Jamir Stewart, Baldwin beat Hills East in Long Island 'AA' boys basketball final
For the Baldwin boys basketball team, Saturday night at Hofstra University was far more than a rare opportunity to advance to the state tournament.
It represented a chance to finish off what the program never had the chance to back in 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic led to a premature, sudden ending to their season shortly after winning the county title.
And on this night two years later, the Bruins finished the job and punched their long-awaited ticket upstate.
Jamir Stewart had 22 points and Joshua Petion and Cadeem Ramsay added 13 points apiece as Baldwin defeated Half Hollow Hills East, 79-68, in the Long Island Class AA championship at David S. Mack Sports and Exhibition Complex.
"I was on that team two years ago, and I did this for them," Stewart said. "We would’ve had the chance to do this but it got shut down. I’m just happy to do this with my guys."
Baldwin (22-1) advances to the regional semifinals on Friday at Cool Insuring Arena in Glens Falls, in pursuit of the program’s first state title.
Petion said this moment, which eluded them previously, was the one Baldwin had its sights set on entering the season.
"This is what we’ve been working for since Day One," Petion said. "We just wanted to be that team to make it back upstate."
Trailing 52-47 entering the fourth quarter, Hills East came out with a quick 6-0 spurt over the first 41 seconds to take a brief lead. But Baldwin answered right back with a game-changing 10-0 run, pushing ahead 62-53 with 4:25 remaining following a strong putback from Ramsay on a missed free throw.
Hills East (19-7) cut the deficit to five about a minute and a half later, but Baldwin’s combination of lockdown defense and transition scoring enabled the Bruins to extend to a double-digit advantage with just under two minutes to go at 70-59.
A Hills East three-pointer with 1:07 left brought the Thunderbirds as close as 70-64, but Baldwin converted 7 of 8 free throws down the stretch to close it out. Ramsay also threw down a thunderous righthanded dunk in transition for the exclamation point.
As he lifted off for the electrifying jam, Ramsay said he considered it a risk well worth taking. "I wondered about my knee blowing out," Ramsay said with a laugh.
Hills East entered the locker room clinging to a 34-33 advantage after Bryce Hamilton’s floater with 31.1 seconds left in the opening half.
Xavier Lewis led Hills East with 23 points, while Derek Varlack had 17.
Following Jacob Oka’s layup with 3:10 left that put Baldwin ahead 26-21, Hills East responded with a 7-0 run capped off by a layup from Varlack just over a minute later. The two sides then caught fire, trading the lead seven times over the final two minutes.
Baldwin coach Darius Burton said his program was thrilled to take advantage of this opportunity following 2020s disappointing ending.
"This was a long time coming," Burton said. "We last won the Long Island championship in 2016 and thought that we would have a chance to win it when COVID hit. So for the group that was a part of that, this is really special."