With the Clarke County Eagles leading by one point in last Monday's battle for second place in the Bull Run District, the George Mason High School girls varsity team mounted one last assault down the floor in the waning seconds of the match. With the clock ticking down, Mustang junior Kim Kenny drove past a Clarke defender on the baseline and laid the ball into the net. However, her shot was immediately, and correctly, waved off by the nearest official, as it was released after the final buzzer had sounded. And just like that, the Eagles escaped with a narrow victory over the host Mustangs, 46-45.
Despite the stands packed wall-to-wall with fans from both teams inside the Mary Ellen Henderson gymnasium, as well as the looming playoff implications, the opening minutes of the game were as sloppy and hectic as they were intense. Both teams came out full force on defense, using a variety of looks and numerous presses to wear down the opposition.
At the end of the first period, Mason had a 9-6 lead, and it seemed as though their strong play on both sides of the floor might be enough to hold off the defending state champion Eagles.
It turned out to be their last lead of the night though, as Clarke pressured the Mustangs into turning the ball over 21 times in the first half. Even the return of Mason senior guard Meredith Hamme, absent for more than a month with a knee injury, was not enough to penetrate the full-court and half-court press of the Eagles and establish a rhythm on offense.
Although the game remained close for the duration of the contest, Clarke maintained the lead and prevented any big offensive outbursts on the part of the Mustangs. Mason senior guard Rachel Kazman kept her squad close at the end, knocking down three crucial free throws in the fourth quarter.
As she has done all season, sophomore post player Nicole Mitchell dominated inside the paint, finishing with 13 points and 10 rebounds, as well as shooting 75-percent from the field. The Mason guards continued to pump the ball inside, isolating Mitchell for clear looks at the basket.
A normally torrid three-point shooting team, Mason was forced to look inside, past the perimeter defenders of Clarke’s zone. They managed to muster only four shots beyond the arc the entire night, missing all of them. However, shooting close to 50-percent inside the arc kept coach Bill Broderick’s team in the game.
Kenny and senior Bailey Walton each chipped in 10 points, with Kenny adding seven rebounds. The junior nailed six free throws over the course of the night, continuously fighting underneath to get to the charity stripe.
In her return, Hamme added three assists, while senior Olivia Scott and sophomore Chantal Thomas racked up three points apiece. Senior Annie Zweighaft and junior Mayssa Chehata rounded out the Mustang scoring with two points each.
Despite the narrow defeat, Mason had little time to dwell on the Clarke game, as they traveled to Strasburg High on Wednesday night to take on the Rams, ranked No. 1 in the state. Results were not available at press time.
Sitting comfortably in third place, the Mustangs looked to hand undefeated Strasburg their first loss on the season and, barring some sort of major collapse by either the Rams (18-0, 6-0) or Clarke (14-4, 6-1), will enter the Bull Run District tournament as the No. 3 seed, with high hopes of making some noise in the playoffs. Senior night for Mason (12-7, 3-3) will take place on Friday night at 7:30 p.m. against Rappahannock County.