WINTHROP — Who says you have to wait until March to see basketball worthy of a tournament atmosphere?

Execution was far from late-season quality, however, Friday night’s season opener between the Hall-Dale and Winthrop boys basketball teams provided great drama in front of packed stands at Winthrop High School’s gym.

Neither team led by greater than seven points, yet a series of key plays down the stretch allowed the Ramblers to pull away for a 60-54 victory.

“We’re both trying to establish ourselves as one of the top teams in our conference and try to get that big win early to get our season off to the right start,” Winthrop coach Todd MacArthur said. “It was sloppy, it wasn’t well-executed on both parts, I think both teams had some stupid turnovers and some careless possessions. But, in a game like that against two teams that are rivals … that’s what you expect.”

Following a pair of free throws from Hall-Dale’s Brian Allen with 1:45 left to play the Ramblers clung to a 55-54 lead with the outcome very much in doubt.

Winthrop answered right back though with a layup from center Anthony Owens — who battled foul trouble throughout the contest — to take a 57-54 lead.

Hall-Dale had a chance to tie or take the lead on the ensuing possession, but a turnover proved to be too costly to overcome. For the game the Bulldogs committed 24 turnovers, eight in the fourth quarter.

“We didn’t handle the ball well enough to win,” Hall-Dale coach Chris Ranslow said.

Winthrop began to run the clock out from there and made enough free throws to seal it, with Jacob Hickey going 3-for-4 from the stripe in the final minute.

The Ramblers and Bulldogs will see each other once more during the regular season, and if Friday night was any indication there is a chance for yet another encore with even bigger stakes.

“It’s a good community, it’s a rich basketball community and we’re rivals geographically,” Ranslow said. “Two teams that know each other well, we see each other all summer long and we’ll see each other again. Maybe we’ll see each other one more time in the (Augusta) Civic Center.”

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