By Drew Costley
George Mason High School’s girls varsity basketball team “just ran out of gas,” said Head Coach LaBryan Thomas after a 78-67 loss to Floyd County High School in the Group A, Division 2 state semifinals. The Mustangs played a “hard-fought” game, Thomas said, but couldn’t find a solution for the full-court press the Buffaloes applied for most of the game.
“Constant pressure is a hard thing to deal with in any game, especially from an athletic team,” said senior forward Stephanie Cheney. “You kind of lose your groove. And for the teams we’ve played this season, we haven’t seen that kind of pressure … and to see it in state semifinal was a new experience and it was extremely hard.”
Cheney scored 11 points in the first quarter as the Mustangs pulled ahead by seven. But the Buffaloes began to come back in the early part of the second quarter, mounted a 10-0 run in the middle of the period, and finished the first half ahead 36-31. Cheney scored 20 of her 33 points in the first half.
“Their pressure worked,” Thomas said after looking down at the stat sheet to see the Mustangs committed 33 turnovers to the Buffaloes’ 18. “And it kind of took us out of our game for a little bit there.”
The Mustangs came back in the second half with a 10-0 run of their own and took a 41-37 lead a little more than midway through the period. But the Buffaloes always stayed within five points of the Mustangs and finished the quarter only down by one. Although the Buffaloes took the lead early in the fourth quarter, the Mustangs stayed within five points for the first two minutes of the final quarter.
Despite being outshot percentage-wise – George Mason hit 48.8 percent of its field goals to Floyd County’s 35.3 percent – the Buffaloes shot 23 3-pointers while the Mustangs shot seven. The six 3-pointers the Buffaloes actually scored came at key points in the game.
Floyd County junior guard Christene Phillips scored one of those 3-pointers to put the Buffaloes ahead by nine points with 5:27 left in the game.
“They had an excellent game from the field,” Thomas said. “They’re a good shooting team.”
Sophomore guard Ava Roth hit both of George Mason’s 3-pointers in the fourth quarter to try to bring the Mustangs back into the game. One came with 3:01 left in the game to cut Floyd County’s lead to five and the other with 1:27 left in the game to cut Floyd County’s lead to eight. But the Buffaloes stayed ahead by at least seven points for most of the fourth quarter and hit 13 of 16 free throws to secure the victory. Floyd County won the state championship the next day in a 72-62 victory over Central High School from Wise.
Last weekend marked the Mustangs’ sixth consecutive trip to Richmond for the state semifinals. They started their run in 2008 and lost to Floyd County that year in the state semifinals, but beat Floyd County in 2009 to win the state championship. George Mason has won three out of the last five state championships. Cheney, who was a four-year starter at George Mason, played on two of those championship teams and finished her career with 2,100 points and over 1,100 rebounds.
“She’s fantastic. I mean we’re going to miss her dearly,” Thomas said. “It’s hard to lose someone of that caliber.”
Sophomore forward Katie Goodwin was the second leading scorer on the team this season and scored 20 points in the loss to Floyd County. After the game, Goodwin was asked if the team would make it seven straight trips to Richmond next season. Goodwin said, “Absolutely.”
“Let’s knock on wood on that one,” Thomas said as he tapped the table where they sat.