The legend of Sage Fortin was growing before Fortin even donned a Winthrop Ramblers uniform. 

Winthrop freshman guard Sage Fortin dribbles away from Boothbay’s Kylie Brown during the Class C South championship game last Saturday at the Augusta Civic Center. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

The freshman had played for AAU teams, club teams and on her own for years, so Winthrop girls basketball coach Joe Burnham was aware that the team was getting a pretty good player this season.

“I knew how much of a talented player she was, coming through the program,” Burnham said. “Our first look happened during summer basketball. You can see her against high school competition at that point, and she had a great summer and I knew she was going to contribute to us right away.”

Fortin has done that and more, coming off the bench to lend some scoring on the perimeter as she waits for slashers, such as seniors Aaliyah WilsonFalcone and Jillian Schmelzer, to get into the paint and make a decision. Fortin stays ready for a pass, and when the ball is kicked out to her there is a good chance it is going in the hoop.

“When Jillian is bringing it up, then I need to be low and be ready for the kick out and be ready for the 3,” Fortin said. “The teams relies on that and for me to be ready as a shooter.”

With a mix of established veterans and young players like Fortin, Winthrop is playing in the Class C championship against Central Aroostook on Saturday (7:05 p.m., Augusta Civic Center), the Ramblers’ first title game appearance in 30 years. 

Fortin entered her freshman season knowing she’d be Schmelzer’s backup at point guard, and Schmelzer knew Fortin would be an important player in her first season with the Ramblers.

“She’s been such a great asset to the team,” Schmelzer said. “I knew she was going to help us a lot. She practices every day, she’s passionate about it. A lot of our team are guards, but there weren’t many point guards. We both share a lot of the playing time at the point guard and she knows the game very well.”

Burnham knew Fortin was going to be a strong player, but she has far exceeded his expectations. Not only is she a skilled player, the coach also calls her a sponge for knowledge. On a team packed with guards, the freshman has fit in well.

“Everything (the team) has had to offer, she’s certainly picked up,” Burnham said. “On any team I’ve seen her on, she’s been asked to do a lot of scoring and ball-handling. We didn’t need her to do those things this year, but she’s risen to the occasion.”

FROM PERIMETER TO POST

Maddie Perkins, a sophomore, has a lot in common with senior Kena Souza.

Souza played guard when she was a freshman but has since been moved to forward. Perkins was a guard last year, but Winthrop needed another inside presence and moved Perkins to forward.

Souza has helped Perkins make the adjustment.

“I learned a lot from her,” Perkins said. “Mostly, I think it’s better coming in as a guard then moving to a forward because you’re better at shooting so you can shoot the ball and do post moves, so you’re a double threat.”

Winthrop’s Maddie Perkins, far right, and Madison’s Emily Edgerly (13) battles for the loose ball during a December game in Madison. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

As the young players have grown and adapted this season, so to have the Ramblers.

Winthrop (21-2) lost only two games this season, dropping both regular season matchups with Boothbay. The Ramblers, though, have jumped over the Boothbay hurdle in the postseason. They built off their win over the Seahawks in the MVC title game and defeated them in the C South title game last week, 38-34.

“I feel like the first two games, knowing they were state champs, hearing the name Boothbay, we were just worried,” Souza said. “The first two games allowed us to understand what they do and showed us what we needed to do better. We won the two biggest games against them. I think the free throws really helped us, we have been practicing them everyday and I think they came in clutch.”

Another underclassman, sophomore Lydia Rice, made perhaps the most clutch free throws of the season, sinking two with less than 10 seconds remaining in the game to clinch the Ramblers’ regional final victory last week.

Winthrop has spent this week preparing to face Central Aroostook (18-4), a team that has a lot in common with the Ramblers.

“They are really athletic, similarly sized as us, and from the things we have seen they want to play fast like us,” Burnham said. “They have some exciting kids, they scored 60 points a game in this tournament and they might have led the entire state in point differential …

“They have a couple girls who already pop on film, so it will be a good matchup.”

Knowing the Panthers like to run, the Ramblers are particularly focused on the defensive side of the ball. 

“I think defense is a really big key,” Schmelzer said. “We always say that defense leads to our offense. I think using their weaknesses against them will help, and whenever we get a steal or a rebound we’d like to push the pace.”


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