AUGUSTA — The Class C boys basketball championship was a hard-fought game. A low-scoring game. And a physical game.

In other words, just the way Winthrop likes it.

Cam Hachey scored 16 points, Jevin Smith had 13 and the Ramblers took home their second straight Gold Ball, beating previously undefeated Dexter 51-41 in the Class C final at the Augusta Civic Center.

Winthrop (21-1), which got 11 points from Ryan Baird in his return from a high ankle sprain suffered in the regional final, took the lead for good with a 9-0 run near the end of the third quarter.

Nathan Richards had 13 points for Dexter (21-1), while Brett Kusnierz added 12.

“It’s just the same (feeling). It’s even better with these guys,” said Smith, who added seven rebounds in the victory. “We knew we could do it, but it’s the hard work and putting in the effort that made the difference.”

Winthrop’s title last year had buildup behind it, as the Ramblers had come close time and time again, and it wasn’t until last season that they finally broke through. Now that program has reached the summit in back to back seasons, a feat that had Todd MacArthur beaming as he tried to find the right words.

“It kind of feels weird,” he said. “I could never have guessed this was going to happen. I had a lot of confidence in this group going into the season, but I didn’t know what their ceiling was going to be. And they just proved that they were going to continue to grow all year long, and they developed into a team that obviously was a state championship-caliber team.”

There was reason to doubt. The Ramblers lost eight seniors from last year’s team, players like Cam Wood and Jared McLaughlin and Nate LeBlanc and Sam Figueroa, players Winthrop needed in order to win it all a season ago.

Plenty thought they couldn’t do it, not win it all again. And the Ramblers heard them.

“No one thought, losing eight seniors, that we’d be back here,” Smith said. “And we proved something tonight.”

They proved, once again, they’re comfortable when the games aren’t. Winthrop didn’t run away from teams like it has in the past. It beat North Yarmouth Academy in the South semis in a grind-it-out 40-25 victory. It beat Waynflete in the final 39-30, even after losing Baird in the first quarter.

The tougher the Ramblers have to work to win, the better they tend to be.

“We work really hard in practice, and we go over situations like this all the time,” Hachey said. “Our practices are supposed to be harder than our games, and we just work our butts off.”

They had to Saturday as well. Dexter, a strong defensive team in its own right, led 20-18 at halftime of what was becoming a physical contest, with hard contact routine on each trip down the floor.

With three minutes left in the third quarter and Winthrop trailing 27-25, however, the Ramblers made their move. Ian Steele had a pair of free throws to tie the game, and Hachey put Winthrop ahead with a steal and transition jumper with 1:58 to go. Steele followed with another steal and score, and Baird took the ball after a Noah Grube rebound and finished with a three-point play on the other end to make it 34-27 with 46 seconds left.

It was a key moment for Baird, who couldn’t finish the regional final but wasn’t going to be denied Saturday.

“The first two days, I was worried. It was pretty bad, pretty swollen,” he said. “Then I knew I was going to be able to come out here and play with my boys one last time.”

Winthrop didn’t trail again.

“I thought Ian Steele had a little spurt there of high energy, and he had two breakaway layups that kind of changed the momentum of the game,” MacArthur said. “In a game of state championship caliber, whoever steps up and makes a play can be the difference in the game. And that run was the difference in the game.”

Dexter scored only three points in the first 4:54 of the fourth, and the Ramblers delivered the dagger when a Hachey three made it 45-32 with 3:24 to go. With the Gold Ball close, Winthrop’s defense delivered. It may not have been a pretty game, but the Ramblers don’t care.

“If we can’t score, we’d rather play defense,” Smith said. “If we’re up, we’d rather play defense. We rely on our defense to win games.”

“I don’t mind whatever way (we play), as long as we win,” MacArthur said. “I don’t care if it’s ugly, if it’s pretty. If we win and these kids get success and they get recognized, then I’m happy.”

The celebrations feel the same either way.

“This one feels just as sweet as the first one,” Hachey said. “It feels great to go out on a good note, we played a great basketball game, and I couldn’t ask for a better group of guys.”

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