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Baldwin could be best-ever LI girls basketball team

Bruins were dominant in winning back-to-back state championships and becoming the first team to win the large-schools Federation championship

Baldwin players celebrate a 58-49 win against Christ

Baldwin players celebrate a 58-49 win against Christ the King in the New York State Federation Tournament of Champions Class A A girls final basketball game on Saturday, March 24, 2018, in Glens Falls, N.Y. Photo Credit: Hans Pennink

Rarely was the deck ever stacked against the Baldwin girls basketball team, but when the Bruins faced then-undefeated and top-ranked Christ the King in the state Federation final, they had to rise to the challenge.

Riding the contributions of four seniors bound to play at Division I schools, Baldwin triumphed, 58-49, and became the fifth Long Island public girls basketball team to win a Federation title. This came a week after it became the first Long Island girls basketball team to win back-to-back state championships.

Naturally, this sparked debate as to whether or not Baldwin is the best girls basketball team in Long Island history. The consensus is that the Bruins at least belong in the conversation, while there are some who believe it’s not even a question.

Put coach Tom Catapano in the latter category. He has coached several core members of the Bruins — Aziah Hudson, Jenna Annecchiarico and Kaia Harrison, to name a few — since third grade.

“If there’s any group that could rise up to the challenge, it’s this group of kids,” he said after upsetting Christ the King, ranked No. 1 in the nation by USA Today at the time.

Rich Castellano has coached Northport girls basketball since 1979-80. He played Baldwin this fall at the start of his 39th season and said the Bruins “manhandled us.”

“Yes, without a doubt they’re in the conversation,” he said. “When I started, it was Wyandanch coached by Warren Fuller and Sachem, when they were combined. Those were the two we always aspired to be like. In Nassau, Freeport was always a powerhouse for a while. Farmingdale was another one.”

Wyandanch won Federation titles in Class C in 1983 and 1987, and Westbury (1983, Class B) and Glenn (2005, Class B) also captured Federation crowns. But Baldwin is the first large school to do so, putting an exclamation point on its achievement.

Hudson (Old Dominion), Annecchiarico (Eastern Michigan), Donnetta Johnson (Georgia) and Destiny Samuel (Temple) paced the Bruins this season both with their leadership and signature pressure defense.

Harrison, a junior who Catapano said is receiving Division I interest, set the pace offensively. Sarah Henry, Elena Randolph and Jayda Watts made valuable contributions off the bench.

“A lot of people underestimate us because we’re a public school,” Hudson said after Baldwin defeated Ossining, 87-60, for the state Class AA championship. “We grind the same as private schools. We do the same exact things, play hard teams just like everybody else.”

After losing the season opener to St. John’s College High School, 63-41, Baldwin won its remaining games and finished 26-1. The Bruins averaged just more than 67 points per game and allowed 38.2 points per game, a true testament to their dominance.

“I feel like when hard work meets opportunity, special things happen,” Catapano said. “And that hard work met opportunity this year, and magic happened.”

This Baldwin team will be remembered not just for its accomplishments but for how it electrified the local girls basketball scene.

“Baldwin can play in any part of the country and win, this year’s team especially,” Castellano said. “It’s great for girls basketball.”

BRUINS’ ROAD TO THE CHAMPIONSHIP

Nassau Class AA playoffs

Calhoun, 85-28

Freeport, 77-44

Massapequa, 60-24

LI championship

Commack, 78-48

State semifinal

Bishop Kearney, 65-49

State championship

Ossining, 87-60

Federation semifinal

Long Island Lutheran, 64-47

Federation championship

Christ the King, 58-49

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