Time and again the Lady Statesmen of George C. Marshall High School would close the gap, only to watch All-American senior Jasmine Thomas regroup her team and restore the cushion. Five times Marshall pulled within a basket of the lead in the second half, and just as often the Cougars would make a run to close out the Statesmen by the final score of 56-45 in the semifinals of the Northern Regional Tournament held last Thursday night at George Mason University’s Patriot Center.
Thomas, recently named to the McDonald’s All-America team and bound for Duke University next season, scored 33 points, 20 in the second half, to lead the Cougars. Nicole Harrison paced the Statesmen with 24 points, repeatedly bringing Marshall within striking distance, only to watch Oakton escape.
With Oakton leading 25-20 at the half, Harrison converted an old-fashioned three-point play at the 7:14 mark to bring Marshall within two points. Thomas answered with an up and under 30 seconds later to restore the two-possession lead. Harrison then pulled Marshall within one with 5:47 left in the third quarter with a jumper from behind the arc. This time Oakton’s Mandy Johnston and Erin McGartland responded with four points to make it a 32-26 game with just under five minutes.
Marshall threatened again at the two minute mark, after a layup and two free throws by Harrison pulled the Cougars within two at 34-32. McGartland and Thomas each scored for Oakton in the final two minutes to make it a six point game heading into the fourth quarter. Twice in the final quarter Marshall made it a one possession game, first on a baseline jumper by senior Maya Al-Shingieti (six points) and then by two free throws by senior K.T. Mesich (eight points, six from the foul line), but Thomas would not go away. A layup after Al-Shingieti’s basket made the lead four and after Mesich’s free throws, Thomas went on a personal 6-0 run to put the game out of reach. A three-pointer by Harrison cut the lead to 50-45 with 2:22 remaining, but the Statesmen would not score again.
“She’s the best I have ever seen,” Marshall Head Coach Noel Klippenstein said of Thomas, even placing her ahead of current WNBA player Kara Lawson (West Springfield High School). “Kara’s dad might disagree, but it’s true.”
Thomas proved the difference in the game defensively as well, helping to squelch Al-Shingieti and Mesich, Marshall’s talented tandem of post players.
Foul trouble for both, mostly caused by Thomas’s frequent drives to the hoops, kept them on the bench for long stretches of the game. In the final five minutes, Klippenstein inserted both into the game, a strategy that seemed to be paying dividends until Mesich picked up her fifth foul with 3:43 to go.
Oakton’s Ashley Abed finished with seven points on the game.
Marshall fell into an early 8-2 deficit, but managed to tighten the game at 13-9 after the first quarter. Part of the reason for the cold start by the Statesmen could have been due to their delayed transportation. Due to traffic and directional difficulties, the team bus did not arrive at the Patriot Center until 7:30 p.m.
The loss concludes another brilliant season for the Lady Statesmen, one that saw the team pick up their second consecutive Liberty District Championship and rattle off a school-record 19-game winning streak. That streak was ran from Dec. 28 to last Thursday night. In remembering the season that was, Klippenstein applauded the efforts of her five seniors, Al-Shingieti, Mesich, Harrison, Laura Burch and Angela Asta.
“The seniors began to focus on how [their] roles would combine to make everyone successful and everything fell into place,” Klippenstein said. “The best part [was that] they all got along and really had fun with each other and welcomed the other kids onto the team to be part of the experience right to the final minute. I am so proud of our program.”