Winthrop boys basketball coach Todd MacArthur spoke after a day of reflection and distance. Not that it did much to ease the sting.
“It probably hurts more, to be honest with you,” he said.
It likely will for a while. Weeks, months, perhaps even into next year. It should, after the Ramblers went from playing for a win to dealing with defeat, their first of the season, in a matter of stunning seconds in their 47-44 loss to George Stevens in the Class C championship game.
It was the first case of misfortune for Winthrop after a regular season and postseason in which everything went right. A season in which the Ramblers took a talented, hungry bunch and turned it into an undefeated record, a Mountain Valley Conference championship, a Class C South title and one of the best seasons in program history.
“We are proud and we are appreciative of the season and what we accomplished,” MacArthur said. “We came up one short of our goal. It doesn’t take away any of our achievements. We do have two championships to our belt this year.”
Winthrop played the season with an edge, a drive fueled by another painful defeat in last season’s C South final. The Ramblers had most of their key players back, came into the season as popular favorites to challenge for a regional crown and went to work surpassing the expectations. With offense coming from both the perimeter and the paint, defense in the form of constant, disruptive pressure and a list of bench options, Winthrop took down one opponent after another, piling up wins in December, January and February while making it clear they were after something more.
“Sometimes you’re not supposed to … talk about the seasons in the past,” MacArthur said. “But I had pretty much the majority of the team returning, so it wasn’t wrong of me to use some of last year to fuel this year.”
The first goal was a different outcome in the C South final, which the Ramblers achieved with a 58-42 victory over Madison. The next goal became a Gold Ball, which meant going through the defending state champions — a task that MacArthur knew was going to take both teams down to the final seconds.
“I had a feeling all week it was going to be that way,” he said. “I really felt like we were evenly matched. I know you don’t take stock in preseason or summer games, but every time we played them, that’s kind of the way it’s gone.”
MacArthur’s hunch was correct, though the Ramblers, who took a 42-36 lead with 2:14 to play, couldn’t convert on chances to extend their advantage and possibly put the game out of reach. MacArthur even took blame for a development in the final minute in which Winthrop went from having a chance at a final shot with the game tied at 44 to turning the ball over on the inbound attempt, saying that he made a mistake by calling timeout to draw up the play, thus giving Stevens a chance to make a play on the ball.
“You give the defense a chance to make a play,” he said. “I just gave the other team an opportunity, that’s all.”
It ended up being the only chance Stevens needed, though the Ramblers came close to having the perfect defense for it. Top Stevens scorer Taylor Schildroth drove, kicked out and found Jarrod Chase behind the 3-point line. Winthrop collapsed around Schildroth, but still had enough players back to defend Chase’s shot.
“I give my boys props. They closed out on Chase,” MacArthur said. “Not only did we have one guy there, we had two guys there, and they both had their hand up. It was beyond contested.
“And he just buried it.”
Indeed, the shot went in, and with just over a second remaining, there was little the Ramblers could do to salvage their title hopes.
“That was a dart right in our heart,” MacArthur said. “I’ve always said as a coach, I’d rather get blown out than lose like that. … When you lose like that, you can go back and you can pick out little things that can sway the game one way or the other. When you get blown out, you know right out that team was better than us. That team was better than us last night by 1.3 seconds.”
The season, however, didn’t need salvaging. Not after Winthrop had dared to make its season about reaching one game, and then followed through on those high goals by passing all of the tests to get there.
“One of the things I liked about this group is they wanted challenges and they wanted to achieve them,” MacArthur said. “I think this team is a tremendous team. It’s one of the best in Winthrop’s history.
“For us to achieve what we wanted to and get to a position where we would play for a state championship, it’s unbelievable what it does for our program. And yes, I think our program is viewed as we’re on the high side right now.”
Drew Bonifant — 621-5638