GLENS FALLS, N.Y. — Kaia Harrison seemed numb, unaware of her surroundings.
While her Baldwin girls basketball teammates celebrated, she sat on the bench cradled in the arms of team manager Jenelle Thompson, staring blankly at the court as she attempted to process the historic win she had just influenced.
Harrison, much to her disbelief, was named the state Federation Class AA tournament MVP on Saturday night after contributing 15 points and five assists in Baldwin’s 58-49 win over previously unbeaten Christ the King in the championship game at Cool Insuring Arena.
“I’m so proud of Kaia,” coach Tom Catapano said. “It could not have happened to a better human being. That kid is the salt of the Earth. She works every day as hard as she can, and I couldn’t be more happy for her. The kid is the best of the best of the best.”
Christ the King, ranked No. 1 nationally by USA Today, had the clear height advantage with three starters who were 6-4, 6-1 and 6 feet. Baldwin (26-1) had to rely on guard play — and a certain intangible.
Catapano pointed to his heart.
“Right here,” he said. “There’s nobody with more heart than these kids . . . They’re winners. It didn’t matter about height. It was their moment, and they seized it today.”
After trailing by as many as six points in the first half, Baldwin was helped by its signature blink-and-you’ll-miss-it spurt in the third quarter. The Bruins took the lead on Harrison’s runner in the paint and finished the period on an 8-0 run for a 42-35 lead, having outscored Christ the King 17-6.
“We knew that we were faster than them,’’ said senior Aziah Hudson, who scored 14 points, “and that’s what we had to take advantage of, just push the pace and eventually get layups.”
Christ the King (29-1) cut its deficit to 46-45 on Natalija Marshall’s putback, but Baldwin closed with a 12-4 run.
“We don’t care about height when it comes to Baldwin,” Hudson said. “We just have heart. That’s all we have to have in order to win, and that’s what we did. At the end of the day, we pulled it through.”
Senior Jenna Annecchiarico also had 14 points, including a soft jumper high off the glass for a 49-45 lead. Senior Donnetta Johnson had four points and 11 rebounds, boosting Baldwin with her performance on the glass.
“This is a legendary win for us,” said Catapano, noting that Baldwin is only the fifth Long Island public school girls basketball team to win a Federation championship. “It takes a village, man, and you saw that tonight. This community, these kids, these parents, everybody wanted this, and it’s a magical night for a magical group and a magical community.”
Harrison seemed lost in that magic as her teammates posed for the sizable Baldwin contingent that made the roughly four-hour trip north.
“I was literally in shock,” said Harrison, a junior. “Just to do it with Aziah, Jenna, Destiny [Samuel] and Donnetta in all their senior years, it feels great, and I’m so proud of them.”
The Bruins one-upped themselves in each of their last three games, beating powerhouse Ossining in the state public school final, Long Island Lutheran in the Federation semifinals and Christ the King in the final.
There’s not much left to prove, but Johnson had an idea. “Can we play a college team?” she asked. “Is that possible?”
And who could doubt them? All the Bruins did this season was etch themselves into the discussion as the best girls basketball team in Long Island history.
“I feel like we all left a legacy in Baldwin, and I just feel like . . . I can’t even describe it,” Harrison said. “It feels amazing. Absolutely amazing.” And Johnson added, “Honestly, I’m numb right now. This is the perfect way to end your senior season.”
Said Catapano, “I want to keep it going just one more day with this group. They were just so much fun, and I’m truly blessed.”