By Tom Pedulla—
The highly regarded Irvington girls’ basketball team experienced March Madness in February.
The NCAA Tournament in March is notorious for its unpredictability and the second-seeded Bulldogs were given an immediate reminder of how dangerous the postseason can be.
Minutes after they opened play in the Section 1 Class B Tournament, they found themselves in trouble against an upset-minded opponent: Blind Brook 12, Irvington 0.
It seemed as though their determined opponent could not miss, nailing three successive three-pointers, while the Bulldogs did not resemble the sharp team that had swept 16 of 20 regular-season games for legendary coach Gina Maher.
But Maher found the right words to settle her unsettled team. And Irvington fought back from the slow start and a 35-33 halftime deficit to win going away, 69-54.
“The bottom line is these girls were down and they responded,” Maher said proudly. “I said to them, if I ever had an emergency, I’d want them by my side because they responded so well. It was great.”
The Raimondo family helped show the way. Alyson, a precocious sophomore, was close to unstoppable at times with 27 points while her sister, Amada, a senior, netted 10 points. Junior Emmaline LeBuhn and freshman Kayla Clinton each added 10 points.
“That’s what you want, balance and everybody played together,” said Maher as she studied the scorebook.
The Bulldogs’ defense tightened noticeably as the game progressed. “The defense was exceptional,” Maher said. “And that’s what we’ve been known for all along, playing good defense. There is an old saying that good defense wins games and defense takes heart and effort. And they played with great heart and their effort is amazing.”
Good defense also helps to erase deficits. “It was really scary when we were down 12. There were a lot of nerves kicking in,” said Alyson Raimondo. “But we worked hard and played together and we came out with the win.”
Year after year, part of playing for Irvington is to cope with high expectations because the program has been so good for so long under Maher. “We feel we are going to let people down if we lose,” Raimondo said. “But it’s fun to win when there is a lot of pressure on you.”
Junior guard Anders Knapp was quick to point to the importance of defense in the comeback. “Our defense is what makes Irvington so great,” she said. “We have a good offense. We work as a team. But in the end, I think defense is what wins a game and we are always pushing it extra hard. Whether it’s zone or man, we are always giving it our all.”
Read or leave a comment on this story...