Every time it has taken the court in the post-season, the Cicero-North Syracuse girls basketball team has chalked up another double-digit win, leaving little doubt as to its ultimate intention.
And by dismissing Baldwin 55-35 Friday night in the state Class AA semifinal at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy, the Northstars moved within a single step of that intended goal, advancing to Saturday's championship game against Gates-Chili.
Baldwin, the Section VIII champions from Nassau County on Long Island, arrived with a 21-1 record, but soon found out, as so many teams before them, that it had no answer for Breanna Stewart.
The nation's no. 1-ranked junior, Stewart outscored Baldwin by herself in the first half, 18 points to 14, and didn't stop until she had registered 28 points, 14 rebounds, six blocks and four steals - all in front of Chris Dailey, the associate head coach at Stewart's future college destination of Connecticut, who was in attendance for the game.
What made Stewart's effort more impressive was the fact that, late in the first quarter, she picked up her second foul, usually a signal to go to the bench, rest and not risk further danger. But with CNS only leading 13-9 after one period, that choice was not ideal.
So coach Eric Smith kept in Stewart - and she started scoring at will against a Baldwin front line with no starter taller than 5-10. Already with nine points as the second period started, she added nine more as the margin grew to 28-14 by the time they reached the half.
Not content with that, CNS clamped down further on defense during a 19-8 push through the third quarter. All game long, Stewart took away the middle, forcing Baldwin into outside shots - few of which fell. Of Baldwin's 26 attempts from beyond the 3-point line, it only made four. Brittany Paul, Sarah Bowles, Kelsey Mattice, Cara Gannett and Abbey Timpano all had strong efforts as Baldwin's top scorer, Katie Greene, had just 12 points.
Paul, with 11 points, offered Stewart the main help on the offensive side, while Bowles added six points.
Now all that stands between the 21-2 Northstars and the state championship is Gates-Chili. The Rochester-area school handled Binghamton 64-51 in the other semifina in Troy behind the work of guards Kori Bayne Walker and Cierra Dillard, who had 25 and 18 points, respectively. The final starts at 8:45 Saturday night and can be seen on Time Warner Cable Sports 13.