Baldwin guard Katelyn Simpson attempts a three-point shot against Syosset...

Baldwin guard Katelyn Simpson attempts a three-point shot against Syosset in the Nassau Class AA girls basketball final on Saturday at Hofstra. Credit: George A Faella

With 11 days for both teams to prepare for one another, defense completely dominated this title game. But when Katelyn Simpson found a lane to the basket in the game’s defining moments, she was determined to finish with points.

The Baldwin junior drove the basket and finished a layup with 1:07 remaining in the fourth quarter to give the Bruins a one-point advantage for the fourth and final lead change in the period as top-seeded Baldwin defeated No. 2 Syosset, 31-29, to win the Nassau Class AA girls basketball championship at Hofstra’s Mack Sports Complex Saturday afternoon.

"I realized, ‘Wow, we can really win this,’" Simpson said. "I knew we could win it but when you are in that moment, it’s just so surreal. And when I made the layup (I knew) we had them where we wanted them and we were going to win."

The layup gave Baldwin a 29-28 lead. Payton Dulin and Dallysshya Moreno each made a foul shot in the final 30 seconds to give the Bruins a 31-28 advantage. Syosset was fouled on a three-point attempt with 0.1 second remaining, but missed its first foul shot, made the second, and intentionally missed the third but couldn’t corral the rebound as time ran out on Syosset’s season.

"(Syosset brings) out the best in us," coach Tom Catapano said. "It was a war. The game could have went either way, I tip my cap to them."

After winning its eighth straight county title, Baldwin (16-4) advances to play Longwood (21-1) in the Long Island Class AA championship/Southeast Regional Final at Eastport-South Manor High School at 1:30 p.m. Saturday.

Syosset finishes 19-3.

"It’s a phenomenal community and we say tradition never graduates," Catapano said. "It’s the next group up and they want to carry the torch."

Simpson scored five of her six points in the fourth quarter, including completing a three-point play off an assist from Moreno with 3:39 remaining in the fourth quarter to give Baldwin a 27-25 lead. Syosset answered with a three-pointer from Carly Greenbaum off an assist from Lilah Grubman to take a 28-27 advantage with 2:30 remaining in the period before Simpson’s driving layup.

"The team (had) my back," Simpson said. "I just love my team so much, they are literally like my sisters and my family."

Simpson also played a key defensive role. She guarded Grubman, who is committed to play at Yale, for the majority of the game and held the elite playmaker to five points.

"I just felt like I did my job and I knew I could do it because I’ve been working so hard at practice," Simpson said. "I work so hard because I know for these moments I’m going to have to do that and I feel like we don’t win this game without that defense."

Payton Dulin led Baldwin in scoring with 10 points and Moreno added seven points and eight rebounds.

"All the work I put in led me to this moment," said Dulin, a freshman. "It feels great because I know the people who have come before me have made really big marks in this program."

This championship meant even more to the Bruins after the passing of assistant coach Anthony Bolden, who died Sept. 7 of complications from pulmonary fibrosis. They took a team photo under 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 was everything, to be honest," Moreno said. "He was the one to bring the light to practice, the laughs to practice. So honestly, this meant everything for him and I’m so glad we did it for him."

Bolden used to play for the Tulsa Talons, an Arena Football League team, and Catapano wears his jersey on the sideline.

"We know that he’s looking down on us and every day, we count him with us," Catapano said. "He will never be forgotten and this program was built on Coach Bolden."

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