A week after becoming the first Long Island-based girls’ basketball team to capture back-to-back state championships, Baldwin had another date with history.
The Lady Bruins capped off a season for the ages with victories against two of the most dominant programs on the East Coast. They became only the fifth Long Island public school team to win a Federation championship last Saturday night with a come-from-behind 58-49 triumph over previously undefeated Christ The King, ranked No. 1 nationally by USA Today, in the Class AA title game at Cool Insuring Arena in upstate Glens Falls.
Junior Kaia Harrison scored 15 points on the way to earning MVP honors, while senior Jenna Annecchiairco added 14 points a night after pouring in 20 to lead a 64-47 win over Long Island Lutheran in the semifinals.
“It’s a monumental accomplishment and a storybook ending,” Baldwin head coach Tom Catapano said. “The girls played with so much heart and desire. They were hungry and wanted to go out on top. The past two weekends, in all four games we played, they found that championship gear.”
Baldwin (26-1) joined John Glenn (2005), Wyandanch (1983, 1987) and Westbury (1983) as the L.I. girls’ teams to win a Federation crown. Going through LuHi and Christ The King made it that much more special, said Annecchiarico, who’ll bring a stellar two-way game to Eastern Michigan.
“To be the best, you’ve got to beat the best, and we did what we had to do,” Annecchiarico said. “We went through all the top opponents. First Massapequa, then Commack, Ossining, LuHi and Christ The King.”
The Lady Bruins faced deficits in both Federation games, including a six-point hole in the first half of the finale against a 29-win Christ The King team with a considerable height advantage. Senior Donnetta Johnson’s work on the board — 11 rebounds — against three 6-foot-plus opponents was instrumental throughout, Catapano noted.
“They had the height, but we had the heart and the speed,” said senior Aziah Hudson, Baldwin’s all-time leading scorer who capped her high school career with a 14-point performance. “It feels so amazing.”
Baldwin trailed 29-25 at halftime before rallying in the third quarter for a second time in less than 24 hours. It crept within one and then ran off eight straight points to close the quarter and suddenly led 42-35 heading into the fourth.
And when the Lady Royals moved within 46-45 in crunch time, the Lady Bruins kept their poise and responded. They scored 12 of the game’s last 16 points and enjoyed one final dogpile celebration.
“It was the best moment of my life,” Annecchiarico said.
In addition to leading all scorers in last Friday’s semifinal, Annecchiarico held LuHi star Celeste Taylor to four points through three quarters and 15 on the night, well below her average of better than 20. Senior Destiny Samuel’s go-ahead basket sparked a 16-point run in the third quarter that put Baldwin ahead to stay, 47-32. Hudson and Johnson had 13 points apiece.
“We have all the respect in the world for LuHi and Christ The King,” said Catapano, who is assisted by Anthony Bolden. “It was a magical weekend and something none of us will ever forget.”