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Baldwin Depth, Defense Freezes Freeport

Depth, defense and some size – it’s a recipe for winning, but the trifecta isn’t always easy to find in public high school basketball. The Baldwin Lady Bruins 2013-14 team has come close to that recipe, and it will catch you off guard if you’re out to spot a star player.

“We don’t have anyone who scores 20 points a night, but we have five that can give you double figures,” said Baldwin Head Coach Tom Catapano. “We’re about defense and we’re deep in the bench.”

That formula gave backyard rivals, the Freeport Lady Devils, hell from the opening tip as Baldwin cruised to a 55-38 victory and advanced to the Nassau County Class AA championship game.

With both teams turnover prone to start, Baldwin got the better of the situation by converting on Freeport’s folly. The Lady Bruins put five players in the scoring column in the first quarter, putting the depth they’ve abided by all season on display and pounding Freeport with pressure.

“We stress defense, that’s number one for us,” said senior guard, Mariah Butler, who scored 8 points and doled out 4 dimes. “We’re also very deep; we can go from one to twelve or thirteen.”

The guard trio of Butler, Tyra Harrison (9 points) and Tiara Place set the pace, and once 6’1” sophomore center, Lames El Gammal (7 points, 10 boards), scored in the paint Baldwin was off to a 12-0 start. Senior forward Deja Hooks (7 points) got Freeport off the donut with a free throw at the two minute mark, but failure to grab offensive rebounds and mounting turnovers made the Lady Devils’ uphill climb a steep one.

Baldwin’s aggressive defense put Freeport in the double bonus by mid-second quarter, but the Lady Devils shot a lukewarm 50% from the stripe in the second quarter and struggled to inch their way back in the game. Freeport’s senior guard, Taylor Miller (a team high 9 points), began to contribute some offense in the second quarter, but the Lady Bruins’ full court pressure suffocated Freeport and kept their deficit in double digits. Keeping Miller under lock and key was part of the Lady Bruins’ game plan.

“For Miller, we were trying to [deny] her the ball,” said Butler. “We had to stop Miller and [junior forward Ajhania Smith].”

Once Butler broke down Miller off the dribble to make it a 33-15 game as the first half wound down, it became evident Freeport would need a miraculous second half to compete.

The foul calls told a tale of two halves, as Freeport put Baldwin in the double bonus in the third quarter, sealing the Devils’ fate. The Lady Bruins shot 9 of 12 from the stripe in the period and maintained an even distribution of scoring and defensive pressure to lock Freeport out of the finals convincingly.

But the Lady Bruins know they can’t afford to allow a convincing win in one round determine their outlook on another. It was only last year Baldwin was upset at home by a hungry Farmingdale team in the quarterfinals.

“We can’t underestimate anybody,” said El Gammal regarding next week’s clash with Nassau's defending champs, Massapequa.

After all, a team’s depth and defense are only as good as its preparation.

Baldwin’s Tiara Place led all scorers with 11 points. Eighth grader Jenna Annecchiarico added 5 points and 6 steals for Baldwin. Ajhania Smith chipped in with 8 points for Freeport.


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