FARMINGDALE — The disparity in talent level between the Hall-Dale and Winthrop basketball teams in recent years has put a damper on the rivalry. One team, it seems, has always been better than the other.

This year, there’s little difference between the Mountain Valley Conference rivals. Tuesday night, the teams battled to the final buzzer with Hall-Dale pulling out a 58-54 victory on the strength on free-throw shooting and a big hoop down the stretch from senior Zac Plummer.

“It was a heck of a game,” Winthrop coach Todd MacArthur said. “I felt we had a chance to win. We had our looks. We just didn’t execute or make shots down the stretch.”

The Ramblers (4-4) drew to within a point (53-52) when Dakota Carter hit a free throw with 2 minutes, 5 seconds left to play. The Bulldogs went up three on a pair of free throws from Nat Crocker four seconds later, then neither team scored until Plummer canned a 3 from the left corner with 1:14 left it make 58-52. Ben Allen’s jumper drew the Ramblers to within four but that’s as close as they would get despite forcing a couple of turnovers down the stretch.

Plummer finished with 19 points while teammate Sam Shepherd scored 11, grabbed 15 rebounds and blocked five shots. The 6-foot-6 center altered another half dozen shots and made it difficult for the Ramblers to take the ball to the basket.

“They have some really good shooters and they pass the ball well,” Shepherd said. “They’ve improved quite a bit since last year.”

The Ramblers forced 27 Hall-Dale turnovers, both through their full-court press and half-court defense. They led 15-13 at the end of the first quarter and 34-33 at the half, largely on the shooting of senior Hunter Kilgore, who scored 18 of his game-high 21 points in the first half. Plummer tightened up his defense in the second half and helped hold Kilgore to three points.

“(Coach Chris Ranslow) didn’t want me sagging off him any,” Plummer said. “He just wanted me straight up man, not giving him any open looks.”

The Bulldogs (5-3) took the lead in the third quarter as Plummer and sophomore Brian Allen (12 points, eight rebounds) combined on a 7-0 run to make it 45-38. The Ramblers battled back but never led again. Sophomore point guard Taylor Morang converted a three-point play on a tough drive in traffic and followed with another strong drive to the basket late in the game to keep it close.

“I think our free-throw shooting was pretty good down the stretch,” said Ranslow, who team made 23 of 34 for the game. “I think we’re starting to form an identity. It’s a difficult situation for both them and the coaching staff. We’re brand new to each other.”

The teams meet again in Winthrop in the regular-season finale.

“We’re steadily improving,” MacArthur said. “I wouldn’t want to face us come the end of the year. I believe we’re going to get better.”

Gary Hawkins — 621-5638

ghawkins@centralmaine.com