Facing an eerily similar situation to the past two Long Island Class AA championships, the Baldwin girls basketball team found another gear.
Central Islip cut the lead to one point with 1:28 left in the third quarter, but the Bruins closed the game on a 25-1 run and won, 56-31, in front of a packed house at SUNY Old Westbury on Saturday. They’ll play next weekend in the state Final Four at Hudson Valley CC in Troy.
Aziah Hudson scored 11 straight points between the third and fourth quarters and finished with a game-high 22. Jenna Annecchiarico had 12 points, seven steals and six assists and sparked the Bruins with back-to-back steals then assists to Hudson in transition midway through the fourth.
“We didn’t want to lose. We were tired of losing two years in a row,” said Annecchiarico, whose Bruins lost to Commack in the past two Long Island Class AA title games. “We huddled in the beginning of fourth quarter and were like, ‘It’s our game. Let’s go.’ ”
What ensued was a display of dominance. Central Islip closed the deficit to 31-30 on a three-pointer from Myha Lombert, but that’s when the defensive intensity found another level.
Annecchiarico was relentless, showing quick feet and even quicker hands to prevent the Musketeers from setting their offense. The guard also hit three-pointers from opposite corners on consecutive possessions, the second coming with 3:03 left in the fourth quarter. That gave Baldwin a 49-30 lead.
“Jenna, she played phenomenal,” said coach Tom Catapano. “I thought the whole team kind of played phenomenal in the fourth quarter. I knew we were going to be OK because we were defending all game long. It was just a matter of making some shots.”
Making shots was a struggle in the first three quarters. Hudson made her first three-pointer of the game but then missed her next five. Annecchiarico didn’t make a shot from distance until the aforementioned two. Even Kaia Harrison (10 points), a capable spot-up shooter, only hit once.
The Musketeers capitalized early, dominating at times with effective possessions. But when Baldwin gets in transition, it’s dangerous.
That’s exactly what happened in the fourth.
“It was scary because the last two years, that’s exactly what happened,” said senior Sarah Pulis, referencing both losses to Commack. “So we just had to stay calm, and we did, and we got it done.”
Pulis was a key factor in allowing Baldwin to maintain possession when the offense was struggling, pulling in 10 of her 15 rebounds on the offensive glass.
“She is great; she’s a monster,” Annecchiarico said. “I’m so proud of her. She was definitely a main factor in this game.”
Central Islip coach Paul Venturi also had reason to be proud. The Muskeeters upset top-seeded Commack in the county title game and said his team would be back in the Long Island championship
“They’re such a great group of girls,” he said. “They were unflappable all year. They were very resilient. Baldwin just had too much for them today; they’re a great team. That’s a program to emulate.”
Venturi showed class in the fourth quarter, pulling seniors Chanel Taylor (eight points) and Anhya Jenkins (13) inside two minutes to let the packed Central Islip crowd stand and applaud.
“I wanted to honor them for what they did for the program and for their season,” Venturi said. “I just wanted them to get the recognition from the fans.”
Both seniors were resilient in attempts to break the Baldwin press, but unrelenting defense has been the backbone of the Bruins’ run this season.
Now they’ll attempt to ride that defense to a state title.