Winthrop cocah Todd MacArthur pumps his team up during last Saturday night’s Class C South final. Sun Journal photo by Russ Dillingham Buy this Photo

WINTHROP — Todd MacArthur had to find a different motivational tactic.

Last year, the Winthrop boys basketball coach had the perfect tool at hand as the Ramblers prepared for the Class C final. They were back at the Cross Insurance Center, using the same locker room they had used when they lost in the title game two years prior, and MacArthur told them the significance of the symmetry.

This year, the game is at the Augusta Civic Center. And MacArthur can’t use that bullet.

“No, I can’t,” he said. “I say I’m not superstitious, but there are some superstitious things that we definitely incorporate.”

Motivation likely won’t be much of an issue, though. A year after winning a Gold Ball following years of knocking on the door, the Ramblers (20-1) have a chance to do it again against C North champion Dexter (21-0) on Saturday night.

It’s a different group than the one that cut the nets down in Bangor last year. But in typical Winthrop fashion, it’s a team that has improved throughout the season and played its best in the biggest games.

“The whole team has stepped it up this year and worked together to get some big wins, especially in this tournament,” senior guard Brad Bourne said. “We hope to get a big one on Saturday.”

It’s also tested and experienced team. A lot of the players now — Jevin Smith, Ryan Baird, Cam Hachey and Gavin Perkins being the best examples — played significant roles last season, and MacArthur said the group was able to use its 2019 experience to help approach Saturday.

“I feel like our process and our preparation, we’re used to it now,” he said. “We know what we’re supposed to be doing on Tuesday, what we’re supposed to be doing on Wednesday, in terms of getting prepared for one game. And it just seems natural. I think the kids are much looser.”

MacArthur expects that experience to help once the game begins as well.

“As a coach, I know it’s a positive,” he said. “And as players, there’s something to be said to walk on the court when you’re the last two teams remaining in a class and you’re playing for a state championship. There’s going to be a set of nerves that these kids face. And being there before and understanding what that situation’s going to be like can only benefit a kid.”

Dexter doesn’t have that championship experience, but the Tigers are at ease under pressure.

“At this point, both teams have been in some big games, and I don’t know if the games can be any bigger than the ones we’ve been in,” coach Peter Murray said. “And they’re well-respected, as they should be.”

The teams have a lot in common, starting with the defensive end of the court.

“We’re very, very similar to one another, almost eerily so,” Murray said. “With both teams, I think it starts on the defensive end, and that’s kind of where we hang our hat. I think the team makeups are very similar in that there’s not one particular superstar, it’s really kind of a team effort.”

Winthrop’s Gavin Perkins keeps the ball away from Waynflete’s Oliver Burdick during the second half of last Saturday night’s regional championship game at the Augusta Civic Center. Sun Journal photo by Russ Dillingham Buy this Photo

Winthrop has a shooter in Hachey and a forward in Smith that the Tigers will have to account for, and it remains to be seen whether forward Ryan Baird will be able to play after suffering a high ankle sprain in the C South final against Waynflete.

“We like where he is in terms of his progression,” MacArthur said. “Right now it’s still up in the air, and we’ll see where he is. … We’re preparing game plans with him and without him.”

Dexter has a star player in guard and North tournament MVP Nathan Richards, while Brett Kusnierz is a dangerous shooter who hit four 3-pointers and scored 17 points in the regional final victory over Central Aroostook.

The Dexter threat, however, goes beyond its top scorers.

“They run a true five-man motion, where it’s a three-out, two-in, but it’s interchangeable so all five guys play all five spots,” MacArthur said. “It’s going to bring a different element to our defense, where a point guard’s going to have to defend the post, or a big’s going to have to come out and play.

“They’re an impressive team. We have our hands full.”

It’s a challenge, but MacArthur likes the team he has to tackle it.

“I like where they’re still going,” he said. “The growth process hasn’t stopped. … I definitely like where they are, and I’ll hopefully like where they’re going to be Saturday night because I still think they have room for growth.”

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