The Baldwin players heard the horn ring and it sounded the sweet tones of a Nassau county championship.
The celebration in the middle of the court was on.
Until it wasn’t.
No one had been able to pull down a rebound after Uniondale’s Isaiah Joseph-Brock missed a potential go-ahead baseline jumper with only a few seconds left. The horn seemed the final punctuation on a one-point victory, but the officials ruled the ball had landed out of bounds, put three-tenths of a second back on the clock and handed the ball back to Uniondale.
Baldwin had to gather itself for one more defensive stand — and it was up to the task, earning a 61-60 win in the Nassau Class AA boys basketball championship game Sunday night at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum.
Two-time defending county champion Uniondale’s winning streak ended at 19 games. Baldwin (18-4) is a county champion for the eighth time, the fifth time in the past nine years and the first time since 2016.
It seems only fitting that Baldwin would pull off the feat with its defense. The Bruins have been a true ensemble, with any player capable of leading the team in scoring on any night, but defense has always been part of their winning recipe.
The final lead change came when Trevan Blackett found Kamani Jones for a three-pointer from the corner and a 59-58 lead with 2:33 left, and Baldwin allowed only two free throws the rest of the way.
“That was our will at the end, our heart,” Jayden McKenzie said. “That’s every second of defensive drills paying off.”
“It was frustrating when they put the time back up and had us go back out,” Jones said. “No obstacle is too big.”
If there is one enduring image from the game, it would have to be its most common sight: McKenzie blazing upcourt through the Uniondale defense to get to the basket. He scored 24 points, with Jones adding nine and Isiah Walker chipping in with eight.
McKenzie also was key in limiting phenomenal freshman point guard Jo Jo Wright to 14 points. Wright made a step-back jumper for the Knights’ last lead with 2:55 left but was quieted when Baldwin went to a box-and-one defense.
“We couldn’t let him be the one to beat us,” Baldwin coach Darius Burton said. “I can’t say enough about our defense at the end. We’ve been asking for one more stop all season, and we needed this one.”
Jayden Freeman added 14 points for Uniondale (20-2).
The Bruins will meet Suffolk champion Brentwood (23-2) in the Long Island Class AA championship/ Southeast Regional final Saturday at Farmingdale State.
Baldwin has been a big third-quarter team all season — and wishes it had put together some better first quarters — but so it was again against the Knights.
Jones and Walker had been in foul trouble, but in the third quarter, Jones started things with a three-pointer, Walker had six points and McKenzie scored the final six points of the frame in 40.7 seconds to tie the score at 45-45.
“They have a refuse-to-lose attitude,’’ Burton said, “and it came through.”
That final minute of the third quarter was typical of a player having a special night. McKenzie’s speed created points, and when it wasn’t creating points, it created turnovers that led to points.
“I was really motivated because Uniondale beat us in the final when I was a sophomore,” he said. “I didn’t want to finish my career without getting one back from them.”