Waynflete’s Dominick Campbell, left, defends Winthrop’s Jevin Smith during the Class C South final Saturday night at the Augusta Civic Center. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

WINTHROP — The Winthrop boys basketball team is running a half-court play in practice, the ball flying around as players run hard in and out of the paint.

The play is run over and over and then again and again, until finally the coach is satisfied.

“Good!” Todd MacArthur’s voice echoes. “That’s what will win us a Gold Ball!”

MacArthur would know. The Ramblers are the defending Class C state champions, and somehow, they’re back in the final with a chance to win another. Despite losing their best player. And their crunch-time scorer. And their most versatile player. And eight seniors altogether, many of whom played key roles as Winthrop landed that elusive title.

Somehow, despite having a reconstructed core, Winthrop (20-1), which plays Dexter for the Class C title Saturday, hasn’t missed a beat.

“We have players stepping up,” senior forward Jevin Smith said. “We don’t have the offensive threats that we did last year, so we have to get it done on defense. And I think everyone’s bought in at this point.”

But how have they done it? The Ramblers lost, among other key pieces, a 1,000-point scorer and matchup nightmare in Cam Wood, a talented shooter and one of Class C’s best late-game players in Jared McLaughlin and a player in Nate LeBlanc who could play and guard almost any position on the floor.

These were pillars, players Winthrop leaned on and needed last year to win its first state championship since 2008.

Those kinds of departures normally drop a program in the standings for a while. Not Winthrop.

“There’s two things,” MacArthur said. “I think we’ve created a culture in this program that they understand what the expectations are, and the mentoring of younger players helps those kids when it’s their turn. … These kids have been waiting for their opportunity, their year. And it’s their year.

But the second thing is this: They were a big part of last year’s team. They were. They were a huge part.”

Indeed, the Ramblers relied on players like Cam Hachey, Smith and Ryan Baird to fill the holes and form the difference between being a contender and being a champion.

That’s why, when early projections had Winthrop falling back to the pack, MacArthur figured his team was being sold a little short.

“They all got instrumental minutes in the state game,” MacArthur said. “So when everybody said we lost eight seniors, that we’re not going to be very good, I kind of smirked and said, ‘OK.’ … I really thought highly of the kids that were remaining in the program.”

But there was still work and molding to do.

The Winthrop boys basketball team celebrates after winning the Class C South title over Waynflete on Saturday night at the Augusta Civic Center. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

A question mark going into the season was, ‘Where are we going to get our scoring from?’ ” MacArthur said. “We wanted to be a balanced team, so Ryan needs to score, Jevin needs to score, Cam needs to score.”

MacArthur didn’t waste time turning the page. Neither did his players.

Day one, he addressed it,” Smith said. “He was like, ‘We lost eight seniors, everyone has to step up this year and everyone has to work together.’ “

That meant players like Hachey, Smith and Baird stepping into featured roles, but it also meant players taking on new responsibilities to finish the puzzle. Gavin Perkins had to run the offense. Brad Bourne became a starter. Ian Steele had to become a top defensive player. Noah Grube had to help anchor the paint. Jake Carter had to be the energy player off the bench.

After tryouts, (MacArthur) talked to me, Noah and Ian Steele about what our roles were going to be, and what we have to do to help the team out,” Carter said. “Be spark plugs and come on the court with energy, and do what you’ve got to do.”

It didn’t click right away.

“This year, I didn’t really know what to expect,” Perkins said. “At the beginning of the year, we were looking a little rough. And coach just talked to us about hard work and how we’re going to get better and progress every day.”

As is always the case, Winthrop did. The players settled into their roles, the mix began to jell, and the Ramblers began to play as they had in previous years. They lost to Spruce Mountain, and when the rematch came around, MacArthur saw another championship team beginning to form.

“We prepared like it was a tournament game,” he said. “They were given information to dissect and they were given concepts they had to run on the court, and when they executed that flawlessly, I said to my coaching staff, ‘That’s an indication of a tournament team.’ … (I thought) ‘Maybe this team right here is a team that can make a run.’ “

The instinct was correct. Winthrop won 55-30 and hasn’t lost since, proving the caliber of its new core with tournament wins over Monmouth, North Yarmouth Academy and Waynflete. Now the team that never counted itself out is on the verge of the biggest prize again.

I never questioned it,” Bourne said. “I had confidence in everyone on the team. I knew everyone would step it up.”


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