Baldwin had come too far to let history slip away.
With their 20-point first-half lead over Ossining cut to four with less than a minute left in the third quarter of last Sunday’s New York State Class AA title game at Hudson Valley Community College, the Lady Bruins found another gear.
They dominated both ends of the floor in the fourth quarter on the way to an 87-60 victory, becoming the first Long Island-based girls’ basketball team to win back-to-back state championships. Senior Aziah Hudson scored 34 points and senior Donnetta Johnson (16), junior Kaia Harrison (16) and senior Jenna Annecchiarico (14) also netted double figures for Baldwin, which beat Ossining by 28 in last season’s final to end its four-year reign.
“We really made history,” said Hudson, the program’s all-time leading scorer who poured in 30 points in last Saturday’s 65-49 semifinal win over Bishop Kearney and earned a second straight NYS Tournament MVP award. “We tried not to put a lot of pressure on ourselves and just worked as hard as we could and took things game by game,” she added. “It’s an amazing feeling.”
The Pride’s Aubrey Griffin, a junior, matched Hudson’s 34 points, however, only four of those came in the fourth quarter when Annecchiarico, despite an 8-inch disadvantage, turned up the defensive heat and helped the Lady Bruins close the game on a 26-7 run.
“We knew it was going to be a four-quarter battle,” Baldwin head coach Tom Catapano said. “It was a magical weekend. Ossining has been to the state finals six years in a row and Aubrey Griffin is the toughest player we’ve had to guard all season. I thought Jenna did a great job. She’s probably the best two-way player in the state and really made Aubrey work. It was like watching two heavyweight boxers out there.”
“When they got within 55-51 and had momentum, we were able to find that championship gear and close it out,” Catapano added.
Ossining (20-4), which rallied from behind to knock off West Genesee, 65-50, in the semis, shot just 2-for-14 from the field over the final eight minutes. Junior Kailah Harris had 17 points in the semis and finals for the Pride.
“We just had to remain humble and do what we do best,” Hudson said. “It’s something none of us will ever forget.”
Baldwin (24-1) scored 21 first-half points from behind the arc, going 7-for-12 in the process. Hudson had as much to do with it as anyone.
“The bigger the stage, the bigger Aziah plays,” Catapano said. “She answers the bell time and again.”
In the semis, it was the Lady Bruins’ deadly free throw shooting that helped them maintain a comfortable lead against Bishop Kearney. They went 15 of 18 from the line, including 14-for-16 in the opening half. Johnson filled up the boxscore with 11 points, six rebounds, five assists and a few steals.
“Donnetta was a force all weekend,” Catapano said of Johnson, who got support in the frontcourt from senior Destiny Samuel and off the bench from sophomore Elena Randolph and junior Sarah Henry.
The Lady Bruins advance to the state Federation Tournament in Glens Falls and face Long Island Lutheran this Friday at 2:15 p.m. The winner will play for the crown on Saturday at 6 p.m.
“It’s been gratifying to see all the hard work of the coaches and kids pay off with tremendous success,” Baldwin Athletic Director Ed Ramirez said. “It’s a great sense of pride for the entire community.”