Alexis Aponte seized her opportunity.
She played a minor role last season during the Baldwin girls basketball team’s run to the state Federation Class AA championship, but she made the most of her chance on Sunday in the Nassau Class AA championship game.
Kaia Harrison scored 21 points and Aponte and Jamiela Moore each had 13 as top-seeded Baldwin beat second-seeded Syosset, 58-53, at Farmingdale State. The Bruins have won six straight county titles and nine of the last 10 under coach Tom Catapano.
“She was humongous,” Harrison said of Aponte. “Everything we did in practice showed. Shooting before school, staying after practice.”
After Syosset inched to within one point late in the third quarter, Aponte provided the game-changer. Her three-pointer from the right wing with 4.5 seconds left in the period put Baldwin ahead by four and her four-point play from the same spot at the start of the fourth quarter extended the lead to 51-43. Aponte called it “a rhythm thing.”
“I’m so proud of Lexi,” Catapano said. “She’s had a monster year for us, and tonight was kind of indicative of what she’s done. She stepped up. She’s waited for this moment, and she seized it.”
Syosset (20-2) led for much of the second quarter but surrendered the lead just before halftime when Moore sank a pair of free throws. Baldwin (20-1) relinquished the lead early in the third quarter on Kendall Halpern’s three-pointer.
Halpern led the Braves with 12 points despite receiving an elbow to her right eye early in the game. She returned with visible swelling and a bruise but rallied the Braves, cutting the deficit to 57-53 on a driving layup with 34 seconds remaining.
Her efforts were not enough, as Moore and Elena Randolph prevented standout forward Rachel Mahler from seriously impacting the game. She had eight points as Moore and Randolph made sure to deny her the ball in the post.
Last season’s Bruins featured four athletes now playing Division I basketball, leaving pivotal roles to be filled by players accustomed to the program. The new starters seized the moment.
“It means so much because a lot of people said that the program was going to take a major hit, and we lost some phenomenal kids that built this program to what it is today,” Catapano said. “For these kids to be champions on their own, it’s something special.”
Baldwin will play Longwood in the Long Island Class AA championship game on Saturday at Farmingdale State in a rematch of a late-December contest. Baldwin won, 56-47, but Longwood outscored the Bruins 39-36 in the final three quarters.
“During this season, we just wanted to work hard and prove people wrong,” Aponte said. “Talk is cheap. We used that as motivation and just kept grinding every day.”