By Drew Costley
George Mason High School’s boys varsity basketball team was eliminated from the Conference 35 playoffs by Clarke County High School after a 71-57 game on Monday in the first round of the tournament. Last Monday, the Clarke County Eagles bumped the George Mason Mustangs from the opening round of the Bull Run District tournament, beating them 53-33.
This Monday, the Mustangs were ahead of the Eagles 7-5 early in the first quarter, but never recovered from the 20-5 Eagles run that finished out the first period.
“They came out and were ready to play,” said George Mason sophomore guard Elliot Mercado. “And we came out flat-footed. And we let them have 25 points in the first quarter. … I mean, they’re not a team that puts up a lot of points, and we played terrible defense.”
The Mustangs took advantage of seven fouls and eight turnovers committed by Clarke County in the second quarter and cut the Eagles’ 13-point first quarter lead to eight points at the half.
“We talked about it before the game,” said Clarke County Head Coach Brent Emmart. “Basketball’s a game of runs, highs and lows – we’re just trying to limit the lows and try to limit their runs.”
The Eagles outscored the Mustangs 11-2 in the first four minutes of the third quarter and eventually opened up a 14-point lead. Then Mercado and George Mason sophomore guard Josh Allen scored six points for the Mustangs before Clarke County’s senior center Colton Chrane and senior guard Morgan Warfield scored baskets to end the quarter. Warfield’s basket was a 3-pointer in the final seconds of the quarter.
“We have peaks and valleys,” Emmart said. “Sometimes we score in bunches and their press changed the complexion of the game. We turned it over a little. Their press really hurt us tonight.”
The Mustangs cut the Eagles’ 13-point third quarter lead to six points with 4:50 left to play after a 9-2 run in the first three minutes of the fourth quarter. But a few plays later Warfield – the leading scorer on either team with 24 points – hit a 3-pointer to make it a three-possession game for the remainder of the final period.
“I think we fought back numerous times. We had it to six and missed a wide open layup,” said Head Coach Chris Capannola. “We couldn’t get the big bucket and the big stop when we needed it, which has sort of been the story of most of our losses.”
Mercado led the Mustangs in scoring with 18 points and was followed by sophomore forward Robert Tartt, who scored 14 points. Allen added 11 points to the Mustangs’ tally. Clarke County junior guard Sean McDonald scored 18 points against the Mustangs and senior center Josh Dulaney scored 14 points.
The Mustangs, whose season ended with the playoff loss, improved on their 7-15 record from the 2012-13 season and finished the season with an 11-12 record. They’re two seasons removed from their last winning season – a 26-6 season that led to a chance at the state title.
Mercado – who is in his second season playing with the varsity team – said the Mustangs took a “little step” forward this season. Capannola said he told the team the same after their loss to the Eagles.
“Last year was a down season just because there had to be a letdown after the great season two years ago,” Capannola said. “As young as we were we had some guys really step up as the time went on, but we were very limited. … Yes we were better, but we need to get better physically [and] mentally in the offseason.”
Tartt, who was one of the Mustangs’ leading scorers this season, said the team needs to “get on a mission” in the offseason. “We’ve got to get strong, get better,” Tartt said. “And if we all do that … no problem getting to states next year.”