Tiara Place, Lames El Gammal lead Baldwin in Class AA semifinals

Baldwin's Tiara Place gets inside in the Nassau

Baldwin's Tiara Place gets inside in the Nassau girls basketball Class AA semifinal on Feb. 22, 2014 at LIU Post. (Credit: Patrick E. McCarthy)

The players were baffled. Try as they did, the Baldwin basketball team simply had no answer Saturday night.

"Umm, I honestly don't know," junior Tiara Place said. "I can't come up with anything."

That's disappointing. All the nicknames on this team and nothing for its pressure-applying, chaos-causing defense? Every great one needs a nickname, right?

Then again, perhaps not. For the Bruins, great performances will suffice.

Baldwin did as it has all season: surround and stifle its opponent, dominating in a 55-38 victory over Freeport in the Nassau Class AA semifinals.

"When you see Baldwin, just think defense," Taylor Howell said. "No nickname needed."

The Bruins this season have worn pink warm-up shirts with their pet names inscribed on the back -- each somewhat descriptive of the player's best attribute.

Place, for instance, is "The Problem." At 5-10, with her athleticism and ballhandling ability, she often proves problematic for the opposition. She had 11 points, five rebounds, two blocks and two steals for top-seeded Baldwin.

Or Lames El Gammal, "The Monster," whose 6-1 frame and strength in the post is, well, scary. She added nine points and 10 rebounds.

Mariah Butler is "The Professor." The point guard earned that, of course, with her ability to school the opposition, provide instructions to her teammates and, Howell said, "because she gets great grades." She had eight points and four assists.

Asiah Hudson scored nine points, Tyra Harrison added seven points and five steals, and Jenna Annecchiarico five points and six steals.

The Bruins (14-1) capitalized on turnovers early, opened the game with a 12-0 run and led 33-16 at the half. The Red Devils scored nine points in the second quarter but managed only one field goal. AJ Smith had 10 points and Taylor Miller nine for No. 4 Freeport (15-4).

Baldwin could call its defense "Lockdown," but that already belongs to Howell. The guard didn't score but made her imprint with hounding man defense, three steals and a number of deflections.

"We're always looking to get steals; we don't like people getting beyond halfcourt," El Gammal said. "It's defense before offense, and we take a lot of pride in it."

They have reason to be proud, having held opponents to 31.3 points this season. And they've done that without the benefit of a methodical half-court offense to slow the pace in games. The Bruins push the tempo constantly, but their defense is just that good.

"The kids are well-conditioned and they take it very seriously," coach Tom Catapano said. "Defense and attacking on offense have been our staples; our ticket to success."

The win punched their ticket to the final against second-seeded Massapequa at 4 p.m. Saturday at LIU Post. Massapequa beat Mepham, 69-34, in the other semifinal behind Melanie Hinger's 23 points.

"We won't underestimate our opponent," Place said. "We'll just go in focused and do what we do best: That's defense, defense, defense!"

And you can call it what you want.

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