By Drew Costley
George Mason High School’s boys varsity basketball team lost two close matchups to district opponents in this past week, while routing another opponent. The two losses – to Strasburg High School and William Monroe High School – impacted the postseason outlook for the Mustangs.
The Mustangs (10-9, 9-5) lost to the Strasburg High School Rams 57-63 in double overtime last Friday in a game that had implications for the Bull Run District, Conference 35, and Region 2A East playoff seeding.
The Rams (13-7, 9-5) jumped out to a 16-4 lead with a little more than three minutes left in the first quarter and were ahead by as much as 14 points in the second quarter. But the Mustangs battled back from the 14-point deficit with a 10-2 run to finish out the first half down 30-24.
The Mustangs took the lead at just under the four-minute mark in the third quarter after going on a 9-0 run to start the second half. They finished that quarter ahead 37-36. But they were worn down by the more experienced Rams over the next three periods – the fourth quarter and two overtimes – in which there were seven lead changes and four ties.
“We played our tails off and didn’t give an inch, the moment got us and we weren’t sure how to close that game out,” said Mason Head Coach Chris Capannola. “The mistakes were ones of youth – not effort, or of not listening, or whatever. When the other team is bigger and stronger and two years older at virtually every position, that team has the advantage.”
Senior forward Jonathan Kloosterman led all scorers with 29 points for the Rams. Senior guard Tyler Doman and senior forward Matthew Clutter added 13 and 12 points, respectively, to the Rams’ tally. Sophomore forward Robert Tartt and sophomore guard Elliot Mercado both led the Mustangs in scoring with 20 points each. The next leading scorer for the Mustangs was sophomore guard Josh Allen with seven points.
The Mustangs defeated Rappahannock County High School 67-28 the night after losing to the Rams. Their original matchup with the Panthers (1-16, 0-13) scheduled for last Wednesday was postponed due to inclement weather.
According to Capannola, the Mustangs outscored the Panthers 26-9 in the second quarter and “rolled from there.”
“It was a bit of a breather for us and we needed it after the tough double OT loss the night before,” Capannola said. “Everybody played and we got to rest some of our big minute guys. The bench guys came in and played very well.”
Allen led the Mustangs with 11 points and Tartt followed with 10 points against the Panthers. Junior guard Daniel Donovan and sophomore center Douglas Bossart each added eight points to the Mustangs’ tally.
Because of the loss to Strasburg on Friday, the Mustangs’ 50-44 loss to the William Monroe High School Dragons (13-3, 13-1) was their last hope at holding an advantage over the Rams in the district and conference standings going into the postseason. A win over the Dragons would have given the Mustangs a half-game lead over the Rams in those standings because the Dragons have beaten the Rams twice this season.
Capannola said his team is still learning how to handle the high-pressure situations like the ones against the Rams and the Dragons. He said he is encouraged to see his team be competitive late in games with the more experienced varsity squads they’ve faced recently.
“We battled hard for four quarters, which has been the hallmark of our team the second half of the season,” Capannola said. “We were tied after three quarters and had the lead in the fourth, but again, Monroe is a veteran team and made the plays down the stretch to hold us off.”
Capannola said the Mustangs didn’t shoot well against the Dragons, but played well on the defensive end.
“The fact that we have begun moving the ball around and making the extra pass is great; that’s always the first step. Now we need to be able to hit those shots. We made some, but not enough,” Capannola said. “Our post defense was outstanding; we double teamed Monroe’s post every time he touched the ball and played great half-court defense.”
Mercado led the Mustangs in scoring with 10 points against the Dragons and was followed by Tartt and Allen, who each scored eight points. Senior center James Coppock added seven points for the Mustangs.
The Mustangs face Madison County High School (8-10, 6-7) tonight. They face Warren County High School (14-4, 10-3) on Friday night at home in their final game of the regular season. Next Monday the Mustangs will host an opening round opponent for the Bull Run District playoffs.