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Casey Hearns leads Commack to LI Class AA girls basketball title

Commack guard Casey Hearns (1) drives to the

Commack guard Casey Hearns (1) drives to the baseline as Baldwin guard Jenna Annecchiarico (13) pursues during the second half of the game in Danzi Arena at St. Joseph's College on Saturday, March 5, 2016.

Casey Hearns and her teammates walked across the court, gliding atop a bed of roses. The flowers weren’t deliberately thrown at their feet, but they might as well have been. Commack had just solidified itself as Long Island basketball royalty.

The Cougars defeated Baldwin, 40-33, at St. Joseph’s College on Saturday to capture a second straight Long Island Class AA championship. “I don’t have the words to describe this,” said Hearns, who had 13 points. “It’s awesome to win this again.”

In addition to another plaque, the players were awarded bouquets of flowers, the petals of which fell to the hardwood where their defense had just contained one of Long Island’s most dynamic offenses. By breaking Baldwin’s signature pressure defense and limiting turnovers, the Cougars were able to slow the pace, forcing Baldwin to operate in half-court sets instead of its up-tempo transition offense.

Hearns and Jillian Spagnuola also kept Baldwin’s speedy backcourt of Aziah Hudson and Jenna Annecchiarico in check.

“It definitely starts on the defensive end. That was the key to winning the game,” Spagnuola said. “Not everyone gets to win back-to-back.”

The Cougars (22-2) will face Ossining in a state semifinal at 8 p.m. Friday at Hudson Valley CC in Troy. Commack — which beat Baldwin, 51-50, for the Long Island title last year — became the first Class AA team to repeat since North Babylon in 2007-08.

“We knew it was going to be a tough game because Baldwin was going to come out for blood,” Jackie DelliSanti said. “We wanted to prove ourselves and show what we’re made of.”

A 9-0 run gave Baldwin a 23-18 lead, but when DelliSanti intercepted an inbounds pass and went coast-to-coast for a layup to open the fourth quarter, Commack had a 33-26 lead, thanks to a 15-3 run. Annecchiarico hit a jumper as the shot clock was winding down and made two free throws to pull Baldwin within 35-31 with 1:19 left, but Hearns found Leanne Corso for a layup and Spagnuola hit two free throws with 45.3 seconds left.

After Commack fell behind 23-18, Corso sank a three-pointer off a drive-and-kick from Spagnuola and DelliSanti hit a layup to put Commack up 24-23. Hearns followed with a runner off the glass and then converted a baseline drive to increase the lead to 28-23. Hearns added a three-pointer with 1:26 left in the third to open a 31-26 advantage.

“The playoff tournament,” Commack coach Denis Conroy said, “has been Casey Hearns’ coming out.”

DelliSanti had 10 points, eight in the second half, and Corso added eight for Commack. Hudson had 13 points and Lames El Gammal added nine for the Bruins (20-3), whose previous season low was 46 points. “We’re all about defense at Commack,” Hearns said. “We knew if we shut them down, it would be a little bit easier to win.”

And everything came up roses.

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