GLENS FALLS, N.Y. — This was the dream matchup for fans of Long Island girls basketball, pitting two perennial powers against each other in the state’s highest-profile tournament.
Baldwin, which has won consecutive state Class AA public school championships and is ranked 19th in the country by ESPNW, and always-strong Long Island Lutheran went toe-to-toe in Friday’s state Federation Class AA semifinal, and the contest lived up to its billing.
A game-changing third-quarter run was the difference for Baldwin, which dominated the second half and won, 64-47, at Cool Insuring Arena. The Bruins (25-1) will play Christ the King at 6 p.m. Saturday in the final.
“We play with those girls in AAU,” said Aziah Hudson, who had 13 points and ignited the crowd with an emphatic block in the fourth quarter. “I’ve been playing with those girls since fifth grade. Knowing that we know how they play and how close we are, we just took it to another level.”
Trailing 32-31 with 3:30 left in the third quarter, Baldwin went into what coach Tom Catapano calls the “championship gear,” scoring 16 straight points.
Destiny Samuel put Baldwin ahead with 3:09 left in the quarter to ignite the run. Kaia Harrison went up-and-under with her left hand for a three-point lead and Jenna Annecchiarico (20 points, four assists, four steals) nailed a three-pointer from the left corner.
Annecchiarico made another three-pointer during Baldwin’s burst, which trickled into the fourth quarter and made the score 47-32. Donnetta Johnson (nine rebounds) had four of her 13 points in the run.
“It felt like our game,” Hudson said. “That’s how we play all the time, fast-paced, good passes, good shots. We were playing like how Baldwin plays.”
Annecchiarico held Celeste Taylor, Newsday’s All-Long Island Player of the Year, to 15 points. Taylor, a junior verbally committed to Texas, attempted to shoulder a comeback with 11 points in the fourth quarter, but it wasn’t enough. “We’re tough and we’re not going to back down from anybody,” said Annecchiarico, a senior guard.
Lutheran (16-7) battled foul trouble, with standout senior Grace Stone fouling out late in the contest. She’ll continue her career at Princeton. Emma Cuccurullo, a senior going to Adelphi, had eight points and 10 rebounds.
Baldwin overcame the parochial powerhouse to advance to the first Federation final in program history. Only the second public school to beat Lutheran since Rich Slater became coach in 2008-09, the Bruins are ready to leave their mark.
Said Johnson: “Making history is a big part of leaving your legacy.”