A strong start to 2017 continued as George Mason High School’s varsity girls basketball team stormed through the Conference 35 tournament, beating Strasburg High School, 52-32, in the opening round and Clarke County High School, 39-27, in the final.
Mason (20-4) claimed its second consecutive Conference 35 crown, the first time the school has pulled that off since winning five straight from 2009-2013. The Mustangs also earned home court advantage throughout the 2A East region tournament’s first three contests.
“Feels pretty awesome; feels like all our hard work definitely paid off,” senior guard Sarah Lubnow. “I know it’s biased for me to say but I think we work harder than any other team every single day. We deserve this; we earned it.”
The fruits of Mason’s labor didn’t come easily.
Clarke County was smart with the ball in its hands and stingy on defense. It resulted in the Eagles building an early 5-0 lead until Mason broke through with a 7-0 run to end the first quarter.
In the second quarter, the Mustangs clamped down defensively and were more efficient offensively, leading to an 18-9 halftime edge.
However, Clarke County would not go quietly.
Soon after the half, the Eagles quickly pumped in eight points to get within striking distance at 20-17. The Mustangs responded with a 3-pointer and drive to the hoop from sophomore guard Maddie LaCroix, increasing their lead to 27-21 by the end the third.
Solid defense, coupled with big buckets from juniors Nicole Bloomgarden, Kaylee Hirsch and Jenna Short, helped Mason secure the win.
The Mustangs handled the visiting Rams during Saturday’s opening round. An 18-6 lead by the end of the first quarter grew after Mason began jumping Strasburg’s passing lanes. A collection of runouts led to a 30-14 halftime advantage.
In the third quarter, Mason widened their margin.
Junior guard Linnea Skotte’s 3-pointer and sophomore forward Raquel Dodd’s three-point play highlighted a 15-7 period for the Mustangs.
By the fourth, Mason geared down offensively but stayed tough on defense to bring the game to its final tally.
For head coach Michael Gilroy and the Mustangs, a season’s worth of effort now rides on the outcome of Friday’s regional playoff game.
“It’s win or go home from here on out. That Friday game is going to be the game of the year,” Gilroy said. “I’m glad we had a dogfight [against Clarke County] to make us remember that we gotta work on some things.”
Mason hosts Staunton-based Robert E. Lee High School this Friday, Feb. 17, at 8 p.m. for their regional opener.