Sports

Mustang Boys Back In State Final Four

It’s been 10 years….and they’re back!

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Mason senior Brandon Alexander goes up for two in Mason’s win last Saturday. (Photo: Gary Mester)

It’s been 10 years….and they’re back!

For the first time since 2001, the George Mason High School boys basketball team is returning to the Final Four Division 2 regional championships tonight in Richmond. They face off in the state tournament semifinal game against defending state champion James River in the Siegal Center at VCU at 9 p.m.

They join their girls team counterparts, who are also in Richmond for the girls’ Final Four, and are strong favorites to win their third straight state title. They play at 12:15 p.m. Friday. If both teams win, they will play back-to-back at 3 and 5 p.m. on Saturday.

If anything, this year’s Mason boys’ team proves that their 2001 predecessors were not an anomaly. That team achieved the program’s first Bull Run District title since 1980, entering the state tournament for the first time since 1966, and it was done under the tutelage of young coach Chris Capannola.

Capannola left Mason right after that 2000-01 season, only to return five years ago, and now, voila!, his team is back in the state championships. He is now assisted by Mason grad and early 1990s hoops star Chris Madison.

In an interview with the News-Press Tuesday, Capannola found a lot of similarities between his Mustangs this season and those of the legendary ’01 year, especially when it comes to toughness, grit and selflessness. The team rebounded from a 9-12 record last season to become the Region B champions this season, winning their opening state tournament quarterfinal game, and now headed to the semifinals tonight.

“Like the ’01 team, this year’s has embraced defense, has no egos and refuses to lose,” Coach “Cap” said. “They’re coachable and listen when I tell them stuff.”

The fact that three juniors – Jeremy Stewart, Nate Ogle and Philippe Griffiths – are the team’s co-captains, for example, is no problem for the seniors on the team.

The Mustangs had five players score in double figures in their hard-fought victory in the state quarterfinals at Robinson High School in Fairfax Saturday, a 73-56 win over Middlesex.

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THE GEORGE MASON HIGH SCHOOL boys basketball team advanced to the VHSL Final Four for the first time since the 2000-2001 season. (Photo: Gary Mester)

Led by Ogle with 18, they never lost the lead after a blistering 19-0 run in the first period that included a 4-for-4 run of 3-pointers. But the Middlesex Chargers did not go easily, fighting back to within seven, 58-51, with still 3:45 left in the game.

A key driving lay-in and converted free throw by Griffiths with 3:12 left followed two free throws by Stewart to pull Mason back into a double-digit lead, and the victory was sealed with an open court slam dunk by senior Brandon Alexander with a minute to go.

Following Ogle’s 18 points for Mason were Noel Obusan with 15, Stewart, Griffiths and Alexander, all with 11 each, Elon Oosterbaan, Drew Nickle and Crawford Taylor with 2 each and Ryan Moot with 1.

The Mustangs bring a 22-5 record into tonight’s game, having turned a mediocre start into a stellar season sometime around its participation in a Christmas tournament when they beat neighborhood rivals Falls Church and Marshall High Schools, Capannola said.

After an earlier win, however, losing a rematch badly to Clarke County on Feb. 3, 63-37, was another wake-up call for the team. It tightened the gap in its next loss to Clarke in the opening of the Bull Run District post-season tournament on Feb. 10, 41-34, and then came back to beat Clarke on Feb. 18 in the Bull Run District tournament championship game, 53-44, and again in the Regionals on Feb. 25, 43-30.

“We really haven’t played a bad quarter since that blow-out to Clark on Feb. 3,” Capannola said.

He said that James River, which lost two of its best players from its state championship team of last season, likes to play a zone defense, which could give the Mustangs the ability to get a lot of open shots. “We’ll get all the shots we want, it will be a matter of making them,” he said.

In the other semi-final game Thursday, Lancaster (the odds-on favorite to win it all) plays Radford. “I think our chances are very good,” Capannola said.

While this year’s team has a lot in common with Mason ’01 Final Four team in terms of its chemistry and grit, this year’s team is on-balance stronger, Capannola mused, given its balance, the number of players who can make three-point shots and the strength of its big man, Alexander.

By contrast, the ’01 team had the most prolific scorer in Mason history, junior Kenny Wilson. The son a star player at Mason from an earlier era, Wilson was pegged to be special in his earliest years of Recreation Department ball, and he lived up to his potential, at least until his career was cut short prematurely.

The diminutive point guard averaged 22.6 points a game in the ’01 season, averaging 28.9 in the post-season and scoring 33 in the state semifinal loss to Radford in Lynchburg. He was the team’s high scorer in 24 of its 27 games, and in two years amassed 1,157 total points.

He was only a junior, but he inadvertently fell one credit short of his base academic requirements in the fall, and wound up never playing in his senior year.

Joining Wilson in the starting line-up of that team were Nathan Hamme, Jimmy Brock, Ben Griffin and David Larson. Hamme, Brock and Matt McFarland were the co-captains of the team.

The News-Press compiled a definitive history of Mason boys hoops published in its Feb. 2, 2001 edition when, with an 11-1 record, the Mustangs won their first Bull Run District title since 1980, back in the era when the team’s stars were Steve Clinton, Nick Earman, Chris Avery, the Falker brothers and Ron Brown.

Another outstanding Mason boys season in 1993-94 saw two standout players set the still-standing Mason record for points in a single game – Andrew Turner and Nate Martin each scored 44 in different games that year – though 11-7 overall in a season shortened by horrible weather, that team fell short of advancing beyond the district playoffs.

 

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