Eric Mack's 17 points lead Baldwin to Class AA title
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He is only 6-3, but Eric Mack is like a truck-sized roadblock in the middle of the Baldwin defense. The senior with exceptional leaping ability and timing is a shot-blocking specialist who discourages opposing players from venturing into the paint.
"He protects our house," Baldwin coach Darius Burton said.
Saturday, Mack put the Bruins in the penthouse, scoring 15 of his 17 points in the second half, blocking five shots and altering countless others in a 64-44 victory over Uniondale in the Nassau AA championship game at Hofstra's appropriately named Mack Center.
And, yes, Mack is Baldwin's center. And yes, he has been in the middle of the team's success all season. The top-seeded Bruins improved to 16-3 and will face Suffolk's top seed Northport in the Long Island AA championship game Saturday night at 9:30 at Hofstra.
"Eric is just great. He blocks shots and he's our rim protector," said Baldwin guard Travais Hylton, who checked in with 16 points, 14 in the first half, and handled the ball skillfully against the trapping, swarming Uniondale defense that registered 12 steals.
"Their pressure was tremendous. But you could tell we wanted it," Hylton said. "We had the fire."
So did No. 6 Uniondale (12-9) which repeatedly rallied from double-digit deficits behind speedy guard Aaron Cust (20 points) to close it to 44-39 with 6:23 left.
The Bruins then went on a game-changing 10-0 run and were on their way to back-to-back Nassau AA championships for the first time in school history. Elijah McMillan fueled that surge eight straight points, including one long-range three-pointer and one short-range conventional three-point play.
All the while, Hylton seemed impervious to the Knights' press. "He's my only three-year varsity player and he has improved every day," Burton said of the 5-11 senior guard. "He put us on his back."
Mack, on the other hand, is in his first season on the varsity. He didn't try out as a freshman, got cut as a sophomore but became team manager, skipped junior year to concentrate on academics but continued to play summer ball with several Baldwin players.
"He's done a great job in the books and on the floor," Burton said.
Mack has totaled 121 blocks in 19 games. "From the first day of practice, Coach said if someone gets beat on defense, it's my job to send the shot somewhere else," Mack said.
He said he got his jumping ability from his father, Kevin, who played on the Baldwin varsity with Burton on a top-seeded team in 1991 that was upset in the playoffs.
"My timing is just natural," Mack said, "but defense is always my number one focus. I think those blocks elevate the team emotionally."
Mack produced an offensive highlight in the third quarter during a key 9-0 run that produced a 38-25 lead. He caught an alley-oop pass from Hylton and finished with a thunderous dunk.
"We wanted to make team history," Mack said.
He had the Mack Center rocking. Mack the center was its rock star.