Arts & Entertainment

Raiders Catch Mustangs in Their Trap, Spoil Mason Home Opener

Nicole Mitchell threads a pass to teammate Ashley Thompson. (Photo: News-Press) Effort carried the George Mason High School girls varsity basketball team as far as it could Tuesday night against Loudon County, but it could not carry them to victory. Despite a hustle-intensive effort that kept them in the game against a polished Raiders squad, the Mustangs fell at home by a final score of 42-33.

Despite a young roster that showed its inexperience adjusting to Loudon County’s pressure defenses, Mason (1-3) was within two possessions at halftime after capitalizing on two Raider turnovers just before the end of the second quarter. Leading the first half effort was Annie Zweighaft, who paced the Mustangs with eight first-half points. Zweighaft’s sharp shooting from the foul line (six of six in the first half and eight of eight for the game) enabled Mason to capitalize on a Loudon County squad that found itself in foul trouble early on in the game.

At one point, Mason trailed only by two points, 15-13, in the second quarter before a 7-0 run by Loudon County pushed the margin back to nine.

While the free throws drew the Mustangs closer to their opponent, those strides were more than counteracted by repeated turnovers in the face of the Raider’s half-court trap and full court press. The Raiders score nine of their 26 first-half points off of Mason turnovers.

Those turnovers troubled the Mustangs again to start the second half, when three such miscues allowed the Raiders to extend their lead to 11 before a jumper by Zweighaft stopped Loudon’s 5-0 run. Nevertheless, the Raiders’ lead would remain near the double digit mark until a runner by Bailey Walton and a free throw by Kim Kenny brought the Mustangs back within nine before time expired.

Zweighaft led the team on the night with 12 points, while Walton added 10.

After losing two of its leading scorers (Maggie O’Toole and Alex Pender) to graduation last season, and with returning starter Meredith Hamme likely out for the year following knee surgery, Mason has relied on grit and hustle to fill the void. Those qualities mix well with the up-tempo style of new head coach Bill Broderick, who last year used the fast-paced style to coach the Mason boys varsity team to a regional playoff berth.

Working against them will be a tough non-district schedule that does not include even one Single A opponent. That hasn’t stopped the Mustangs from making the most of their abundant David vs. Goliath opportunities — last weekend Mason upset Fauquier by four points during the annual Liberty/Fauquier Tournament. Walton was named to the All-Tournament team for her performance.

Mason travels to face Briar Woods Thursday, Dec. 7 before returning home Friday for a game against cross-town AAA J.E.B. Stuart. The Stuart game will start at 6 p.m. as the first half of a doubleheader that will also feature the Mason and Stuart boys varsity basketball teams.