TROY, N.Y. — Donnetta Johnson watched last year’s state Class AA championship game from the bench, acting as a cheerleader while she recovered from a knee injury.
With the opportunity to send the Baldwin girls basketball team back to the state final this season, the senior contributed across the board.
Johnson set the tone early with a quarterback-style outlet pass to Aziah Hudson (30 points) and finished with 11 points, six rebounds, five assists and four steals as the Bruins beat Rochester’s Bishop Kearney, 65-49, in a state Class AA semifinal Saturday afternoon at Hudson Valley CC.
Defending state champion Baldwin (23-1) will play Westchester’s Ossining at 10 a.m. Sunday in a rematch of last season’s final.
“It’s really exciting,” said Johnson, a 6-foot forward signed to play for the University of Georgia. “Getting back there is a challenge, but we work hard for it, so we know our hard work will pay off.”
Johnson grabbed a rebound and channeled her inner quarterback to find Hudson streaking down the court for the game’s first basket.
Bishop Kearney’s Saniaa Wilson scored six straight points, but the Bruins took a 38-23 lead into halftime. They shot 14-for-16 from the free-throw line in the first half and finished 15-for-18.
“We work on free throws all the time in practice,” said Hudson, who was 5-for-6 from the foul line. “We try to set goals for each other because we know we’re going to get to the free-throw line. Being on the line should be a privilege; it should be automatic.”
Baldwin didn’t attempt a free throw in the third quarter, mostly because the baskets came easier as ball movement increased and shots began to fall.
Johnson’s layup off an assist from Destiny Samuel gave Baldwin a 42-27 lead and began an 11-3 run capped by Kaia Harrison’s layup. Samuel found Hudson for a left-corner three-pointer that gave Baldwin a 58-34 lead after three quarters.
During the offensive outburst, Baldwin put on a defensive clinic. The Bruins took three charges and forced a 10-second violation and a shot-clock violation. Hudson and Jenna Annecchiarico each had four steals.
With Samuel battling foul trouble, sophomore Elena Randolph provided 11 quality minutes during the stretch. She had five points and two rebounds.
“Even though she’s a sophomore, Elena is tough,” Hudson said. “She doesn’t care who she’s guarding — she could be guarding the biggest girl on the court — Elena just gives it all she has.”
Bishop Kearney surged in the fourth quarter, outscoring Baldwin 15-7, but the Bruins hung on, helped by their work from the free-throw line in the first half.
“Free throws are important,” Johnson said. “You either win a game by it or you lose a game by it. You lose by one or you win by one. We work on free throws every day, so it wasn’t really a big challenge.”