Twice during the game, Mike Milligan tried to dunk over Eric Mack. Twice Baldwin's 6-3 center rejected the attempt.
So when Milligan caught a perfect dump-down pass from Matt Smith with Northport trailing by two in the final minute, the Tigers' 6-5 wing wasn't looking for style points. He was looking for sure points.
Sure enough, Milligan banked home the basket, drew a foul from Mack and sank the free throw that put Northport ahead to stay with 52 seconds left.
The Tigers hung on for a 43-40 victory Saturday night at Hofstra's Mack Center to win the Long Island Class AA championship and earn a trip to Glens Falls for next Saturday's state semifinals as the reigning Southeast Regional winners.
"I knew I missed those two dunks and I had to make up for it," said an overjoyed Milligan, who finished with 13 points. "I didn't expect the and-one."
Milligan got behind the Baldwin defense that concentrated on stopping 6-9 center Luke Petrasek. Petrasek, serenaded by chants of "Loooooooook!" by the Northport fans, had a scintillating dunk among his 14 points, grabbed nine rebounds and blocked three shots. But he was scoreless in the fourth.
"We were still looking for Luke," Northport coach Andrew D'Eloia said of the play called during a timeout. "We knew they'd double-team him, so Mike dived to the basket and Matt made the right play."
Until that moment, Smith's two free throws were Northport's only points in the fourth quarter as Baldwin showed tremendous grit by hanging in without its high-scoring forward Jordan Williams, who according to Bruins athletic director Ed Ramirez, suffered a torn patella in the second minute of the game on a driving layup attempt. After a 25-minute delay, Williams was taken off the court in a stretcher and transported to Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow.
With its bench scoring 12 points in the first half, Mack blocking six shots in the game and Travais Hylton contributing eight second-half points, including a pull-up jumper to tie it at 38 with 5:48 left, Baldwin was never out of the game despite Williams' absence.
In fact, the Bruins had a chance to win. They possessed the ball at side court with 32 seconds left trailing 42-41 after Milligan's dramatic three-point play. But Austin Marchese leaped high to intercept the inbounds pass as the Northport portion of a crowd estimated at more than 3,000 fans went wild.
Marchese was fouled with 23.8 seconds left and, in a clutch one-and-one scenario, swished both free throws, making the Tigers a rip-roaring 15-for-15 from the foul line for the game. Hylton got off a long potential tying three-pointer that clanged off the rim just before the final buzzer.
"Coach told me to deny the ball and I just went up and got it," Marchese said.
Of the pressure-cooker free throws, he added, "My team had confidence and me and I had confidence."
Like Milligan just seconds before, Marchese at the line was a sure thing.