IRVINGTON — Every year, teams come together for a day of good basketball for an even better cause. First it was at Purchase College, then it made its way to Irvington High School: the Autism Classic.
The Bulldogs hosted eight teams on Sunday in an event that raises money for autism awareness. Irvington, which has hosted the event the last four years, donates the gym, volunteers donate their time, and the fans donate admission for the worthy cause.
“All the coaches who are here are active in Section 1, and we wanted to do something charity — to give back, pay it forward,” Bulldogs coach Gina Maher said. “We wanted to make sure that these girls realize that there comes a time in life where you have to give, and you have to do for other people.”
Almost every coach of the eight teams participating in Sunday’s event — Irvington, Rye, Ossining, Carmel, Valhalla, Edgemont, Ursuline and Kennedy — has spent at least 10 seasons at the helm of a varsity program. Maher, Ursuline’s Beth Wooters and Ossining’s Dan Ricci are among the winningest girls basketball coaches in Section 1 history.
In fact, Wooters notched her 500th career win in the day’s opening game against Kennedy. In a thrilling start to the day, Ursuline freshman Korina Guerra (pictured right) scored eight points in the final 38 seconds, including a game-winning, buzzer-beating layup in the 61-60 victory.
Fans got another nail-biter in the follow-up game between Edgemont and Valhalla. The Panthers missed a potential game-tying layup with seven seconds left, allowing the Vikings to hang on for a 31-29 win after trailing entering the fourth quarter.
Reigning Class AA state champ Ossining put on a show of its own, routing Carmel 86-42 in a team effort that featured 10 different scorers. Junior Jalay Knowles paced the Pride with 28 points and 11 rebounds, most of which came in the first half.
Knowles is 11 points shy of her 1,000th varsity point.
In the finale, Rye completed a 10-point comeback, upsetting the previously-undefeated Bulldogs (12-1) in overtime, 60-56. Maddie Eck led the scoring attack with 19 points, but she was closely followed by Alanna Morque (17 points) and freshman Katie Popp (16 points).
Rachel Egan, who scored eight points in the win, banked in a 3-pointer in overtime to all but end it. The Garnets improved to 9-3 this season after an impressive week that also included a near-upset over Ossining.
Popp, whose clutch 5-for-6 shooting at the free-throw line aided Rye’s win, revealed after the game that she played essentially the entire game with what appeared to be a broken pinky in her shooting hand (pictured below). Popp said the injury occurred in the first quarter and that she played through it.
Irvington senior point guard Lauren Chafizadeh fouled out with about six minutes left in regulation after a second questionable charging call. The Bulldogs led by two at the time, but without Chafizadeh, MVP of the Slam Dunk Tournament showcase game earlier this year, the chemistry of the team was off.
Despite everything, the day wasn’t really about basketball, so much as it was about autism awareness.
“Autism awareness is becoming something that is very big now,” said Maher, who is closing in on her 600th career win. “Most people are touched by it, or know somebody touched by it. Every penny (raised) goes to part of the autism community.”
In a bit of comic relief, Maher said that the event, which has always been held the Sunday before Martin Luther King Jr. Day, would likely be moved to the Saturday before in 2015 because it coincides with the NFL playoffs.
Mostly so larger crowds could attend, not so more people could watch the football games.
Photo credit of Guerra: Seth Harrison/The Journal News
Photo credit of Popp: Mike Zacchio/The Journal News
Below is my video recap of the event. As you’ll see in the video, I was writing for most of the Ossining-Carmel game, so I really didn’t get anything usable of video. I did include a fun clip of Abby Squirrell shooting a free throw (for those of you that have never seen it). Other than that, there’s significant footage of the other three games, including Guerra’s buzzer-beater, the ending to Valhalla-Edgemont and the final minute of Irvington-Rye’s regulation and overtime quarters. It’s roughly eight minutes long, so sit back and enjoy it.