Defense sets pace for Baldwin


Forced to shuffle its roster after a heavy dose of graduations, Baldwin has still found plenty of aces on the basketball court as it makes a run at a third defense of the Nassau County Class AA girls’ basketball title.

The Lady Bruins won seven of their first eight games overall and their first five of their Conference AA-II battles, including a 61-29 victory over Valley Stream Central on Jan. 4. Not a single one of Baldwin’s first five conference opponents topped the 30-point mark in a game.

“We’re defending well and traditionally we’ve been a good defensive team,” Baldwin coach Tom Catapano said. “It’s no secret. We spend a lot of time on defense [in practice]. The kids buy into that and realize that’s their ticket to success.”

Junior Mariah Butler has been a focal point of the defense, matching up with each opponents’ top guard with sophomore Taylor Howell also providing energy for a Lady Bruins unit that is tireless and wears teams down with consistent presses and traps. Despite expending so much energy on defense, Butler is still able to fill the nets when needed. In a 52-46 win over Suffolk County powerhouse North Babylon in Baldwin’s annual Chanee Brown Holiday Tournament, Butler not only helped slow down Brianna Hicks, who scored just four first half points, she scored all nine of the Lady Bruins points in the fourth quarter. “She is a basketball player,” Catapano said. “She’s going to do whatever the team needs her to do. In this case [this season], we need her to play [the point] and she’s stepped up.”

Sophomore guard Jade Aponte led the Lady Bruins with a game-high 14 points against the Lady Eagles, while Butler scored 11. Eight players in all scored at least one basket. “We really don’t have one star,” Catapano said. “On any given night, we have four or five players that can drop double digits [in points].”

In Aponte, the Lady Bruins have a dead-on outside shooter who has made teams pay for dropping back into a zone defense, and the frontcourt has gotten production from senior Chelsea May, Ashley McAdams and sophomore Tiara Place. As the team rounds into shape, Catapano’s rotation has also included a pair of seventh-graders — Jenna Annecchiarico and Aziah Hudson — who’ve been productive in their time on the floor. Hudson tied her season-high with eight points in the win over Valley Stream Central, while Annecchiarico has topped out at six in a game. “They’re able to compete at a very young age and that shows how talented they are,” he said.

Following an early season test against MacArthur, also unbeaten entering the matchup after presstime, the Lady Bruins are slated to host Port Washington on Friday for a 7 p.m. tipoff and then travel to East Meadow on Jan. 25 for a 6:30 p.m. start. “You can really see the growth at this point in the season very quickly,” Catapano said of working the new faces into the lineup.