Dallysshya Moreno and her teammates will never forget the feeling of being told in a Baldwin gymnasium in March 2020 that their season was over.
The Bruins were feeling confident after winning their seventh straight county title heading into a Long Island final with hopes of traveling for the state semifinals. But the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic put an end to those dreams.
The seniors and juniors on that team never got the opportunity to play in a postseason basketball game again.
"It broke us, I’m not going to lie," Moreno said. "When they told us in the gym, we all started to cry. We couldn’t talk for like 2-3 days, I couldn’t go to school for a week because it was so sad."
Moreno was a freshman at the time. She never took anything for granted in her junior season this winter and was determined to lead her teammates to the state tournament. Moreno had 12 points and 15 rebounds as Baldwin defeated Longwood, 53-32, in the girls basketball Long Island Class AA championship/Southeast Regional Final at Eastport-South Manor High School Saturday afternoon.
Baldwin (17-4) advances to play the winner of Cicero-North Syracuse/Albany in the state Class AA semifinals at Troy’s Hudson Valley Community College Friday at 3:15 p.m. Longwood finishes 21-2.
It’s Baldwin’s first trip to the state semifinals since 2018 after losing to Longwood in the same game in 2019.
"It’s come full round circle and we’re happy we came out on top this time," Moreno said. … "We wanted to come out and do it for all the people we want to make proud and all the people who have made sacrifices."
Baldwin used a huge first quarter to pull away from Longwood, opening the contest on a 13-4 run and leading 21-8 after the first period.
"We definitely needed it, especially from last week, we knew we couldn’t come out slow out of the gate," said Renelle Grannum, who had a game-high 16 points. "Longwood is a great team. We knew we had to fight in order to win this game and that’s what we did."
"It definitely set our energy and set our tone to say, ‘We are here and we’re not going anywhere,’" Moreno said. ‘"We’re here to stay and we’re here to win a championship."’
The Bruins opened a 36-21 lead at halftime and led 43-23 after the third quarter. Everything all season has been focused on the state championships for Baldwin.
"It’s like a carrot dangling in front of a rabbit," Moreno said. "That’s the most important thing, just winning. That’s all we care about no matter what we need to do to get it. As long as we get the ‘W’, we’re good."
Payton Dulin added 15 points for Baldwin, which played a tough pressure defense from the opening whistle. Katelyn Simpson embraced the challenge of guarding Longwood standout Taydra Simpson, and Moreno credited Simpson for neutralizing the star guard.
"That’s the one thing that always travels with us is our defense," coach Tom Catapano said. "The kids work tremendously hard every day at it. Tonight finally our shots were falling so that was a relief."
Baldwin has also played with a heavy heart throughout the year after the passing of assistant coach Anthony Bolden, who died Sept. 7 of complications from pulmonary fibrosis. The Bruins traveled with a pixelated picture of Bolden, which was constructed as a middle school class project in a class taught by Phil Zirkuli, Baldwin Athletic Director Ed Ramirez said.
"He’s here every step of the way," Moreno said. "Even if he’s not physically here, he’s here in spirit. Trust me, he’s here."
"It’s been a tough year," Catapano said with tears in his eyes. "But we carry him with us through everything."