Even though he told his team it would have to overcome some obstacles to defeat second-seeded Waynflete and defend their Class C South championship, Winthrop coach Todd MacArthur did not have a premonition.

MacArthur watched the Ramblers’ developing mental toughness as the season unfolded and knew they would face the ultimate test on Saturday night. He didn’t know was they would have to take that test without their best player for the final three quarters of it.

“We had a conversation before we came over about adversity,” MacArthur said. “I said, ‘Listen, let’s stick together tonight. There’s going to be some adversity that happens.’ And they really did. It just goes to show when you stick together as a group, when you’ve got each other’s back, great things can happen.”

Ryan Baird, a senior forward who led the Ramblers (20-1) with 15.5 points and nine rebounds per game this season, went down with a right ankle injury late in the first quarter of their 39-30 win over the Flyers. Needless to say, it wasn’t even on MacArthur’s list of worst-case scenarios, let alone typical championship game setbacks.

“I thought the adversity would be we’d get 8-0 down or they’d go on a run and we’d call a timeout and regroup,” MacArthur said. “(Losing Baird) is a huge part of our offense. A huge aspect of what we try to do is get him going.”

Cam Hachey (19 points), the tournament’s move valuable player, got going more than enough to help make up for the lost point production, which was virtually non-existent in the paint without Baird. But losing Baird’s 6-foot-5 frame added to MacArthur’s concerns against a big Waynflete front line featuring 6-foot-8 junior Dominick Campbell. MacArthur compared the Flyers’ size advantage to the one his state champion Ramblers enjoyed last year with Baird, graduated 6-foot-8 center Cam Wood and company.

Winthrop’s defense didn’t wilt among the trees, though, holding the Flyers scoreless for a more than seven-minute stretch in the second half en route to a season-low in points.

So could this year’s team, now that it had faced down adversity and the imposing likes of last year’s Ramblers, beat the still-reigning (for one more week) state champions?

“I don’t know. You’re going to have to ask them,” MacArthur said with a laugh. “I don’t ever pit teams versus teams. I’ve got love for each team and they all mean a great deal to me. We’ll find out next week if they bring home the gold ball. Then we can have a discussion.”

The Ramblers will have to defeat C North champion Dexter, the region’s No. 2 seed that emerged with a 50-48 win over top-seeded Central Aroostook on Saturday night. The unbeaten Tigers (21-0) won on a controversial buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Parker Ponte.

Baird’s status for the game is uncertain. He was on crutches and wearing a boot on his right leg after the game.

Like Winthrop, Dexter, which will be playing in its first state championship game since 2005, is built on defense, MacArthur said. That could translate to another agonizing, low-scoring state game (8:45 p.m., Saturday, Augusta Civic Center), which the Ramblers have already shown they know how to get through together.

“In low-scoring games, every possession, every situation, can be a big deal, and I thought these kids handled every situation perfectly,” he said.

MAROON TRIANGLE 

Austin Brown’s assignment was a demanding one, to cover Deering guard Askar Houssein included the entire length and width of the Cross Insurance Arena basketball court. Edward Little coach Mike Adams likened covering the explosive senior, who scored 29 points in the Rams’ AA North semifinal win over Bangor, to covering an NBA scoring champ.

“He’s one of the best players in the state and he scored four points,” Adams said. “We wanted to keep the ball out of his hands because, kind of like James Harden, if he’s coming up and has got a full head of steam, he can do so much with the ball, and we can’t stop it. So we wanted to try to keep it out of his hands in the full court. For Austin to do that for a whole game was just an incredible defensive effort by him.”

Top-seeded Edward Little’s 64-51 win over No. 3 Deering featured a mix of man-to-man and zone defenses, including a triangle-and-two designed to contain Houssein and his sharp-shooting backcourt mate, Darryl Germain (game-high 22 points). No matter how well Deering’s top scorers were guarded, though, Adams stressed the defense would only be as good as its three-man backbone.

“We have three or four defensive players who are really, really good on the ball. The guys in the triangle, that’s the best that they’ve played,” Adams said. “We weren’t communicating really well leading up to this but tonight we challenged them a little bit and they talked a lot in the triangle about where they were. They read the ball and read the men and did a good job.”

Thanks to their communication skills, the Red Eddies stopped Houssein and Germain’s dribble penetration without giving up easy hoops to cutters from the weak side.

After playing what Adams called “subpar” defense in their 49-41 semifinal win over No. 4 Windham, the Eddies “stepped up and played a lot better,” he said.

They kept up the defensive intensity with frequent offense-defense substitutions that produced key contributions from unheralded senior reserves Jamaine Luizzo and Dan Milks.

“To get kids today to buy into a role…” Adams said. “To get Jamaine Luizzo to buy into a role that’s, listen, you’re just going to play defense, a lot. You’ll still get some offensive reps and possessions, but you’re primarily a defensive player, where’s the glory in that? Where’s the fun in that? But he does it, again, because he wants to win. They’ve done a great job of buying into what they can do for our team.”

EL (19-2) will play for its second gold ball in three years (9 p.m. Saturday, Cross Insurance Arena) against AA South champion Thornton Academy (18-3), which knocked off top-seeded and unbeaten South Portland in overtime of its regional final, 61-55.

“We’re going to have to play the best that we have all season,” Adams said. “We lost to Thornton earlier this year by double digits.”

The Golden Trojans beat the Red Eddies, 66-49, in December in Saco. Thornton also beat EL in Adams’ first state championship game, 54-52, in 2009 when they met for the Class A title in Augusta.

NO GRAY AREA FOR SENIORS

The Gray-New Gloucester Patriots’ 2019-20 senior class is one of the most-decorated in school history.

The Patriots class won the 2017 and 2019 state title games, with their starting five of seniors this season being contributors on both teams. After losing to Greely in the Class A South semifinal on Wednesday in overtime, coach Mike Andreasen reflected on his team’s season and his seniors’ careers.

“Moving up in classification this year was hard, but we were one shot away from advancing,” Andreasen said. “Kids stepped up to the challenge and those six kids, the starting five and Emma Begin off the bench, those kids have led the whole program. We lost Bri (Jordan), we lost Alexa Thayer, we lost Michaela Ryan and they had to step up. We were up and down and we had some stumbles but they played their best basketball this week. I thought we played better than we did against Brunswick and they played really well tonight.”

Led by Jordan Grant, a 2019 all-state forward, the Patriots worked their way to a semifinal matchup with Greely, a team that beat them twice in the regular season. In the semifinal, Gray-New Gloucester roared back from down double digits to force overtime.

“That shows that these kids have been through four years, two state championships, and they’ve seen it all,” Andreasen said of his team’s comeback. “This may have been, despite the state championships, their proudest moment. In the other years they had Bri Jordan and others, but this one was all theirs. They took the moment and ran with it. I can’t say I couldn’t be happier, I could be happier if we won, but I couldn’t be any happier losing.”


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