It was quite fitting Payton Dulin put the finishing touch on Baldwin’s second straight Long Island Class AA girls’ basketball title with a pair of late free throws.
After all, it was the sophomore guard’s sensational 17-point performance in the first half Saturday afternoon that allowed the Lady Bruins to lead from wire-to-wire in their 39-32 victory over Walt Whitman at Farmingdale State College.
Dulin poured in a game-high 19 points and senior Katelyn Simpson added 13 for Baldwin, which shot 7-for-8 from the foul line in the fourth quarter to seal its 22nd win in 24 games. It advances to face Webster Schroeder (Section V) in the state Class AA semifinals at Hudson Valley Community College Friday at 6:15 p.m.
“I really tried to attack my matchup and score the ball,” Dulin said. “Whitman is a very good team and we knew what it was going to take to win. It’s a blessing to repeat as L.I. champs and go back upstate.”
Junior Iris Hoffman’s 16 points and sophomore Brianna Verga’s nine paced the Wildcats, who captured their first-ever Suffolk County title a week earlier. They finished 21-4.
“This was a real battle,” Baldwin head coach Tom Catapano said. “Whitman is an excellent team and young like us. I thought we did a tremendous job taking away one of the things they do best and that’s rebound and go.
“Our girls just grew up before everyone’s eyes,” he added. “It’s crazy we start three sophomores and an eighth-grader. I couldn’t be prouder of these kids. They all embraced the challenge.”
The Lady Bruins were state runners-up last season, falling 63-57 to Bishop Kearney in the final. This year’s state championship game tips off at 8:45 p.m. Saturday.
“It feels great to be going back upstate,” said Simpson, who closed the third quarter with a backdoor layup for a 30-24 lead. “We prepared hard all week and watched film every day,” she added. “We were able to execute and make enough plays to win.”
Offensively, nobody made more plays than Dulin. She scored the game-opening basket as well as Baldwin’s next seven points. She also hit the last shot of the first half for a 23-14 cushion at intermission.
“No stage is too big for Payton,” Catapano said. “She looked like a senior out there today. She’s so smooth and knows when to be aggressive and when to settle things down.”
Hoffman’s three-pointer to open the fourth quarter brought Whitman within one possession — 30-27 — for the first time since midway through the second.
Then junior Renelle Grannum, who along with Simpson and All-Long Island center Dallysshya Moreno suffered serious offseason knee injuries, hit her biggest shot of the campaign to ignite a game-ending 9-5 run.
“I’ve felt better and better each week,” said Grannum, who saw by far her most court time in any game since last March’s state final and also hit a three pointer in the first quarter to help build a 13-5 lead. “Some weeks were tougher than others, but my teammates lifted me up every day in practice,” she added. “Now we’re ready to go upstate and see what we can do.”
Whitman unraveled a bit down the stretch and had three key contributors foul out — junior Kathleen O’Mara with 2:43 left, senior Kasey Wagner with 2:25 remaining, and eighth-grader Jazmynn Julien with 12.7 seconds to go.
“We’ll enjoy this moment all weekend and get back to work Monday,” Catapano said.