Danny Ashley dribbled over half court with a huge smile. This is what he wanted. The chance to have the ball in his able hands and a championship in hand.
In a classy move, Ashley dribbled out the final nine seconds out of respect for his opponent and sealed Uniondale’s 58-46 win over Baldwin last night to capture the Nassau Class AA championship before a packed house at Farmingdale State College.
Ashley knows the feeling of defeat, having lost in last year’s title game against Westbury. This one wasn’t getting away from him. He finished with 14 points, 12 rebounds and eight steals as Uniondale won its first title since 2010.
“It felt so good to have the lead and the game won,” Ashley said. “And I respect those guys on Baldwin and it was the right thing to do at the end. I know what it’s like to lose in the championship. It happened in my freshman and junior years.”
Uniondale (21-1) will meet Half Hollow Hills East for the Long Island Class AA title at 5:30 p.m. Saturday at Farmingdale State College.
“We’re experienced and we’ve been on this stage,” said Uniondale coach Tom Diana, who’s led the Knights to the county final in four of the last five years. “I know how badly our guys want to win. We have such a great rivalry with Baldwin. And we can measure our success against teams like Baldwin and its fine coach Darius Burton. This was special tonight.”
Uniondale led 44-35 after three quarters on the strength of the inside play of big man Craig Brown and Zion Styles. Brown, with the soft shooting touch, scored 15 points and grabbed 10 rebounds through the first three quarters. Styles was active on the defensive end where he forced six turnovers and had four steals.
“We fell short last year,” said Brown, who led all scorers with 20 points. “And we didn’t want to let this one slip away.”
Baldwin (15-7) climbed back into the game with 4:50 left in the fourth quarter. The Bruins scored the first seven points of the final quarter to make it 44-42.
Uniondale exploded on an 11-2 run, ignited by Brown’s two free throws. Styles added five points and Ashley had three steals and two layups in transition.
“We finished strong and grabbed that title,” Brown said.
Styles steal and full court dash allowed him to unload a righthanded slam dunk to put the exclamation point on the deserved win.
“It took a couple of years, but we did it,” Ashley said.