By Drew Costley
George Mason High School’s boys varsity basketball team used momentum built by beating one district opponent to throttle another this past week. The Mustangs (8-7, 7-3) beat Clarke County High School 55-47 last Wednesday and beat Manassas Park High School 64-22 last Friday.
According to Head Coach Chris Capannola, the Clarke County Eagles (4-6, 6-7) outplayed the Mustangs for the “three and a half quarters” and led as late as midway through the fourth quarter of their matchup. The Eagles were leading by eight points with four minutes in the game when the Mustangs began to come back.
“We were forced to press actually is what happened,” Capannola said. “And I don’t know if they were ready for it or not, but we got a bunch of steals right away.”
Sophomore Elliot Mercado hit a 3-pointer down the stretch that cut the Eagles’ lead to four points and swung the momentum in favor of the Mustangs, according to Capannola. Capannola said the Mustangs scored 20 points in the final three minutes of the game to pull ahead of the Eagles and secure the victory.
“I don’t remember an explosion like that from one of my teams in a long time,” Capannola said.
Mercado led the Mustangs in scoring against the Eagles with 18 points. Sophomore forward Robert Tartt scored 14 points and sophomore guard Joshua Allen added eight points in the Mustangs’ first road win since their first game of the season against Manassas Park.
“We have played really bad on the road,” Mercado said. “Once again, we started off really slow. I thought it was going to be just another game.”
He said a Mason score in the final seconds of the third quarter gave the team the motivation they needed going into the final period to mount a comeback.
“We were just like ‘yeah, let’s go.’” Mercado said. “And then we scored 26 points in the fourth quarter – just exploded on them.”
According to several members of the team, the Mustangs rode the confidence they built in their comeback against the Eagles last Wednesday through their win over the Manassas Park Cougars (1-13, 1-7) last Friday.
“I told the kids this is a direct carry-over from the last four minutes of the Clarke game on Wednesday,” Capannola said. “We just exploded there and again here tonight.”
The Panthers committed seven turnovers in the first quarter, all of which were forced by the Mustangs’ defense. By the end of that period, the score was 16-9 in favor of Mason.
“We started out in a little half-court press, and they had no idea what to do,” Mercado said. “And that just got us rolling right off the bat.”
Manassas Park committed nine more turnovers in the second quarter and gave up a 9-0 run in the second half of the period. The Mustangs were up 34-14 at the end of the first half.
The Mustangs continued to dominate in the second half by outscoring the Panthers 17-3 in the third quarter and 13-5 in the fourth quarter.
“We dominated them from start to finish,” said senior center James Coppock. “We controlled the game. We played solid defense. We got steals, converted them at the other end, and we made shots. That’s all there is to it.”
Coppock, Mercado, and Tartt led the Mustangs in scoring against the Panthers with 10 points apiece. Senior guard Wesley Coupard added nine points to the Mustangs’ tally.
Coupard and Coppock are the only two seniors on a Mustangs team that has lost 17 players to graduation in the past two seasons. Capannola has said that he is looking for leaders to step up and has rotated captain to different players throughout the season.
“This year me and Coppock realized we had to step up because we’re the seniors, we’re the older guys,” Coupard said. “And we’re on the team with six new guys who have never played varsity basketball before.”
Capannola said earlier this month that we was looking for players to help the team remained poise when they’re down in games. Coupard said that he and Coppock are helping their younger teammates with that aspect of playing at the varsity level.
“As you can tell in the games, some of them start lowering their heads and stuff,” Coupard said. “So we realized that we’re the ones that have to pick them up because we’re trying to help them get better and we’re trying to get better because we want to do as well as we can this year.”
The Mustangs play William Monroe High School tonight. They play Central High School this Friday at home and play Rappahannock County High School on the road next Wednesday.