WHITE PLAINS — The Westchester County Center is home to the 15th annual Slam Dunk Tournament, and is supposed to serve as a neutral site for competing teams.
But when one team has played there more than a dozen times in the last four years, and the other one has only been there a handful of times, it essentially is a home-court advantage.
Four-time reigning state Class B champion Irvington survived a battle with Ardsley, 66-58, in Saturday’s showcase game. The Bulldogs are now 15-2 at the County Center since the 2009-10 season.
Senior guard Lauren Chafizadeh (pictured below) scored 21 points and grabbed eight rebounds en route to MVP honors for Irvington, which boasts almost a completely made-over starting five.
“We’re all getting used to each other, playing with different people,” said Chafizadeh, the Bulldogs’ only returning starter. “Every day, we get better and better together.”
Irvington, which lost two Division-I players in guard Brittni Lai and forward Lexi Martins, improved to 9-0 and will remain the top-ranked team in the state for Class B.
“Ms. Maher is great coach. Even through all of the adjustments this year, she’s been awesome this year,” Chafizadeh said of Gina Maher, who is closing in on her 600th career win.
“I love this team. I really love them,” Maher said. “It’s so different. Last year’s team worked hard, but this year’s team comes to practice and they work very, very hard. They work as a unit.
“I think they feel they have something to prove. I keep telling them that they played with the best players in the state, and they played well with them. They can play with anybody because they did play with (Lai and Martins). I think they’re starting to believe it.”
Freshman Lindsay Halpin (pictured left) finished with 15 points and five steals, including a sensational pick during an isolation with Ardsley senior Casey Foley (pictured left), which Halpin took to the hoop before the halftime buzzer.
Halpin’s coast-to-coast finish late in the fourth quarter put the Bulldogs up by double digits and put the game out of reach for the Bulldogs.
“I played for a couple of seconds last year when they were playing for the (section championship). (Saturday) was my real ‘first game’ (at the County Center),” the 5-foot-4 guard said. “It was hard, it was different; Ardsley’s a great team. … I was nervous.”
Halpin sank three 3-pointers and was 6-for-11 from the field for the Bulldogs. Going from a contributing player, to a full-fledged starter, Halpin said that while Irvington has always been a team, now, the “team” is getting recognition.
“I think this year, we play more as a team, and it’s not just around a couple of players,” she said. “Even last year, they were a team, but people were always talking about two players; now they’re talking about all of us.”
Senior forward Laurilyn Gelardi (pictured below) put up game highs of 23 points and 11 rebounds for Irvington. An efficient scorer in the paint, Gelardi’s ability to shoot from the outside makes her that much tougher to guard for opponents.
“(The biggest adjustment has been) the bigs; I’m the tallest one at 5-foot-9,” Gelardi said. “We just have to try our hardest to get rebounds; it’s basically what is going to win games.”
Despite playing just 24 minutes, Gelardi’s presence was known.
“She used the outside, as well as the inside, and I think that makes people say, ‘Hey, we can’t leave her outside,’” Maher said. “She played a great game.”
Ardsley, a Class B team last season which got bumped up to Class A this year, has earned some hype thanks to big wins over Ursuline and a championship at its host Hank Roth Classic two weeks ago.
The Panthers led by as many as 10 points in the first half, and were within two points with approximately four minutes remaining in regulation before an Irvington run.
Junior captain Casey Foley nearly recorded a triple-double, posting 19 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists. Volleyball teammate, sophomore Nicolina Chenard added 14 points and 11 rebounds for the Panthers.
All photos were taken by Frank Becerra Jr. of The Journal News. Click here to view Frank’s entire photo gallery.