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Baldwin falls to Cicero-North Syracuse in state Class AA semifinals

Baldwin's Jade Aponte moves the ball against Cicero-North

Baldwin's Jade Aponte moves the ball against Cicero-North Syracuse's McKayla Roberts in the New York State Public High School Athletic Association girls Class AA semifinal basketball game on Friday, March 14, 2014, in Troy, N.Y. Credit: Hans Pennink

TROY, N.Y. - The Professor taught one final lesson.

That nickname was bestowed upon Baldwin's senior captain, and prominently displayed at the bottom of her shooting shirt, for good reason. Mariah Butler was known as "Professor" for the lessons she taught on the court as captain and point guard.

Butler and fellow captain Tyra Harrison played their final game for the Bruins Friday night as Baldwin fell to Cicero-North Syracuse, 61-50, in a state Class AA semifinal at Hudson Valley CC.

"It means a lot to get to this point, but we definitely wished to do a little more and take that last step," said Butler, who had 10 points. "We definitely wanted to do something special. Despite our loss, I'm proud of my teammates."

Jade Aponte scored nine of her 18 in the second quarter and Lames ElGammal added 10 points and 11 rebounds for Baldwin (17-4).

After the Bruins trailed by as many as 14 points, Tiara Place hit a runner in the lane to trim Cicero's lead to five with 3:45 remaining. Jenna Annecchiarico then intercepted a pass and fed Taylor Howell, whose layup cut the deficit to three and made it a one-possession game for the first time since the opening minutes.

But Cicero (19-4) hit 13 of 14 free throws in the final three minutes to seal the win and advance to the state final, where it will face Ossining at 8:45 Saturday night.

Despite the loss of some key seniors, the performance of some of Baldwin's returning players -- such as junior Aponte (who hit four three-pointers) and sophomore ElGammal -- provide hope for next season.

"The future is very bright because we have a long way to improve," ElGammal said. "Improving on what we have now will only make the team better in the future."

McKayla Roberts, who had 15 points, went around a screen and drained a straightaway three to give Cicero-North Syracuse a 36-28 lead. Off a Baldwin miss on the next possession, Roberts found Samantha Tortora, who hit a pull-up three to increase the lead to 11.

Samantha Roberts soon added another three to open a 42-28 lead.

Baldwin began to chip away as Aziah Hudson intercepted a pass and went coast-to-coast for the lay-in, and Place cut through the lane for a layup to cut the deficit to 42-32 with 2:25 left.

To open the fourth, Annecchiarico sent a bounce pass through traffic to Aponte, who made the layup and drew the contact for a three-point play that cut the lead to 44-36. Hudson then went coast-to-coast for a layup to pull the Bruins within six.

Baldwin, which last played in the state semifinals in 2011 when it fell to a Breanna Stewart-led Cicero-North Syracuse team in the semifinals, was looking to advance to its first state championship game.

"It's been an unbelievable season," Baldwin coach Tom Catapano said. "To get back here, we realize how hard it is to get to this point. This is a special group of kids and I'm super-proud of them. Any time you can be a Long Island champ, it's a special year."

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