AUGUSTA — They’ve taken different paths. But they’ve arrived at the same destination.

The Hall-Dale and Winthrop High School boys basketball teams couldn’t be confused for each other. Watch the Bulldogs in action, and their quickness and athleticism jump out. Watch the Ramblers, and intensity and cohesion are the first impressions.

They’re identical, however, where it matters most. If you take a shot at them, keep swinging. And knock them out.

Because the Ramblers and Bulldogs keep coming. Talented as they are, guts, grit and guile are the reasons they’re still standing.

“In the locker room we talked about what we needed to do and we just dug down,” said Winthrop guard Jared McLaughlin, whose team erased an eight-point deficit with 2:48 to play to beat Boothbay 61-60 in the C South semifinals. “We just want to keep going and play for a state championship, and that’s what we have a chance to do now.”

It was one of the most impressive rallies of the Class C season. Hours later, it arguably wasn’t even the best of the night. Hall-Dale rallied back from six points down with 1:21 to go to beat Richmond 76-70 in overtime, punching its ticket to the C South final.

“I love our team’s grit and determination all year to come back from these types of games,” guard Alec Byron said. “We kept grinding and we kept keeping our heads up.”

Digging down. Grit and determination. Similar phrases, and used to describe the essence of both teams in crunch time.

But even then, there are differences. While Winthrop is a young team with newcomers to these big spots, Hall-Dale is a veteran group, one that reached the Class C South quarterfinals with a starting lineup of sophomores and juniors last year, one that recognizes that its time has come, and one that doesn’t panic when that faith gets challenged.

Coach Chris Ranslow has seen it, going back even before this year. Two Christmases ago, the Bulldogs were playing Mountain Valley in a holiday tournament game and were down nine points with two minutes to go. The hole was deep and the climb out was steep, but the Bulldogs didn’t quit and their coach noticed.

“We got a stop, we got a score, I called a timeout. We got a stop, we got a score, I called a timeout,” he said. “And ever since then, we’ve really, really come off the whiteboard really well and not tried to do anything that’s outside our comfort zone or skill set.”

Fast forward to Thursday night, and those lessons applied. Down 62-56 with time running out, the Bulldogs locked in on both sides of the floor. Byron got a steal and hit two free throws, Tyler Nadeau got a steal and hit a 3-pointer, then Ashtyn Abbott got a steal and Nadeau hit another shot, putting the Bulldogs ahead 63-62.

It took 31 seconds. Thirty-one seconds for the Bulldogs to go from being on life support to being back on their feet and in command. Even after Zach Small challenged the narrative with a tying 3-pointer to force overtime, Hall-Dale wasn’t about to be stopped. The Bulldogs scored the first five points of overtime and never trailed.

If you swing at the Bulldogs, you’d better knock them out.

“We’re not doing a pep talk, we’re not looking to fire anybody up. We’re looking to execute on one side of the floor, and then put a scheme in and execute on the other side of the floor,” Ranslow said. “They kept it together late. That’s the poise that it takes to win in the tournament.”

Ranslow had already seen it. Hall-Dale trailed Traip by eight at halftime and by one midway through the fourth quarter in the quarterfinals. And just as they did Thursday, when things got tough, the Bulldogs got better.

“I think we’re continually reinventing ourselves,” Ranslow said. “You get further on in the tournament and the crowds get bigger and bigger and the moment kind of gets bigger all the time. We have the DNA, we’ve been doing it all season long.”

Winthrop coach Todd MacArthur had Ranslow’s faith. He just didn’t have the case studies to work with. These Ramblers are young, relatively inexperienced and new to the bright lights after most starters and key players graduated from last year’s state finalist.

But they’re tough. Down 60-52 with 2:47 left, Winthrop came out firing. McLaughlin hit a three. Then he buried another, making it 60-58 with 1:08 left. Winthrop committed a turnover with 33 seconds left, but after nothing came of it in the Boothbay end, the Ramblers came back on the court for their final answer.

MacArthur called “Spoon,” a man-to-man play. Boothbay came out in zone. MacArthur signaled to ballhandler Nate LeBlanc to continue the play. LeBlanc did, trusted his read — and knocked down the 3-pointer with 12 seconds left.

Boothbay raced down, but couldn’t get a clean shot off. Ballgame.

“As a team, we never give up. We’re that team that uses grit and determination,” LeBlanc said. “If we’re down 20 we’re still not going to give up, we’re still going to give it our all.”

MacArthur trusted that was the case. He just hadn’t seen it.

He’s seen it now.

“I just told them, I couldn’t be more proud of a group of kids,” he said. “They had never been in that situation before this season, where they had to fight, dig deep and claw back into a game and execute down the stretch. That’s exactly what they did.

“I think our team grew up a lot tonight, in terms of what they’re capable of doing. They could have quit there when they were down 10 (and) they didn’t. They fought, they stayed with it.”

And now the two teams will meet. One of them will win. The other won’t make it easy.

“It says a lot about my kids and a lot about our program to be in the Southern Maine regional finals in what was supposedly a rebuilding year,” MacArthur said. “Whoever we play, we’re going to be prepared. We’re going to be ready to go and we’re going to show up.”

“We just get 32 more minutes,” Ranslow added. “Hopefully we play just raucous for 32 minutes against Winthrop on Saturday.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

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Twitter: @dbonifantMTM