By Rick Carpiniello
TROY You don’t poke a Bulldog. Or a pack of Bulldogs. Or the mother of Bulldogs.
Irvington High’s girls basketball dynasty got poked twice this weekend, and the rebuttal was typically Irvington. The Bulldogs growled and snarled their way to a fourth consecutive state Class B championship with a 78-40 mauling of Section 5’s Waterloo Saturday at Hudson Valley Community College.
What happened in a two-point semifinal win on Friday served as motivation of the best kind — fear.
“We were lucky,” Hall of Fame coach Gina Maher said about Friday’s win. “There was some angel on our shoulder to win that game. And we used it and it really helped us.”
So Irvington came out aggressively and ferociously — it’s signature through the four seasons — and ran over Waterloo, pressing, blocking shots, stripping the ball, counterattacking, rebounding. Led by Brittni Lai and four-time champs Lexi Martins and Ryan McMahon (game- and career-high 26 points), Irvington built a 32-7 lead.
Waterloo went on a run that tightened it to 43-29, and Maher called a timeout. She hollered at her kids, which she rarely does, reminded them about the too-close semifinal. The Bulldogs took off, but something else happened. Martins was hit in the face, with no call, as she made a basket she never saw go in.
As Martins got up and said she was fine, Maher told her to stay down. She wanted to chew out the referees a bit. Then, for effect, Maher called a timeout, changing from a full timeout to a 30-second and back to a full. This was rare and vintage at the same time.
“I was worried that my kids might get hurt in a game like that,” Maher said. “It was frustration on their part, I’m sure. Lexi was really, really clobbered and a couple of plays before that Ryan had been clobbered … so I get scared. They’re like my kids and when someone hits your child you get upset. It’s as simple as that.”
She told the Bulldogs, “We have class and we don’t respond by fighting back. We respond by playing better. We responded so well today it was unbelievable.”
Between the first timeout and the Martins “injury” and beyond, the Bulldogs went on a 23-2 run to open it up to 64-31.
“There were a lot of plays that fired us up,” said Martins, who had 17 points, 19 rebounds, five blocks and went 7-for-7 from the line. “They were kind of a dirtier team, pushing and grabbing and it wasn’t tightly officiated, so definitely it fired everyone up to keep on playing, to make better plays.”
“We want to help our teammate out,” Lai said.
Lai was named tournament MVP. She maybe has been as good, but probably has never been better, finishing with 19 points, eight steals, five rebounds, four assists and a block.
“Brittni was awesome,” Martins said. “She was so phenomenal. When I got my third foul and had to sit out she totally dominated and took over.” She’s such a leader and she knew she had to take over.”
McMahon, Alyssa DiCampli (another four-time champ) and so many others had a hand in this title, and that made Maher as happy as anything. The run has been remarkable — no other Westchester-Rockland-Putnam team has won four state basketball titles in a row, and in these four years, Irvington has an astounding 36-1 postseason record, with only that shocking loss to Long Island Lutheran in the 2011 Federation final (Irvington gets a bye to the Class B Federation title game next week).
Section 1’s Class B champs have won six consecutive state titles (Nanuet and Briarcliff preceding Irvington’s dynasty).
“It’s the best feeling in the world,” McMahon said. “I can’t even put it into words. It never gets old.”
Reach Rick Carpiniello at rcarpini.lohud.com.