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Ramblers end Devils' streak at 63

Sport: Basketball (Boys)

Posted: March 6th, 2008 by Tom Nolette

Ramblers end Devils' streak at 63

Winthrop seniors Larry Foster (left) and Sam Leclerc (center) go for a rebound against Calais senior Nathan O'Neill in the second half of the boys' Class C State Championship against Winthrop on Wednesday, March 5, 2008 at the Augusta Civic Center. The Blue Devils lost 72-62. (Bangor Daily News/Bridget Brown)

By Ernie Clark
Thursday, March 06, 2008 - Bangor Daily News

AUGUSTA, Maine - Sam Leclerc had been waiting for this opportunity for two years, since he had watched Calais carry the gold basketball off the Augusta Civic Center floor after the 2006 Class C state championship game.

Leclerc and his Winthrop Ramblers were on the losing end that night, one more victim in a 63-game Calais winning streak that had earned the Blue Devils back-to-back Class C boys basketball state titles in 2006 and 2007 and carried them back here for a third straight championship game.

Given a second chance two years later, the 6-foot-1 senior guard wasn’t about to be denied again as he returned to the site of that earlier frustration and led Winthrop to a streak-ending 72-62 victory over Calais in the 2008 state final Wednesday night.

"It means everything," said Leclerc. "Ever since the night we went home from that state game after we lost, I’ve been working hard for this one. We’ve all been working hard in the gym, and this has been our goal this year from Day 1."

Leclerc, a second-team Bangor Daily News All-Maine choice as a junior, scored 28 points to go with eight assists, seven rebounds and two steals as the Ramblers shook off a proud Calais team that trailed nearly all the way but wouldn’t be put away until the game’s final minutes.

Leclerc lured the Calais defense to him with his four 3-point goals, then dribbled around the Blue Devils for drives to the basket or for passes to open teammates.

"When he got loose in the open court we were at his mercy," said Calais coach Ed Leeman. "He’d blow by one, then two, and the shots they were getting were uncontested 10-footers. They made a lot of them, and a lot of it was due to his dribble penetration."

Ezra Damm added 15 points and Andrew Smithgall scored 10 for Winthrop, which claimed its first state championship since winning back-to-back titles in 1992 and 1993.

The Ramblers (21-1) succeeded despite being without 6-foot-3 senior forward Tim Gingras, another veteran of the 2006 team who was suspended for the game due to an off-court incident.

But Winthrop coach Dennis Dacus replaced Gingras by committee, and Zach Farrington, Smithgall and Skylar Whaley combined for 22 points and some solid defense against the high-scoring Blue Devils.

Calais, meanwhile, struggled with its perimeter shooting, making just 1 of 12 3-point tries and shooting just 40 percent from the field (26 of 64) for the game overall. The Blue Devils also made just 5 of 13 free throws.

"We were impatient offensively, even early on we were impatient and didn’t move really well," said Leeman. "Winthrop did a good job of denying that first entry to the post, but we just did not move and screen away. We were uncharacteristically impatient, and it hurt us.

"I thought if we could have made Winthrop play defense a little longer it probably would have helped us with the outcome of the game, but I’m not going to take anything away from Winthrop tonight. They deserved it."

Winthrop never trailed after Farrington hit back-to-back 3-pointers and Leclerc scored from beyond the arc to give the Ramblers an 11-8 lead with 2:50 left in the opening quarter.

Leclerc’s shot ignited a 12-2 Winthrop run that also featured two free throws and an assist for a layup by Damm that helped the Ramblers take a 20-10 lead at the end of the first quarter.

"When I came out and hit a couple of shots, their whole defense starting coming after me," said Leclerc, who scored 17 first-half points. "They sent a couple of double-teams while I was just at the top of the key. I was drawing them and I was able to get it to my other guys, and they were finding the open guys and we were converting."

Calais guard Sam Bell broke loose for nine points in the second quarter as the Blue Devils stayed within 36-28 at the break, but Bell and junior forward Cal Shorey each picked up his fourth foul in the third quarter, leaving Calais in a considerable quandary.

But Calais (19-1) proved resilient, with Nathan O’Neill stepping up defensively and freshman Cam Shorey filling in for his brother while Eastern C tournament MVP Rod Tirrell began to find his offense.

By the time Bell and Cal Shorey returned to the lineup at the start of the fourth quarter, Calais was still within 52-47.

Shorey immediately scored on a follow-up shot to pull the Blue Devils within three, but Leclerc reassumed control of the game.

He pulled up for a fast-break jumper, then fed Damm and Whaley for short-range baskets that stretched Winthrop’s lead back to 58-49 before Tirrell answered with a layup for Calais.

Damm countered with a nice spin move through the lane, and Smithgall added two layups off feeds from David Ketchen and Leclerc to extend the margin to 64-51 with three minutes left.

The Blue Devils used defensive pressure to pull back within 66-57 as Cam Shorey converted a three-point play and Bell scored off a turnover and added 1 of 2 from the line, but that was as close as Calais got.

Bell and Tirrell each finished with 16 points for Calais, while Cal and Cam Shorey each scored nine and O’Neill added eight.

"I think they outplayed us in every aspect, to be honest with you," said Leeman. "We were hanging around, and I was kind of hoping this might be one of those where we could hang around long enough to have a chance, but they were focused. They weren’t going to let us back into it."