DIXFIELD — Winthrop and Dirigo turned their Class C boys basketball matchup into an action-packed thriller Friday night.

Nothing came easy to the two exhausted squads, but in the end the Ramblers came out on top, defeating the tenacious Cougars 45-37.

Both teams brought excitement to the gym with deft outside shooting and a dizzy array of fast breaks.

With 1:32 left in the game, the Ramblers (9-2) were facing Dirigo’s (9-4) aggressive man-to-man press and holding to a 39-35 lead. Seniors Logan Baird and Andrew Foster were fouled and both hit their shots from the charity stripe to give the Ramblers some breathing room.

Baird scored a game-high 19 points, including three 3-pointers and 4-for-5 shooting at the free-throw line.

“It is nice being out and shooting around,” Baird said. “But I wouldn’t have been able to have any of that without a couple of screens that get me open, passes, the ball movement and everything (else). It creates space for me to get my shots.”

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Foster had a pretty good idea what his team was going to be in for before Friday’s game.

“I knew coming into this game, (Dirigo’s) Charley (Houghton) was going to be my main goal,” Foster said. “I knew I had to be aggressive with him, and I knew that was my goal. He is strong. He can hit shots from anywhere.”

Houghton had nine points and was a force on the boards as well. Junior guard Trent Holman added 11 points for the Cougars.

“It was a total team effort, for sure,” Foster said. “The defensive game plan we put in tonight we executed it perfectly.”

Winthrop coach Todd MacArthur couldn’t agree more with the two seniors.

“Especially after the first meeting we had (with Dirigo), we knew that they felt like they let one slip away the first time,” MacArthur said, referring to Winthrop’s 51-47 win on Dec. 15. “For us to respond to that energy and to stop the game the way we did, says a lot about the character of my team.

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“We played together. Our defense finally had five pieces working together — and when we do that we are going to be pretty good team.”

It was a tale of two of quarters in the opening half. First, the Ramblers couldn’t miss a shot in the opening quarter. They worked the ball inside, went to the outside and capitalized on turnovers to produce a 16-5 lead.

But their shooting went cold and they only mustered seven points in the second quarter.

The Cougars made quick strides and suddenly started landing 3-pointers and doing well on the boards. Dirigo whittled down Winthrop’s lead fast, but the Ramblers bounced back and took a 23-20 lead at halftime.

MacArthur enjoys the rowdy atmosphere at Dr. G.G Defoe Memorial Gymnasium, and told his team on the bus ride to Dixfield to embrace the crowds.

“We don’t have any friends here,” MacArthur said. “We are the enemy. Let’s go have some fun and try to make (the fans) quiet.”

Winthrop started to pull away in the third quarter, but Dirigo got back into the game by winning several battles for rebounds. The Cougars’ defense hounded the Ramblers, who still stood on top 31-26 going into the fourth quarter.

“We had a lot of tough games this year and a lot of close ones,” Dirigo coach Cody St. Germain said. “We haven’t done a very good job of finishing those games on the right end of it, but I still believe that is going to help us come playoff time.”

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