WINTHROP — For the Winthrop boys basketball team members who were on the team when the Ramblers played in Bangor for a state title two years ago, this season was about going back. And righting wrongs.

“It was our goal this year, to get back to the Cross Insurance Center,” senior center Cam Wood said. “We have bad memories there, so we want to redeem those memories. That’s definitely been on my mind. I wanted to go back.”

He and the rest of the Ramblers got that chance. Winthrop will be back in the building where it lost to George Stevens Academy 47-44 in 2017, this time playing North champion Houlton in the Class C final tonight at 8:45. Winthrop, the South’s top seed, is 20-1, while Houlton, the North’s No. 4, is 17-4.

Winthrop coach Todd MacArthur, seeking to land his first title and the program’s first since 2008, toned down the vengeance angle going in.

“The fact remains, that’s not their battle. That’s over and done with,” he said. “We don’t harp on it too much.”

Still, MacArthur knew not to entirely waste some pretty powerful motivation.

“We discussed it when we were up there (Tuesday),” he said. “It’s nice for kids to have experience. It’s nice when they have good experience, but bad experience matters too because they can look at their teammates and say ‘Hey, if you don’t do this, this is the outcome.’

I know that’s one of the things we’ve developed over the course of two years, is really good leadership and senior leadership.”

MacArthur also knows he has a team brimming with confidence going in, and one that has the ability to match that self-belief. In three South regional tournament games, Winthrop had the look of a team with multiple strengths, all of which were clicking. The Ramblers’ size immediately stands out to anyone who watches them, but Winthrop saw its overlooked assets step up as well. The guards shot the ball well and pushed the pace in transition, and the Ramblers’ defense closed up open looks and harassed shooters in all three games.

We’re definitely full of confidence right now,” Wood said. “We’re starting to find where we are, and we’re going on a run now, which is when we wanted to.”

Winthrop has won each playoff game by 16 or more points, and by an average of 26.3.

There’s been a lot of talk about our defense, but one of the things where I’ve been really proud of my team is (that) we’re pretty good offensively too,” MacArthur said. “And that always kind of goes under the table, no one ever talks about that. We’ve got to be efficient offensively like we have been.”

MacArthur also knows that many of the same things can be said about the Ramblers’ opponent. Of the Shiretowners’ four losses, three came to Class B teams, and two of those three came to Caribou, which will be playing in the Class B title game. Houlton then did the same steamrolling act in the North that Winthrop did in the South, winning by an average of 28.7 points.

Its 54-34 victory over George Stevens, which formally dethroned the Eagles after three straight state championships, was its closest test of the postseason.

“They’re a very solid team,” MacArthur said, accentuating the last word. “They share the basketball well, they’re very disciplined, they’re very well-coached. They’re athletic, they’re strong, they play tough, they play together, they’re efficient and they execute. They’re dangerous.”

There’s no clear player on the Houlton roster to stop. Keegan Gentle has led the Shiretowners in the postseason with 15 points per game, but Nolan Porter scored 14 in the final and 22 in the quarters. Cameron Callnan and Jaron Gentle had 12 in the semis. Nick Brewer had 16 in the quarters.

They shoot the mid-range game so well, which is weird because we haven’t really faced a team that thrives off of mid-range,” MacArthur said. “And then they shoot the three really well, and then they get to the rim if you take that (away). They’re very diverse in their approach offensively. You try to take one thing away, they’ll attack you a different way.”

MacArthur, however, said he’s just as concerned with Houlton’s defense.

They’re aggressive defensively, they’re in your face, they’re in passing lanes and they play 94 feet of basketball,” he said. “Whether it’s man or a combination of zone in the full or the half, they’re relentless.”

Still, such challenges have been a theme this postseason, and the Ramblers have consistently had an answer. Traip overcame Boothbay with its speed, but couldn’t muster anything against Winthrop. Hall-Dale came in with two of the best players in the region, but the Ramblers used their size and athleticism to take away their looks.

“We have to make sure we use our depth, we use our pressure, and we find a way to make the game more, in pace and style, what we want to play,” MacArthur said. “We’ve done that with every game we’ve played. We’ve got to dictate everything about the game. We’ve just got to continue to do that and hope for the best.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM


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