SALEM – Its 16-point lead had disappeared, and in its place was a six-point second-half deficit. The pressure was rising, and the Mt. Abram Regional High School girls basketball team could feel it.

“We were panicky,” junior guard Summer Ross acknowledged. “We had to call timeouts, and (coach) Larry (Donald) kind of pulled us together. We knew we could do it. We just had to converse with each other and make sure that we had each other’s backs.”

The Roadrunners got the message. Mt. Abram rallied back and salvaged the win, coming away with a 52-49 victory over Winthrop that could have significant Heal points ripple effects in Class C South.

“It was a big game. We needed tonight,” said Donald, whose team rallied from a 38-37 deficit entering the fourth to improve to 7-7 and the eighth spot in C South. “We needed tonight big time. It should bump us a little bit.”

Winthrop fell to 7-8, and now sits ninth in the Heals.

“There’s no quit, but there’s definitely not a lot of finish right now either,” Ramblers coach Joe Burnham said. “We’ve got to close out games and worry about that. We’ll definitely take some positives from the first three-and-a-half quarters.”

That was the stretch of the game that saw the Ramblers surge back from a sluggish start, turning a 20-4 deficit early in the second quarter into a 33-27 lead with 4:49 to go in the third.

Mt. Abram responded, however, narrowing the gap to one by the end of the third and jumping back in front 39-38 on a drive by Ross (20 points) on the Roadrunners’ first series of the fourth quarter. Lindsay Huff (eight points) put Mt. Abram up by three two possessions later, poking the ball loose and going in for the basket for a 41-38 lead with just inside seven minutes to go.

Ross said that the team recognized that the game was slipping away, and refocused for the homestretch.

“When it’s like that, you just play harder,” she said.

Mt. Abram’s lead reached four at 46-42 when Huff knocked down a 3-pointer with 3:51 to go, but Winthrop responded. Aaliyah Wilson-Falcone (19 points), who helped spark the Ramblers’ first comeback, had a steal and score to trim the gap to two, then cut around traffic in the paint for a basket to tie the score at 46 with 2:17 to play.

It was the closest the Ramblers came to a final comeback. Ross carved through the defense for a go-ahead basket with 1:29 to play, and then hit a pair of free throws to make it 50-46 with 1:05 to go.

“We all know that, when it’s close like that, we’ve got to step it up a notch and just try harder,” said Ross, who scored 11 of her 20 points after Winthrop took its largest lead of the night at 36-29. “We just had to play team ball, pass it around and do what we know how to do.”

Winthrop wasn’t finished, finding late life when Jillian Schmelzer (11 points) buried a 3-pointer to make it 51-49 with 10.8 seconds left. The Ramblers had a final chance with the ball down three points with four seconds left, but a turnover with 1.2 seconds to go ended the comeback hopes.

“We always have that one quarter where we let down. We won the first quarter big, they won the second quarter big,” said Donald, whose team let a lead slip away in a 44-40 loss to Winthrop in December. “The second half was a dogfight, foul trouble, it could have gone either way.”

It went the Roadrunners’ way, in part because the Ramblers were bitten by foul trouble of their own when Wilson-Falcone fouled out with 1:42 to play and the score tied at 46, while also struggling to put the game away at the free-throw line, where they missed three of their last eight attempts.

“I was really happy with the way we did battle back, but we continue to be on the wrong end of end-of-game situations,” Burnham said. “That comes down to coaching and execution, so that’s definitely a little disheartening at this point in the season.”

The ending spoiled what was an impressive response to a nightmarish start. Winthrop went six minutes without a field goal, started 2-for-12 from the field and turned the ball over nine times in the first quarter as Mt. Abram’s traps forced Rambler ballhandlers into mistake upon mistake while bringing the ball up the court.

In the second quarter, the narrative switched. After missing its first two shots of the period, Winthrop hit seven of its next 10, with Wilson-Falcone (six points in the quarter) and Kena Souza (two 3-pointers) leading the Ramblers on a 19-3 run to even the score at 23 by halftime.

Winthrop kept its comeback going into the third quarter, but the Roadrunners had the final say.

“Tonight’s got to help us,” Donald said. “Any win helps.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

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Twitter: @dbonifantMTM