By Drew Costley
George Mason High School’s varsity girls basketball team tied with Clarke County High School for the Bull Run District regular season title after the Mustangs lost their second district matchup of the season last Thursday. The Mustangs’ 57-53 loss to Warren County High School last week was only their second in the district since the 2010-11 season, but has given the Bull Run District playoffs renewed importance.
Several Mustang players said their team came out flat against the Warren County Wildcats.
“There was a lacking of energy, and Warren County came out … hungry for that win,” said junior forward Katie Goodwin, who led the Mustangs in scoring with 24 points and grabbed 12 rebounds against the Wildcats. “It was their senior night. They gave it everything they’ve got.”
Warren County, who ended the season in third place in the district, is the only team in the district to beat both George Mason and the Clarke County Eagles. Warren County’s win against the Mustangs last Thursday put George Mason and Clarke County into a tie for the regular season district title and first place in Conference 35.
The Mustangs won their first-round matchup in the district tournament by defeating Manassas Park High School 57-28 on Monday. The Cougars were only down 13-7 at the end of the first period, but were outscored by the Mustangs 24-5 in the second quarter and never got back in the game. The Mustangs went on a 10-0 run in the last three minutes of the first half. They also committed 15 turnovers in the first half, which they attempted to correct after halftime.
“We tried to focus more on our passing, to not make as crazy passes and to really control the ball more,” said junior forward Micaela Albright, who led the Mustangs in scoring with 12 points against the Cougars.
Freshman guard Coral Gillette added nine points and senior guard Julianna Rollo added seven points to the Mustangs’ tally.
“I thought our defense [played] really well. We started talking towards the end of the game,” Rollo said. “I thought on offense we did pretty well. Our shots weren’t always falling but we kept shooting.”
The Mustangs went on to beat Strasburg High School 57-31 in the semifinals of the district playoffs on Tuesday. Goodwin led the Mustangs in scoring and rebounding with 17 points and 13 rebounds. George Mason held Strasburg to 17 points in the first half.
“We played great defense … [and] played an all-around good game,” said Mason Head Coach LaBryan Thomas.
The Mustangs move on to play the Clarke County Eagles in the district championship tonight at Strasburg.
Under the Virginia High School League’s realignment, which went into effect this season, schools were organized into new regions and organized into conferences instead of districts. The outcome of the conference tournaments determines who moves on to the regional playoffs, whereas in the past the outcome of district tournaments determined the regional competitors.
Under the realignment, districts were free to continue organizing their schedules according to their traditional districts and playing district postseason tournaments, but the outcome of the regular season and postseason play would not necessarily have an impact on the conference, regional, or state playoff qualification or seeding. In theory, this would make district play a formality. But because George Mason and Clarke County were tied for first place in the district and conference at the end of the regular season, the district tournament has become more important for both teams: Whichever team wins the tournament gets the top seed in the conference tournament.
“We hold our own destiny in our hands. All we have to do is win out,” said Thomas. “If we win out, more than likely we’ll be number one seed in the conference and that’s big because the number one seed in the conference gets a [first-round] bye.”
Along with the first-round bye is an automatic berth to the Region 2A East tournament. Every other team in the Conference 35 playoffs has to at least advance to the semifinal round to make it to the regional playoffs. Regardless of the outcome of the district playoffs, the Mustangs open up the Conference 35 playoffs at home on Monday.