Baldwin couldn’t have written a sweeter final chapter to its storybook season last Saturday night at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy, knocking off four-time defending state Class AA girls’ basketball champion Ossining, 73-45, in runaway fashion to capture the first state title in program history.
It was all Lady Bruins (21-3) after they fell behind by 5 points after five minutes. They stormed ahead by a basket after the opening quarter and exploded for 26 points in the second to take a 47-28 halftime lead.
Junior Aziah Hudson scored 16 of her game-high 22 points in the first half, junior Jenna Annecchiarico had 13 points, senior Montia Moon and sophomore Kaia Harrison added 12 apiece, and senior Sarah Pulis had 9 points and 11 rebounds. Led by Moon, Baldwin’s defensive effort held UConn-bound Andra Espinoza-Hunter to 19 points, including just 6 over the final 24 minutes, roughly half of her scoring average.
“What a magical weekend,” head coach Tom Catapano said. “The girls were ready for the moment and seized the moment. I couldn’t be more proud.”
It was Baldwin’s second victory over Ossining this season. The Lady Bruins topped the Pride on Dec. 28, 83-73, in the first round of the Slam Dunk Challenge in Westchester, despite Espinoza-Hunter’s 28 points.
“It’s always been our philosophy to try to take away what our opponent does best,” Catapano said. “We watched the film from the first game several times and broke down our mistakes. We felt we could do a lot of things better, especially our press.”
Espinoza-Hunter was hot in the early going last Saturday night, nailing three shots from behind the arc to help Ossining take a 14-9 lead. “They like to play really fast, and the pace was frantic in the first quarter,” Catapano said. “We weathered the storm a little bit and started to wear them down in the second.”
Baldwin’s signature defense turned the game upside down in quarter No. 2. Moon, who gave up seven inches in her matchup with the 6-foot-1 Espinoza-Hunter, led a tenacious performance on the defensive end of the floor. “She’s an amazing player,” Moon said of Espinoza-Hunter. “But I knew her tendencies from when we played them in December and worked hard to deny her the ball.”
When the halftime buzzer sounded, the Lady Bruins raced into the locker room with a 19-point lead. “Everyone was just clapping and screaming at halftime,” Catapano said. “We were on such a roll.”
It was more of the same after intermission. The Pride never threatened, and head coach Dan Ricci didn’t stick around for much of the second half. He picked up two technical fouls and was ejected with 3:38 left in the third quarter and his team trailing 62-33.
“Starting with the county championship game against Massapequa, our girls really took their attention to details on defense to another level and carried out the game plans,” Catapano said. “Everything we’ve accomplished is a tribute to our preparation and overall defense.”
Hudson, reserves spark semifinal victory
Despite getting into some foul trouble in last Friday night’s state semifinal against Shenendehowa, Hudson shot the lights out to lead Baldwin to a 60-46 victory. She drilled six treys and finished with 27 points as the Lady Bruins advanced to their first state final.
“Stars shine brightest in big spots,” Catapano said. “The way Aziah was shooting, the basket looked like an ocean.”
Baldwin never trailed after Hudson’s two free throws gave it a 30-28 lead midway through the third quarter. Catapano lauded Harrison’s play at both ends of the floor as well as the roles of seniors Nadia Elcock and Kayla Brown, and junior Sarah Henry off the bench when several starters got into foul trouble. “Nadia, Kayla and Sarah stabilized us when we needed them the most,” he said.