Baldwin’s trademark tenacious defense paved the way to another Nassau Class AA girls’ basketball title.
The defending state champion Lady Bruins held Massapequa to a mere five points in the second half last Saturday afternoon on the way to a convincing 60-24 victory at Farmingdale College for their fifth consecutive county championship and eighth in the last nine seasons.
Seniors Jenna Annecchiarico and Aziah Hudson, key contributors to each of the crowns, led the offense with 16 and 14 points, respectively, while junior Kaia Harrison added 13 before missing the final 12:05 with an ankle injury suffered after a flagrant foul.
“It’s a 12-month journey and winning five counties in a row is a tribute to all the work the kids put in year-round,” Baldwin head coach Tom Catapano said. “I’m blessed to have such a dedicated and great group of girls to coach year after year.
“They knew not to take Massapequa lightly,” he added. “It’s the county championship and they were prepared for a battle. Massapequa came out strong, but I thought we did a great job of wearing them down.”
Sophomore Alexa Gentile had 11 points — including all of the second-half scoring — to pace the Lady Chiefs, who managed only 14 points in the last three-and-a-half quarters after jumping out to a surprising 10-6 advantage.
“We always like to play at a fast pace and I think our pressure eventually got to them,” Catapano said. “They’re competitors and winners in every sport, so we knew they would play tough and never quit.”
Senior Destiny Samuel, a newcomer to Baldwin’s program but a longtime teammate of Annecchiarico, Hudson and Donnetta Johnson on the AAU circuit, scored six of her eight points on the day from the foul line in the opening quarter to answer Massapequa’s early success. Johnson, who missed her junior campaign due to injury, contributed 10 rebounds.
“We had instant chemistry with the additions of Destiny and Donnetta,” said Hudson, the school’s all-time leading scorer who’s averaging more than 16 points per game this season. “We want to go as far as we can.”
The Lady Bruins (21-1) led 15-13 after the opening quarter and began to impose their will by scoring the first 10 points of the second. Harrison, the only non-senior among the starting five, had a driving layup and a trey during the spurt and later added a pair of free throws to give Baldwin a 31-19 halftime cushion.
The margin was 37-19 with 3:55 remaining in the third quarter when Harrison was hacked from behind on her way to the basket and needed assistance to get off the floor. Annecchiarico, who was 8-for-8 from the line, sank two free throws in her place and added two more on the next possession to cap another 10-point run.
Harrison plans to be ready for Thursday night’s Long Island Class AA championship game against Commack (22-1) at Suffolk Community College’s Brentwood Campus at 7:30 p.m. “I sprained the same ankle earlier in the season and I was scared it was broken because of how hard I landed on it,” she said. “It feels better now.”
The Lady Bruins are looking to avenge a pair of L.I. title game defeats to Commack, which won the 2015 championship, 51-50, and the ’16 crown, 40-33.
“We’re taking it personally because Commack has beaten us twice,” Hudson said. “They’re a strong team, so we know we have to play hard and play well every minute.”