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Tiara Place's layup with :59 left leads Baldwin to LI Class AA title

Baldwin teammates, from left, Tiara Place, Tyra Harrison

Baldwin teammates, from left, Tiara Place, Tyra Harrison and Lames El Gammal celebrate after the Lady Bruins' 50-47 win over Sachem East in the varsity girls basketball Class AA Long Island Championship at Farmingdale State College on March 7, 2014. Credit: James Escher

Consistent excellence aside, it's not easy being a member of the Baldwin girls basketball team, and the players admit that.

"Sacrifice" is the operative word, and it echoes from one member of the program to the next.

Last summer, while most teenagers were vacationing or relaxing, the Bruins were playing basketball. In the fall, in addition to their studies and other scholastic sports, the Bruins were playing basketball.

The grind is constant, strenuous and demanding. But the reward is this: Next week, while most other Long Island teams' seasons have ended, the Bruins will be playing basketball.

"This is what all that work is for," a tearful Tiara Place said. "You work, you sacrifice and you do it all for this moment."

That moment, huddled and screaming on the court at Farmingdale State, celebrating a Long Island championship.

Place's driving layup put Baldwin ahead with 59 seconds left and the Bruins edged Sachem East, 50-47, capturing the L.I. / Southeast Regional Class AA title they last won in 2011.

Protecting a one-point lead with nine seconds left, Tyra Harrison blocked a shot and forced Sachem East to foul to stop the clock. Mariah Butler's free throws with 6.2 seconds created the final margin.

The Bruins rallied from six down in the third quarter and the teams exchanged the lead three times in the fourth.

Butler had 16 points and four assists and Lames El Gammal had 13 points and 23 rebounds to lead Baldwin (17-3). Harrison added eight points.

And those stats, really, could be considered an offensive eruption for Baldwin.

The Bruins haven't had a 20-point scorer all season. The emphasis, always, is on defense. In fact, the only time the Bruins look to hog the ball is on defense -- attempting to snatch it from an opponent.

"I remember early on thinking, 'Oh, man, I'm not scoring many points. Where's the shine for me?' " said Butler, a senior point guard. "But it's something that you sacrifice if you truly want to win and go places."

They're going to Troy. Baldwin will face Shenendehowa or Cicero-North Syracuse in a state semifinal at 8 p.m. Friday at Hudson Valley CC.

The Bruins, coming off the disappointment of last year's quarterfinal loss, dedicated their offseason to "redeeming ourselves," coach Tom Catapano said. The result was 75 games -- long before the high school season began -- in tournaments from Patchogue to Pennsylvania.

"I always tell them," Catapano said, "you'll be rewarded for the sacrifices."

There's that word again. Speaking of which, guard Jade Aponte ceded her starting spot to Harrison this season. "Selfishness gets you nowhere," Aponte said. "You focus on the team, and look what happens."

Taylor Whiffen had 12 points and Kat Everson 11 for Sachem East (16-7), which had won the L.I. title last season and pulled a series of playoff upsets this year to reach this round.

"It was a great run," said Flaming Arrows coach Matt Brisson, who announced he will retire from teaching and coaching. "It's unbelievable what our kids accomplished."

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