WINTHROP — The focus for the Winthrop boys basketball team didn’t kick in before the Class C state championship game. Or the playoffs. Or even when the stretch drive began to heat up, in the closing weeks of January.

The Ramblers, coach Todd MacArthur said, were locked in from the first day of the season. And even months before that.

I think from the moment we lost to Hall-Dale last year and we got back in the gym this summer,” he said. “We had those conversations of ‘How do we want this to end?’ “

Winthrop High School head coach Todd McArthur, center, calls out a play after his team scores against Houston late in the fourth quarter of the Class C state championship game Saturday night at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

The way it ended was with the Ramblers swarming the area in front of the their bench as the final seconds ticked away Saturday night at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor, finalizing Winthrop’s 61-49 victory over Houlton and the team’s first state title since 2008.

“It just makes everything worthwhile,” MacArthur said. “All the long hours, all the sacrifices in the gym, all the day-to-day grinds. It’s awesome as a coach, being this proud of your kids. It’s just amazing.”

And the way it ended was so different than how the previous two ended — in 2017 with a loss to George Stevens in the same game and in the same building, and in 2018 with the loss to Hall-Dale in the C South final.

The Ramblers knew those games could have — maybe should have — gone differently. From the start of this year, they were determined to give themselves another shot.

“In order to be successful, you have to fail,” MacArthur said. “And we’ve failed. We’ve failed before, and the best thing about this group is they kept those battle scars in their mind and they used it as motivation.”

The objective was set, but that wasn’t enough. The Ramblers had the drive to win, but they also needed a blueprint.

“We all wanted a Gold Ball. That was the goal,” MacArthur said. “But everyone has goals. If you don’t have a plan, then they’re meaningless. And we talked about how we were going to achieve it.”

The plan meant embracing depth, and sacrificing minutes and shots so others could flourish as well. It meant taking on different responsibilities to become a better fit for the kind of team Winthrop wanted to be. The formula from 2017-18 was a good formula, it just wasn’t a championship one.

It’s not easy sometimes when someone looks you in the eye and says ‘You need to change,’ ” MacArthur said. “It’s not easy to hear we need to change; I had to change as a coach and they had to change some things as players.”

The plan also meant finding more leadership, and with it, mental toughness.

“When you have leaders, the accountability piece … you take a good team and you make it a great team,” MacArthur said. “And they were able to hold each other accountable on and off the court. And when pressure situations came, they felt confident in their abilities to overcome them and be successful.”

A final one came on Saturday. Houlton was ahead only 24-20 at the half, but nothing was coming easily, as the Shiretowners had managed to gum up a Winthrop offense that had clicked all postseason.

At halftime, MacArthur broke it down.

Houlton’s Nick Brewer takes a shot as Winthrop’s Ryan Baird defends during the Class C state championship game Saturday night at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

I looked them square in the eyes and I asked them, ‘What took us down as a team last year?’ ” he said. “And (forward) Jevin Smith looked square in the eyes and he said ‘Ourselves.’ We didn’t deal with adversity well last year. In that moment last year, we would have crumbled as a team.”

Not this time. Not with what was at stake. Winthrop found the ball movement and the rebounding that had made it so dangerous in the postseason, and after taking a 38-36 lead by the end of the first, ran away with the victory with a 23-point fourth quarter.

“We didn’t lose our cool,” said senior forward Sam Figueroa, who scored seven of his nine points in the second half. “We came out and were able to execute better, and we played much better defense in the second half. We did a lot better, and it paid off.”

It was the type of response MacArthur had been talking about in the summer. The journey ended Saturday, but the groundwork for a title had been laid well before.

This group is a phenomenal group,” he said. “I told them last night in the locker room, they’re the best group I ever coached. They solidified that last night with that win.”

 

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM


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