and the offense will come. Our defense wasn't going and our offense wasn't clicking."
That, as much as anything, explains how Lutheran (18-6) allowed a lead that was a large as 14 points at 48-34 early in the third quarter vanish. Irvington (27-1) began its comeback with five straight points by guard Brittni Lai (18 points), an AAU teammate of Paige Kriftcher, who scored 20 points and surpassed 1,000 points for her career. She finished with 1,007.
Sher (13 points, 11 rebounds) got the lead back to 50-40 with a neat reverse layup after a steal underneath. Christina Raiti (16 points), hit two free throws to make it 52-42 with 1:26 left in the third. Then, without warning, the Lady Crusaders began to self-destruct. Their demise, like their success, began with defense.
"In the beginning of the game, our defense was transitioning into our offense and leading to easy baskets," Kriftcher said. "Then, the middle of our zone was open and that's what hurt us the most. They're a serious team. You can't just turn it around against them.."
Or, as Sher, an AAU teammate of Irvington's Marley Giddins (16 points, 12 rebounds), so cleverly put it, "They adjusted to our adjustments."
When Lutheran elected not to get out on bench player Lauren Chafizadeh, she responded with a superb game, hitting four of six from the field for 12 points. Chafizadeh nailed a three from the corner near the end of the third quarter that cut Lutheran's lead to 52-49.
With point guard Boogie Brozoski going just 3-for-17 from the field, the Lady Crusaders couldn't find an offensive flow. Chafizadeh scored on a fast-break layup to tie it at 50 with 7:03 left and Alexis Martins (16 points, 14 rebounds) scored on a putback to give Irvington a lead it never relinquished.
Kriftcher's jumper in the lane ended the drought and made it 60-54 with 3:12 left. But Lutheran was forced to foul down the stretch and Irvington made 14 of 18 free throws in the final 1:54.
"I don't do losing very well," Sher said. "This is definitely the toughest loss of my career."