Despite a slow start, Baldwin moved one win away from its ninth consecutive Nassau Class AA girls’ basketball championship with a 56-34 victory over neighboring Freeport in Friday’s semifinal at Farmingdale State College.
The top-seeded Lady Bruins trailed by one midway through the second quarter before closing the opening half on an 11-2 run to take command. Eighth-grader Chinaya Okogeri scored 12 of her 14 points in the quarter and sophomore Payton Dulin poured in 12 of her game-high 19 points in the second half as Baldwin punched its ticket to Saturday’s county title game where it’ll take on No. 2 Massapequa at Hofstra University at 2:30 p.m.
“Conference AA-1 was a bear this season and Freeport had an excellent team,” Baldwin head coach Tom Catapano said. “They came out strong tonight and we have such a young team with just one senior on the floor. It took us a little while to get going.”
Fourth-seeded Freeport, which squeaked by No. 5 Plainview in the quarterfinals, got 11 points from senior Taneece Wooden and 8 points from juniors Nia Phillips and Ania Crocker. The Red Devils finished 18-4, with each of their defeats coming against Final Four teams.
“The girls played hard and had a great season,” Freeport head coach Meredith Jones said. “We got into foul trouble in the first half and that hurt. We missed too many layups and Baldwin did what Baldwin does and that’s wear you down.”
The Red Devils led 11-7 late in the first quarter behind Wooden’s seven points and a basket apiece from Phillips and junior StarAsia Gaines. Dulin netted all of Baldwin’s points until 1:45 remained in the quarter and junior Monique Echols sank a free throw following Wooden’s second foul.
Senior Katelyn Simpson scored on consecutive possessions to give the Lady Bruins a 12-11 lead after one.
“We’ve been through a lot this season and we’re just going through the grind and hoping to defend the county championship,” said Simpson, who had eight points and helped lead the defensive pressure. “We’re feeling pretty confident.”
The second quarter featured four lead changes. Crocker’s two baskets and one from senior point guard Anayah Lloyd had Freeport clinging to a 17-16 lead before Okogeri, with help from sophomores Toni Smith and Madison Guillory, went on a tear to carry Baldwin (19-2) to a 27-19 halftime lead.
“To play as well as she did on this stage shows how special a player she is,” Catapano said of Okogeri. “The sky’s the limit.”
Baldwin’s defense cranked it up a notch in the third quarter as Dulin found her offensive groove. She hit two field goals and went 4-for-5 from the line as the lead swelled to 42-24 heading into the fourth.
“To be back in the finals says a lot about what this group is made of,” Catapano said.
“Massapequa is talented and has really strong guard play,” he added. “It’s going to be a real tough game.”