AUGUSTA – Sam Leclerc didn’t accompany Winthrop coach Dennis Dacus and many of his teammates when they made a road trip to Auburn last week to scout out their Western Class C quarterfinal opponent. It was probably for the best, though, because otherwise the prolific point guard might have hurt himself rubbing his hands together and licking his chops in anticipation of the offensive opportunities he was going to have.

Leclerc carried tentative Winthrop through the first half, then got their up-tempo offense in gear and got his teammates involved in the second half as the third-seeded Ramblers thumped No. 6 St. Dom’s, 65-47, at the Augusta Civic Center Monday.

Winthrop (17-2) advances to face second-seeded Boothbay in the semifinals on Thursday night. St. Dom’s finishes its season 14-6.

Leclerc tallied 16 of his game-high 28 points (to go with seven rebounds and seven assists) in the first half as Winthrop sputtered out to a 25-20 lead. Then the roof fell in on the Saints. Winthrop’s quickness and full-court pressure finally began to take their toll as the Ramblers closed the third quarter with a 16-0 run to pull away.

“I think we got off to a slow start because a lot of guys were nervous,” Leclerc said. “I was definitely nervous. I had butterflies in my stomach. I also didn’t push the ball very much. We didn’t get it out and fast break like we want to…until the third quarter.”

“After scouting them last week, I knew that Sam could drive and do what he wanted, more or less, from the opening tip,” Dacus said. “But we need more than that. We need guys to score around him, too.”

Mike Gingras was the only other Rambler to reach double figures with 12 points. Joe Bonneau led St. Dom’s with 19 points and eight rebounds.

Winthrop trailed only once, when Greg LaBonte hit a 3-pointer near the end of the first period to make it 13-12 Saints. The Ramblers, led by seven points from Leclerc, started the second quarter with an 11-2 run to take the lead for good.

“We started out in a 1-4 (set), but when we opened it up and went five guys around the perimeter, it just opens up lanes for everyone,” Leclerc said. “I was the one getting to the bucket today and then everyone followed suit.”

“Austin Fuller is one of the finest perimeter defenders around in our class, but you’ve just got to tip your hat to Sam Leclerc,” St. Dom’s coach Ryan Deschenes said. “That kid is something else.”

Bonneau was able to get the looks he wanted along the baseline, but Winthrop’s main defensive mission was to pressure the ball and get in the face of Saints’ forward Billy Colasante, who scored 14 points in the prelim the Ramblers scouted.

“The second half, we really emphasized doubling the ball as often as we could, getting up and making the guy move left and right and it worked,” Dacus said..”We really focused on Colasante, because he’s the kid that can stroke the 3-pointer better than everybody else on their team. So we just said we’re not leaving him. We’re not going help side. Stay on him, force him to his right, because he likes to drive to his left, and he didn’t score a point tonight. That was a big key for us.”

Winthrop exploded for 16 points in the final three minutes of the third, getting a number of easy hoops in transition and off turnovers. Gingras got the run going with a 3-pointer. Leclerc followed with a traditional three-point play, then Tim Gingras chipped in with a steal and lay-up.

“Traip was the quickest team we faced all year, and we thought they would be a good stepping stone for this, but (Winthrop’s) quickness is on another level,” said Deschenes.


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