AUGUSTA — Never in her basketball career had Lydia Rice been so nervous. Never had she come through with so much poise, either.

The Winthrop sophomore guard grabbed the rebound of Boothbay’s last-gasp attempt to tie the the score with less than 10 seconds remaining, then calmly sank two free throws to clinch a 38-34 victory over No. 2 Boothbay in the Class C South final Saturday night at the Augusta Civic Center.

Winthrop (19-2) will play Central Aroostook in the state championship game next weekend in this same building after they avenged their only two regular-season losses to Boothbay (18-3).

The victory marks the program’s first regional title since 1990.

Rice finished with only two points, but they were the two biggest ones of the evening.

“I’ve never, ever had to do that. I was shaking,” said Rice, who made the key free throws with 2.4 seconds remaining. “I thought I was going to pass out. I was really bad at free throws in the beginning (of the year), but I kept working and working on it. Apparently, it did pay off. I was so happy once I made those.”

“That’s about as nerve-wracking as you can get on a couple of free throws,” Winthrop coach Joe Burnham said. “Lydia’s just a competitor, and she knocked them down.”

Chole Arsenault led Boothbay with a game-high 20 points, scoring 15 of the Seahawks’ 24 points through three quarters.

They were important points, too, given Winthrop hadn’t found anything resembling its rhythm until Madison Forgue and Sage Fortin drained consecutive 3-pointers late in the third quarter as part of an 8-0 run that handed the Ramblers a 27-22 lead.

Winthrop led by as many as eight in the fourth quarter when tournament MVP Aaliyah WilsonFalcone made two free throws with 5:44 remaining for a 34-26 advantage. WilsonFalcone finished with 12 points, 10 in the first half.

“She was our offense in the first quarter, and she had the hardest defensive assignment, too,” Burnham said. “All year, she’s risen to the occasion. When we’re all hitting, it may look like that Old Orchard Beach (win in the regional semifinals). That type of game right there, where a senior just puts you on her back and says, ‘I’ll get us to a point where we can get there as a team,’ that’s just invaluable.”

The Winthrop lead dwindled down to two points following an Arsenault free throw with 1:43 left to play, and in the final 30 seconds Boothbay’s Kylie Brown and Jasey Smith each had looks at the tying bucket.

Neither could get a shot to fall before the 5-foot-6 Rice went flying into the crowd of bodies to the left of the basket and hauled down her third rebound of the contest.

“I saw Glory (Blethen),” Rice said. “She’s so tall, and she’s an amazing player. I was just like, ‘I gotta get up there.’ Natalie Frost blocked her out, and I had to go get that ball. I got there, I held it, I got fouled and I was like, I’m going to the line and I’ve got to calm down now.”

“They shot the ball well when they needed to,” Boothbay coach Brian Blethen said. “I would have liked us (in a 38-34 game). Really, for us, it was not being able to get that inside game completed. Had we been able to do that, I think maybe we would have come out on top.”

Five years removed from non-varsity status due to low numbers in the program, Winthrop is on the verge of marking the 30th anniversary of its last state championship with another next week.

“It’s amazing. We’ve been building up to this moment,” WilsonFalcone said. “We’ve been told since our freshman year that 2020’s the year, and we just went out there and did it. As soon as we got going, I knew that this was the team.”


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