WINTHROP — Nate LeBlanc wasn’t in the starting lineup, but he was on the court for the Winthrop boys basketball team in the waning minutes of the first quarter. And with the Ramblers looking for a spark in the Class C South final against Madison, the sophomore forward was ready to provide one.

LeBlanc drove along the baseline before pulling up and burying a soft jumper, tying the game at 6. He made the same move near the end of the quarter, this time using one hand to float in the shot. He had the first shot of the second quarter, again pulling up along the baseline, and again lofting in the shot.

It was 14-6 when LeBlanc’s third shot splashed in. The Ramblers didn’t lead by fewer than seven the rest of the way.

“That’s what got us going,” coach Todd MacArthur said.

It also marked what just may be the most dangerous asset for a Winthrop team looking to finish off an undefeated season with its first Gold Ball since 2008. As strong as the Ramblers’ starting quintet is, it’s their depth that has helped them — and sometimes carried them — throughout a peerless regular season and playoff run.

“It’s a wonderful feeling … to know that you can go 10 deep and the level of play doesn’t drop,” said MacArthur, whose team goes into Saturday’s matchup with Cass C North champion George Stevens at 22-0. “It brings the level of the whole program up, and I think that’s why we’re at the position we are.”

MacArthur showcases this confidence throughout Winthrop’s games, substituting early and often and letting his bench handle a variety of situations. He has an array of options, ready at a moment’s notice. There’s sophomore guard Jared McLaughlin, whose shooting touch can guide the Ramblers through an entire quarter. LeBlanc has a solid offensive game to go with a knack for rebounds in the post. Seniors Nate Scott and Spencer Steele come onto the court and follow MacArthur’s demands for fast-paced, aggressive defense.

The result is the same, from one game to the next. The starters come and go, subs come on and off, and the Ramblers keep rolling.

“The depth has been a lot because it lets us run teams out of the court,” McLaughlin said. “We’ve got fresh bodies and we’re playing 10 deep, and some teams are only playing seven.”

The variety of skills allows MacArthur to play the scientist, mixing and matching players depending on what Winthrop needs at a given moment.

“That’s nice as a coach because I know ‘We need defense, I’ve got these two guys.’ Or ‘I need shooting, I’ve got these two guys,’ ” he said. “It makes my ingredients easier to pick when the game’s going on.

“We don’t have a specific sub pattern. It’s kind of how the game goes. What do I need at this point, what do I need at that point.”

At Winthrop, substitutes aren’t as much bench players, there for garbage time or injuries, as role players. They each have their niche skills, sometimes similar but always different, and MacArthur can arrange them so that all the abilities complement one another.

“We just have great team chemistry,” LeBlanc said. “Everyone has their different role and everyone fits together like (pieces in) a puzzle.”

“Coach always says ‘Do what you’re good at,’ ” McLaughlin said. “If you’re good at one thing, you’ve got to stick to that. It’s your role on the team.”

LeBlanc and McLaughlin both provide offense when they come onto the court, and they can be on at the same time without being redundant as McLaughlin is more of a spot-up shooter with ball-handling skills and LeBlanc is better at creating his own shot and fighting for rebounds. The theme continues on the other end of the floor; Scott and Steele are both defensive-oriented players, but Scott is a perimeter defender who also runs the point, and Steele can step back and challenge shots closer to the paint and attack the basket with the ball.

“Whatever coach wants me to do, I go out and do,” said Scott, who missed the start of the season while recovering from a broken leg. “I love playing defense. A lot of people are more shooters and like scoring, and it’s not that I don’t like scoring, but I’ve just kind of developed a knack for playing defense and we’re a really defense-oriented team.”

“Those kids have been with me for four years, they know what our defense is about,” MacArthur said. “When we need stops, those are the guys I go to.”

It’s a talented supporting cast, and every once in a while, its performers get to play the leading role. In a win over Wiscasset, McLaughlin scored 11 points in a stretch spanning the end of the third and start of the fourth quarters, hitting three 3-pointers to blow open a competitive game. LeBlanc scored a game-high 18 points in a 52-38 victory over Madison, handing the Bulldogs their first loss. And when the teams met again in the Class C South final, LeBlanc was ready with the scoring spurt for a team that had been showing some jitters on the big stage.

“I knew they were going to overplay me because I’d had a couple of big games,” LeBlanc said. “If they’re going to overplay me, I’ll just go right by them. They’re so focused on (top scorer) Jake (Hickey), and we just went to work because we know we have a good offense to go man-on-man. We executed that well.”

Any game can be their game to shine, and LeBlanc and each of his teammates have to be ready for when the chance comes. After all, it comes with the job.

“All these kids, they relish their roles,” MacArthur said. “And they understand the importance of being great at your job.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

Comments are not available on this story.

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.