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Baldwin girls make LI history by repeating as state Class AA champs

Baldwin's Aziah Hudson (2) scores against Ossining in

Baldwin's Aziah Hudson (2) scores against Ossining in the New York State Public High School Athletic Association girls' Class AA championship basketball game Sunday, March 18, 2018, in Troy, N.Y. Credit: Hans Pennink

TROY, N.Y. — When Aziah Hudson was subbed out with a minute left, knowing that a state championship was a foregone conclusion, she walked to the bench and faced the Baldwin crowd with a forefinger on each hand pointed high.

It was an instance of pure ecstasy, with each finger representing a state Class AA championship for Baldwin, the only Long Island girls basketball team that has ever repeated as a state champion.

Hudson was dynamic, scoring 34 points to earn tournament MVP honors and lead the Bruins to an 87-60 win over Westchester’s Ossining on Sunday morning at Hudson Valley CC. This was a rematch of last year’s final, a year ago to the day, which Baldwin won, 73-45.

“It’s a crazy feeling. I never thought this could happen to us, and the feeling is so great,” said Hudson, a senior who scored 30 points in Saturday’s semifinal victory over Rochester’s Bishop Kearney. “We really made history.”

After building a 20-point lead in the second quarter, the Bruins outscored Ossining 26-7 in the fourth quarter to break open a close game.

The Bruins shot 7-for-12 from outside the arc in the first half (9-for-19 for the game), but not even that hot shooting could hold down Ossining, making its sixth consecutive appearance in the state final.

Aubrey Griffin (34 points), daughter of Oklahoma City Thunder assistant coach Adrian Griffin, cut Ossining’s deficit to 55-51 with 50 seconds left in the third quarter. She made little impact in the fourth quarter, though, scoring only four points, thanks to suffocating defense from Jenna Annecchiarico.

Annecchiarico, a 5-4 guard, hardly looked overmatched by Griffin, a 6-foot point forward. She appeared to exhaust Griffin late, forcing desperation shots as she attempted to shoulder Ossining’s comeback attempt.

“Aubrey, she’s going to be a pro . . . She made some shots that only Aubrey Griffin can make,” Baldwin coach Tom Catapano said. “I thought Jenna did a phenomenal job on her. Jenna made her work for everything, and I thought you saw two really high-level players going at it.”

An all-around team defense held Ossining to 2-for-14 shooting in the fourth quarter, and Baldwin’s offense kicked into another gear.

“We knew this was going to be a war. It’s Ossining,” said Catapano, the architect behind eight county titles in his nine years as coach. “We knew we were ready for a four-quarter battle, but I think we had that one last gear, that championship gear, in the fourth quarter.”

Donnetta Johnson (16 points, eight rebounds) looked to Kaia Harrison with 4:30 left and yelled, “Let’s put them away!” And the Bruins did just that.

Harrison scored 16 points and Annecchiarico contributed 14. Elena Randolph and Sarah Henry provided solid minutes off the bench, allowing Catapano to periodically rest his starters for the stretch run.

“We all feel speechless right now,” said Harrison, who added that the victory sank in when she was subbed out with Hudson. “[Catapano] said to try and make history. No other school had ever done this. We just tried to put our name on the map.”

That’s why Hudson gestured confidently toward the crowd when she exited the floor.

“The crowd was too quiet for me,” she said. “I had to amp them up. There was one minute left! I knew we had it in the bag.”

Baldwin’s second in the bag.

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