WINTHROP — There are some games on the schedule that inherently mean more.

They are often called a rivalry, a test or a measuring stick. By any name, though, they are the ones that take on a significance which makes 32 minutes feel more like 60.

“Oh, definitely,” said Boothbay girls basketball coach Brian Blethen prior to Wednesday night’s tip-off against unbeaten Winthrop, a game the Seahawks won 51-49. “This is the game of the season for us.”

After two years of nearing the top of the Mountain Valley Conference peak, only to watch Monmouth win the Class C state championship in both 2017 and 2018, Boothbay finally fulfilled its oft-expected potential with its second regional championship last winter and the state title.

Now the Seahawks play the role of champion, and other teams are using their presence at the opposite end of the court to size themselves up.

The result? Two losses in the Seahawks’ first eight games, including one earlier this week at Monmouth, after a 21-0 season in 2018-19.

“It was going to happen. We’re not UConn,” Blethen said. “It wasn’t going to go 414 games or anything like that. Now, though, we’re starting to settle into ourselves a little bit more.

“I think it comes with experience,” Blethen said of teams learning to play with a collective target on their backs. “Even though we may not be considered by other teams or other people to be ‘the favorite’ in the MVC this season, people always still get up for Boothbay. We’ve gotten used to that. We’re going to get everybody’s best game.”

Winthrop head coach Joe Burnham tried to downplay the significance of a single game against Boothbay in early January, but it was hard for him to keep a straight face.

The Ramblers knew what was at stake Wednesday.

A win, and they remained the team everybody believed was the head of the class in the MVC this season. A loss, and it would certainly leave plenty of teams lining up to lay claim to the throne come tournament time next month.

“There are so many good teams in this conference,” Burnham said. “We’re lucky to have a fortunate schedule. We get Boothbay, Monmouth, Oak Hill twice — once home and away. We get Mountain Valley twice, and that’s a team that’s given us trouble before.”

Last season, Winthrop went into the tournament as the No. 2 seed in Class C South, a point of both pride and accomplishment for a program that was in the building stages for several seasons under Burnham, now in his seventh year at the helm. He admitted there was a sense of “happy just to be here” from his team last winter, a feeling that has since dissipated.

This Winthrop squad wants to make a deep run.

“I think anything short of the ultimate goal would be a disappointment for this team,” Burnham said of contending for the Class C state championship — which the Winthrop boys won last winter. “That’s not to say we’re going to definitely get there, but that’s what we’re trying to do. We didn’t want to set low goals for ourselves, so that’s what we’re trying for.”

One thing Winthrop has that it hasn’t before is a fertile breeding ground for winning.

The coach said there is complete “buy-in” from the team, and that for the first time in his career he’s able to go 10 players deep without feeling like there are any consequences of dropping off in the level of play. Practices are more productive with that atmosphere, too.

Burnham only needed look across the court at Boothbay to find an example of just such a culture within a program.

“If you want to talk about winning culture, you’re not going to find a better one in the MVC than Boothbay,” Burnham said. “They’re the defending state champs. They’re going to stay that way until someone knocks them off. You can see that with our boys team, too. Everybody talked about how they lost so much from last year’s team, but they brought a lot of players back, too, with smarts and athleticism.

“Certainly that’s a team we want to compare ourselves against.”

Just like they did against Boothbay on Wednesday.

“Everybody says it’s a rivalry,” Burnham joked. “But it’s hard to say that when you look back at some of our scores against them since I started here.”

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.