AUGUSTA — Asked to describe his team’s games against Winthrop, Hall-Dale senior forward Tim Cookson quickly came up with the word.

It’s competitive, for sure,” he said. “If we’re not executing at our game, then it’s over. We’ve got to go hard. That’s the hardest we ever play, against Winthrop.”

Over on the other side, Cam Wood, the Ramblers’ senior center, acknowledged some similar emotions about the Bulldogs.

Personally, I consider it a rivalry,” he said. “I want to go out there and kick their butt.”

It’s become one of Class C’s most marquee matchups, and for the second straight year it’ll decide the C South championship. Saturday night at 8:45, No. 1 Winthrop will play No. 3 Hall-Dale at the Augusta Civic Center, with the regional title and a spot in the Class C state championship at stake.

Playing in a regional final is always special. But for the players involved, playing in it against a team they’ve come to know almost as well as themselves adds even more to it.

It just means there will be more people, more fun, better atmosphere,” Winthrop senior forward Sam Figueroa said. “It’s always fun playing against Hall-Dale, so we’ll be sure to give it our best effort and see how it goes.”

We know each other off the court, we know each other on the court, we play each other in different sports,” Hall-Dale senior guard Alec Byron added. “So it all adds up, and being so close in the same conference, it’s definitely a rivalry. But it’ll be a great game. I think both communities will pack the Civic Center and it’ll be great.”

Winthrop’s Jared McLaughlin strips Traip’s Treshaun Brown of the ball during a Class C South semifinal game Thursday in Augusta. Kennebec Journal photo by Andy Molloy

There are plenty of rivalries within the Mountain Valley Conference, but as Winthrop and Hall-Dale have separated themselves from the rest of the teams, it’s become harder and harder to mention one in the same sentence without including the other. In the last three seasons, both teams have gone in as preseason favorites. They’ve entered the playoffs as high seeds. They’ve turned those seedings into tournament success — Winthrop is in its fourth straight final while Hall-Dale is in its second, and for the third straight year, the C South representative will either wear the Ramblers’ green and gray or the Bulldogs’ red and black.

“When you talk about one, you’ve got the other one,” Wood said. “Two of the best teams in the conference.”

And picking which team it’ll be is, once again, a toss-up. Will Winthrop’s size prevail, or Hall-Dale’s quickness? Does the edge go to the Bulldogs’ star duo of Byron and Ashtyn Abbott, or the Ramblers’ depth?

“I think that they probably have the two best, dynamic players,” Winthrop coach MacArthur said. “I wouldn’t count my big guy (Wood) short, but hopefully we have three through nine, three through 10 locked up. That’s what we want to have.”

And when their styles have met, the games have often been dramatic. When players like Jacob Hickey, Garrett Tsouprake and a young Wood were patrolling the floor, Winthrop consistently got the better of its rival. But Hall-Dale broke the skid with a 49-46 win in January 2018 — erasing a final Winthrop lead with just over a minute to go — and has built on the success, stretching its winning streak over the Ramblers to three.

Early in my career we got the best of them, and now they’re starting to get the best of us,” MacArthur said. “So I’d like to flip that a little bit.”

Hall-Dale coach Chris Ranslow, meanwhile, sees it differently — particularly after the Ramblers claimed the top seed going into this year’s tournament.

“We weren’t at the top of the standings this year,” he said. “We finished third in the conference, they won the conference and they won the conference championship, so I think, from my standpoint, we’re still looking up at them.”

The teams’ last two meetings have been some of the more notable. An already strong MVC rivalry was kicked up a notch when Hall-Dale took down Winthrop in last year’s C South final, taking control of an eight-point game with 6:37 left and turning it into a 51-37 win.

The Ramblers haven’t forgotten.

What an opportunity for these kids to avenge some of the heartbreak they had last year,” MacArthur said. “They have an opportunity. It’s like I told them (Thursday), there’s not many times in life you have a second chance at something. And they’ve got a second chance now.”

To fully take advantage, they’ll need a better effort than they put forward in their first attempt at that payback. MacArthur wasn’t happy with his defense in a a 57-46 loss to Hall-Dale in December, one that saw the Ramblers allow Abbott to score 27 points and grab 16 rebounds.

“Ashtyn is definitely a tough matchup for us,” MacArthur said. “We can’t let him go off.”

The Ramblers are confident they won’t. There’s a reason, they say, they’ve won 13 straight games ever since.

Winthrop’s Cameron Wood goes up for a dunk as Dirigo’s Jack Lavorgna plays defense during Monday night’s Class C South quarterfinal basketball game in Augusta. Sun Journal photo by Andree Kehn

We’ve definitely grown a lot as a team, we’ve gotten a couple of big wins, big comeback wins since then,” Figueroa said. “That clutch aspect, I guess you can call it, has really developed. … We’re a better team than we were then, and we’ll try to show them when we play on Saturday.”

Hall-Dale, however, has won each game since as well, and its latest victory — a dramatic 65-58 win over No. 2 Waynflete — had a galvanizing effect on a defending champion that was hardly running short on motivation.

I know they’re going to come out hungry, they want some revenge, we’ve beaten them quite a few times in the last couple of years,” Byron said. “But honestly, I think we have the momentum. … It’s just going to come down to who can execute their game plan the best, and I feel pretty confident going in.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

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Twitter: @dbonifantMTM