All too often in the world of prep sports, the sequel to a storybook season is a dud – especially when four of five championship starters have fled to the ranks of Div. I women’s college basketball.
In its answer to last year’s blockbuster campaign – which saw the Lady Bruins become Long Island’s first female hoopsters to nab back-to-back state titles, as well as the first large-public-school team to seize the girls’ state Federation crown – the Baldwin girls’ basketball team seems bent on avoiding a flop.
Senior All-County point guard Kaia Harrison – Baldwin’s lone returning starter and last year’s Federation tourney MVP – has been dominant as expected, pacing the team with 17.4 points a game (second in Conference AA-II) to guide the Lady Bruins to a 6-1 start, 4-0 in league. Equally remarkable, though – and even surprising to some – has been the instant veteran-style play of Baldwin’s four first-year starters, several of whom are tracking towards All-Conference-type seasons.
“I wouldn’t say I’m surprised by any of it,” said Baldwin head coach Tom Catapano, whose team holds a virtual three-way share of first place in AA-II, alongside East Meadow (5-1) and Plainview (4-1.) “Kaia’s been great going from true point guard to more of a shooter. The new starters have been doing the right things consistently for years in the program, waiting for their chance at some big minutes. They were ready for this moment.”
Senior shooting guard Alexis Aponte – a known quantity with strong contributions off the bench last season – has taken the anticipated step forward as Baldwin’s number-two scorer (12.8 ppg) and is second on the club with 11 treys. Making a more dramatic leap into the limelight is senior Lady Bruins guard Mariah Benavides (10.8 ppg) – a mostly defensive reserve last year now leading the team with 15 threes.
“Alexis is playing with confidence and we’re really happy about the way she’s stepped in,” Catapano said. “Mariah has worked tremendously hard; it’s nice to see it pay off. We told her we’d need her to shoot more this year. It’s exciting to see her get her opportunity and seize the moment.”
Baldwin has averaged 63 points a game while allowing 42.3. The Lady Bruins’ only false step has been a 76-56 home loss to Ossining Dec. 22 – the Pride (8-4) getting consolation vengeance for last year’s 87-60 thrashing by Baldwin in the Class AA state final.
The Lady Bruins get a chance to edge toward sole possession of first place in league this Wednesday evening against host Plainview. Should Baldwin start to separate above the rest of the conference, a predictable line of hyped speculation is bound take hold among local observers keyed-up for ever more record-shattering. Catapano said his team is focused on keeping above the fray.
“The girls felt they had something to prove, and they’re doing a good job,” the coach said. “We don’t really think about all the talk. There’s a long way to go. We just try to get better every game.”