Natalie Frost, left, and Jillian Schmelzer — both Winthrop senior captains — walk off the Augusta Civic Center court after the Ramblers defeated Old Orchard Beach in a Class C South semifinal game Thursday afternoon. The top-seeded Ramblers advanced to the regional championship game Saturday, when it will meet No. 2 Boothbay. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan Buy this Photo

AUGUSTA — After three rounds of playoffs and a couple of imperfect semifinal performances, the Winthrop and Boothbay girls basketball teams will meet for the Class C South regional championship Saturday night.

No. 1 Winthrop was nearly a wire-to-wire regular season champion of the Mountain Valley Conference, while No. 2 Boothbay handed the Ramblers each of their two losses this winter. The Seahawks are the defending Class C state champions, while Winthrop won a third meeting against Boothbay less than two weeks ago in the MVC title contest.

After Boothbay’s semifinal win over Traip on Thursday, even Seahawks coach Brian Blethen innocently let slip what most had presumed for several weeks — the region would eventually boil down to a Winthrop-Boothbay showdown.

Blethen was asked for his thoughts on the regional final and dropped the name “Winthrop” even as the Ramblers and Old Orchard Beach were running through their warmup paces on the court in front of him.

“It seems like it was always kind of destined to be the two of us,” said Winthrop coach Joe Burnham, whose team is making its first regional final appearance since 2007. “We’re excited for that matchup again.”

“I knew we were going to make it here,” Boothbay guard Chloe Arsenault said. “Our team, we believe in each other. I had the feeling we were going to be all right. It will be kind of fun to play (Winthrop) again.”

There will be few surprises in a fourth meeting this season between the two teams. The taller Seahawks (18-2) play at a slightly more methodical pace than the gaurd-oriented Ramblers (18-2) when things are going their best.

For both, it comes down to rebounding — generating second-chance points of their own while keeping the other from getting the same.

“When we secure a rebound, it gets our transition going,” Winthrop senior Kena Souza said. “We’re a really good transitioning team. Rebounding was our savior (against Old Orchard Beach).”

At 5-foot-8, Souza is Winthrop’s best — and biggest — post player. Souza gives up considerable size to Boothbay’s Glory Blethen (6-2) and Jaelyn Crocker (5-10), and Brian Blethen thinks each of the Seahawks’ two wins this season over the Ramblers were decided on the boards.

“It’s been a focus and an emphasis,” said Brian Blethen, who has the Seahawks in a third straight regional final. “Monmouth taught us that this year (in a loss on Jan. 6). We fell asleep at Monmouth because we did not rebound, and I think I said after the first Winthrop game that it was why we won that game.

“If we’re not doing well in a game, it probably is because we’re not rebounding the basketball. It’s going to be the key Saturday — we’ve got to rebound and want the basketball more than the Ramblers.”

Even after winning the state championship last season, it hasn’t been a cakewalk to the regional final for Boothbay.

“Surprise” wasn’t a word Brian Blethen would use to describe his team’s return to the championship game. Injuries and illness both played significant roles this season, and overcoming that adversity only helped shape some of the roles the Seahawks’ key contributors have played down the stretch.

“It’s forced us to try to get ourselves organized, in terms of our group,” Blethen said.

No matter what, there won’t be any surprises when these two teams tip off in the regional final.

“It’s a little bit easier to prep for a team you’ve played three times than for somebody you’ve only seen on film,” Burnham said.

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