The Bruins had been waiting all season long for this moment. What was another tenth of a second?
Their celebration began slightly prematurely -- albeit very, very slightly -- after a foul was called with 0.1 seconds remaining in the game. But a few free throws later, the clock struck zero and top-seeded Baldwin had officially captured the Nassau Class AA county championship with a 54-46 win over No. 2 Massapequa Saturday at LIU Post.
"The celebration got kind of cut off," Lames ElGammal said. "But we didn't have to wait much longer to start again."
And when it did start again, it was complete with a team dogpile, a break-dancing Baldwin fan at center court, and a cameo by coach Tom Catapano's 5-month-old son, Raymond, wearing a Baldwin Bruins onesie jersey.
In the second half, the Bruins mixed a perfect blend of dynamic perimeter players with an overpowering inside presence. They opened the second half on a 12-0 run, capped by Tyra Harrison's floater that opened a 41-22 lead.
Massapequa trimmed the deficit to single digits when Kole Pollock hit a runner off the glass and Melanie Hingher hit a pair of free throws to make it 49-42 with 2:36 remaining. After the Chiefs made another stop on the defensive end, Mariah Butler picked off an outlet pass and drained a pull-up jumper from the free-throw line to increase the lead to nine with just over two minutes left.
"I feel so blessed to be here and to win a championship," said Butler, who had seven points and five assists. "I wanted to go out with a bang as a senior. It was important to come out this year and leave a legacy with the school."
ElGammal finished with 11 points and 12 rebounds and Tiara Place added 11 points and eight rebounds for Baldwin (16-2), which advances to play Sachem East in the Long Island Class AA championship game Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Farmingdale State College.
As strong as the Bruins defense was, it couldn't contain Hingher, who dominated on the boards and inside the paint for Massapequa (15-4). She scored 30 points, including an up-and-under that gave the Chiefs an early nine-point advantage in the first quarter.
But the Bruins, on what Catapano called a championship mission, fought back.
"They played with great poise and didn't get rattled," he said. "I think that's the sign of a championship team."
Another sign of a championship team is the postgame celebration. And when Place corralled a rebound with seconds remaining, it was underway. But then the whistle blew, unbeknownst to most because of a deafening crowd, and Place walked to the opposite end of the court to shoot two free throws. "I was ready to celebrate and then they fouled me," Place said. "But you always have to finish through, even with one-tenth. Then when the buzzer finally went off, I cried a little . . . tears of joy, though."