Arts & Entertainment

Mason High Tops Madison, But Speedy Clarke Runs Away

George Mason High School BasketballEagles Use Quicks to Master Mustangs

Over the past few years of the George Mason – Clarke County High School rivalry there have been more than a few thrilling chapters, with heart-stopping drama and adrenaline-pumping finishes. Tuesday’s game between the Mustang and Eagle boys varsity basketball teams was not among them.

Clarke County used an 8-2 run to build a 21-15 lead in the second quarter and slowly pulled away over the remainder of the game to claim a 70-53 win at Mustang Gymnasium and sweep the season series from George Mason.

The Eagles built their first-half lead largely on the scoring of junior Chandler Rhoads. Rhoads scored 15 of his 16 points in the first half. Using a quick first step to beat his man or penetrate the top of the Mason zone, Rhoads had little trouble getting into the lane and converting. A circus-worthy floater by Rhoads with 2:30 remaining in the half gave the Eagles their largest lead of the game to that point, 31-20. The Mustangs would trim that margin to nine after a layup by Tim Brooks to end the half, but Mason never threatened after the intermission.

The game had been a close one in the first quarter, with Clarke using its collective speed and athleticism to score points in transition, while the Mustangs used the Eagles’ speed against them on the defensive end. Frequently a Mason player would ball-fake his defender and beat him off the dribble, or draw a second defender to him before dishing to a teammate for an easy layup. Mason pulled ahead 6-4 on one such basket by senior Ben Zorn three minutes into the game, but Clarke stayed with them every step of the way. The Eagles tied the game at 13 at the break after Rhoads converted two of three from the line after he was fouled behind the arc at the buzzer. The Mustangs would never lead again.

Early in the second half, it looked as though Mason would catch a much-needed break, as junior Alex Prewitt drew a charge from Rhoads to give the Clarke guard his fourth personal foul with 5:26 remaining in the third quarter. With the lead at 46-36 and Rhoads forced to the bench, the Mustangs hoped to climb back into the contest and pulled within eight after a hoop by senior Jack Settje with 3:39 remaining. But a layup by Clarke senior Christian Waters, his third such basket of the quarter, pushed the margin back to 10, and eventually 15 after a three-pointer by junior Joey Racer and a layup by junior Charles Bailey. The Mustangs offense continued to stagnate as turnovers mounted and the few shots they did manage refused to go down. Pressure defense by a Mason team looking to generate turnovers only fanned the flames, with Bailey (18 points) exploiting the attempted double-team traps as he deftly ran the Clarke offense with Rhoads on the sidelines.

Racer led all scorers with 25 points. Settje led the Mustangs, scoring 22 very quiet points. Senior Kevin Montgomery added 12 points while junior Mike Schwengel finished with seven points before fouling out late in the game.

The loss to Clarke on Tuesday snapped what had been a four-game winning streak, following a 60-44 victory last Thursday over Madison County. Settje led the Mustangs in scoring against the Mountaineers with 20 points, while Schwengel added 12.

The loss drops Mason’s record to 9-11 overall and 5-3 in the Bull Run District, and means that the Mustangs must win their next two games to have any chance at the second seed and a first-round bye in the district playoffs.

The Mustangs next travel to Rappahannock Feb. 1, before concluding their regular season schedule at home Feb. 6 against Strasburg.