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Having missed two free throws moments earlier that would have given her Irvington Bulldogs a one-point lead, Brittani Lai stepped to the free throw line with six seconds remaining in the same predicament.
But the senior guard couldn’t think of the game that hung in the balance. She was too busy agonizing over what could have been moments earlier.
“I missed those last two, so I was like, ‘Man, if I made those we would’ve been up,’” Lai said. “So I just had to come back and prove myself, and try to get it back.”
Lai did, sinking both free throws, and the Bulldogs (8-0) pulled off a 59-58 nail biter in a Slam Dunk semifinal on Thursday afternoon at the Westchester County Center in White Plains.
The win advances the Bulldogs to Sunday afternoon’s final against the winner of Ossining/St. Anthony’s.
“She had missed two earlier, but she wasn’t going to miss four in a row,” Irvington coach Gina Maher said. “We fought hard, we had to fight like it was a battle out there. I think they showed great mettle, great guts, in what they did on the court.”
The Crusaders (6-1) had a final shot attempt under the basket for the win, but Lexi Martins was able to disrupt a Sade Gibbons layup.
“We had to play the hardest defense we’d ever play,” Lai said about the game’s final play. “We have to switch, don’t let them screen, don’t let them get the shot off.”
The win seemed improbable for Irvington when the Crusaders jumped out to an 18-point lead with 5:09 left in the second quarter. But the Bulldogs slowly began chipping away, outscoring LuHi 17-13 in the second quarter.
“I think that we had a great second quarter,” Maher said. “I think that we picked up our defense and protected the ball a little bit more. We got back a little bit better.”
Despite an eight-point halftime deficit, the Bulldogs regained their composure and never felt like they were out of the game.
“No lead is ever too big, as long as you’re in the game you have to keep playing like you can win,” Maher said. “We talked about that a little bit at halftime.”
Lai, who had 16 of her 21 points in the second half, and Martins led the charge for the Bulldogs in the second half.
“My teammates did a really good job of helping me out when I was struggling in the first couple of minutes,” said Martins, who led the Bulldogs with 22 points, 17 rebounds and five steals. “It was really a great team effort of basketball and everyone played so well together.”
LuHi’s Boogs Brozoski finished with 16 points and nine steals, and Taylor Byrne had 14 points and five rebounds. The Bulldogs out-rebounded LuHi 43-34.
Irvington and Long Island Lutheran had met in the Federation tournament the three previous years, with the Bulldogs winning in 2010 and 2012.
Follow Chris Perez on Twitter @MSGVPerez