If there was any question regarding the Baldwin boys basketball team’s determination to return to the county final on Tuesday night, less than one half of play emphatically answered it.
Two years removed from a championship season that was suddenly cut short because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the No. 1 Bruins rolled against No. 5 Port Washington, 72-41, in a Nassau Class AA semifinal at Hofstra University’s Mack Sports Complex.
A layup by Michael Bischoff brought Port Washington to within 7-3 with 2:37 left in the first. It was all Baldwin from there.
Behind a stellar press defense and hot shooting, the Bruins went on a 24-0 run capped by Dave Hepburn’s layup with 2:02 left in the first half. He finished with 11 points.
"It was just about our defense," Hepburn said. "No one can handle our pressure. Once we get that pressure, they can’t handle us."
Baldwin (20-1) will return to Hofstra on March 5 to face Plainview-Old Bethpage JFK in the final at 7:30 p.m.
Baldwin coach Darius Burton said the sudden ending of the team’s 2020 run, combined with the lack of a postseason last year has fueled the Bruins for quite some time.
"We told ourselves that we have the belt and we want to defend our title," Burton said. "We want to be able to finish something that we didn’t get a chance to finish. We won the county but didn’t get a chance to go to the Long Island championship and hopefully upstate with COVID cutting it short.
"This group is really hungry and allergic to losing. We’re just taking it one game at a time and we want to get back to where we were two years ago and even more."
After Baldwin’s prolonged wait, Jamir Stewart (15 points) ultimately guaranteed another championship finish.
"Me and my guys, we worked all summer for this," Stewart said. "We wanted this way before Baldwin was on the map, and we’re going to win it all. We’re going to make sure of that."
The Bruins led 33-7 at halftime and continued to keep Port Washington (16-5) off balance in the second half. Baldwin entered the fourth with a 49-20 advantage before booking its ticket back to the county final.
After two long years, the Bruins now look to defend their title.
"Once the big stage comes, we’ll be locked in and ready," Stewart said.