TROY - Coming into the New York State championship game on Saturday evening, the Baldwin Bruins collectively had the same mentality.
They knew that they were facing the four-time defending state champions in Ossining and they knew that some doubted if their style of play could hold up this deep in the tournament. But for Baldwin, the approach was simple.
“To be honest, the kids were completely ready,” Baldwin coach Tom Catapano said. “They’ve been waiting for this moment and they felt like they deserved it. Tonight, they took what was theirs.”
The Bruins certainly did, knocking off the defending champion Pride 73-45 in a complete and dominant effort at Hudson Valley Community College. Baldwin shot 46 percent from the field in the victory, outscoring Ossining by 27 points in the second and third quarters.
“It feels great to be the state champs,” Bruins junior guard Aziah Hudson said. “We honestly were just trying to win by one and give our all to the end and it worked out. A lot of people underestimated our team, but we just stuck through it and tried to pull out a win. We showed people tonight what we are capable of.”
Hudson took home the New York State Class AA tournament MVP award, posting 22 points in the title game after a 27-point outburst in the semifinals. Fellow junior Jenna Annecchiarico had 14 points and sophomore Kaia Harrison had 13 points, four rebounds and four assists. Senior Sarah Pullis played well against the size of Ossining, notching nine points and six rebounds.
“This feels great; I’m just so proud of these kids and the way they played today,” said Catapano. “To take down a four-time state champ the way we did is just unbelievable. This was a long time coming. It was an eight-year process for these kids and I’m just so happy they were able to complete it.”
The unsung hero of the game was undoubtedly Baldwin senior lead Montia Moon. The Bruins captain played one of the best games of her career, posting 12 points, 11 rebounds and three steals in the win.
“This is amazing, it’s the greatest feeling,” Moon said. “I just took today as an opportunity for myself. Our season wasn’t ending tonight and I knew I had to step up, so that’s what I did. This is a storybook ending for us. We’ve all been playing together since fourth grade. We grew together, we gelled together, and it paid off.”
Baldwin (22-3), ranked No. 8 in the Tri-State by News 12 Varsity, advances to the New York State Federation tournament where it will face The Mary Louis Academy, the CHSAA state champion and only team that beat the Bruins all season long. If Baldwin wins that game on Friday at 1 p.m. at the Glens Falls Civic Center, it will face the winner of Long Island Lutheran and South Shore.
The Bruins will once again be underdogs going in, but Catapano and his team wouldn’t want anything else.
“We’re excited,” Catapano said. “We’ll enjoy this win tonight and tomorrow and then get ready for that game. We’ll be back in the gym Monday to try and keep this thing going.”
Ossining (22-6), ranked No. 12 in the Tri-State by News 12 Varsity, trailed by just two points after the first quarter, but couldn’t keep pace with the high intensity of Baldwin. Pride coach Dan Ricci was ejected from the game after receiving two technical fouls in the third quarter.
“All I said to my girls after the game was that I was sorry,” Ricci said. “I felt like the hand-checks weren’t being called and our kids were being held. I was trying to protect our girls. We didn’t get calls and I was upset with that.”
Assistant coach Kelsey Vallach, who led Ossining’s JV team to an undefeated season, took over after Ricci’s ejection and did a nice job keeping the energy up for the Pride. However, the damage was done with Ossining down by 30 points in the third quarter.
“(Coach Ricci and I) worked together all year and we always joked about this happening,” Vallach said. “I never thought it would come here (in the state championship). It was interesting, but I just had to try and keep the kids together. They were upset, but we had to stay high. We want to be back here next year and people aren’t going to take you seriously if you give up in this game.”
Kailah Harris was a bright spot for the Pride, finishing with 11 points and 10 rebounds in the loss, while Jaida Strippoli had seven points. Senior star Andra Espinoza-Hunter finished with 19 points, 13 of which came in the first half.
Espinoza-Hunter also set a New York State record for points in a season, posting 995 points in the 2016-2017 campaign. The UConn-bound guard finished with over 2,000 points in her career, playing for Ossining in 7th and 8th grade, transferring to New Jersey powerhouse Blair Academy and then returning to the Pride for her senior year.
“I’m just so happy I got a chance to coach her,” said Ricci. “She’s going to go on to win National Championships at UConn. She’s got a bright future ahead of her and I’m sorry this was the last game I got to coach her in. I’m going to miss her.”
The loss marks the end of a special run for Ossining, which had won four straight New York State titles and seven straight Section 1 championships. Ricci feels that despite the disappointing loss, the Pride will return.
“This was a great season for us,” Ricci said. “People don’t realize how hard this is. Baldwin deserved to win this game. I tell the kids that we pretty much overachieved this season. We lost (an all-state player in sophomore) Aubrey Griffin. For us to get back here with one senior is special. Now, we’ll have a chip on our shoulder and fight our way back.”