Advancing to a state championship game for the first time since 1956, the George Mason High School boys varsity basketball team defeated Fort Chiswell, 62-50, today. They will face Lancaster tomorrow at 5 p.m. right after the Mason girls team will also play for a state title against Gate City at 3 p.m.
Last year, both the Mason girls and boys were beaten badly in the semifinals, and their wins last night for the girls and today for the boys was especially rewarding for the players who’d lost a year before.
It’s the first time ever into a title game for the boys in the Group A Division 2 of the Virginia High School League. In 2001 and 2011, they made it to the semifinals before losing. Coach Chris Capannola was the coach of both those teams.
“We decided that if we can’t win with him, we’d win for him,” Capannola said in a post-game press conference, referring to the team’s star senior forward Nate Ogle, who broke his wrist in the third period of last Saturday’s quarterfinal win over Essex.
“He didn’t realize it at the time; I guess he was playing on pure adrenaline,” Capannola said. It was not until Monday that he got the news that it had been broken. Ogle showed up for practice yesterday, saying he wanted to try to play. But the break was too severe, Capannola said. Ogle was in street clothes on the bench with his right wrist in a large cast.
“He is our leader, our emotional hub,” Capannola added. “At the end of the game, he’d been so into it emotionally you couldn’t tell he hadn’t played the whole game.”
Filling in for Ogle was junior Will Nunley, who at 6 ft. 4 in. and lean was pitted against Fort Chiswell’s bulky 6 ft. 6 in. Coleman Thomas. Nunley scored 13 points, including a remarkable 10 in the third period (all from under the basket) and Mason’s collapsing defense and key contributions from other subs kept Coleman at bay and Mason in the lead throughout the second half.
Mason lost the lead only once, briefly midway through the second period after jumping out to a 10-2 lead early and leading 14-11 after the first period. The Pioneers took a 15-14 lead opening the second period, but Mason rallied as Philippe Griffiths hit two 3-pointers (he had three in the half) to give Mason the lead back, which it never relinquished.
Griffiths, with four 3-pointers for the game, and Noel Obusan led Mason in scoring with 15 each, Obusan hitting six of seven free throws.
Nunley led Mason in rebounding with seven, but overall Mason was outrebounded 38-31, with Thomas grabbing 11 and scoring 13 points to lead his team in both departments.
On hitting his four threes (out of seven attempts), Griffiths said after the game that the team rule is “if you have an open shot, take it.”
About his 10-point third period, that also included three rebounds, Nunley said that after hitting only one basket in the first half, Coach Capannola told him at halftime to “turn and face the basket,” and he did.
The coach of the Pioneers, Derrick Jackson, praised Nunley’s play, saying his team was not prepared for “the guy with the high elbows.”
It was Fort Chiswell’s first Final Four appearance in 30 years.
“We will have to play out of our minds to win tomorrow,” Capannola said. Lancaster from the Mason Neck region has similar attributes in size and skill to Fort Chiswell, he said, but more of both. On the other hand, he noted, Essex, who Mason beat last weekend, beat Lancaster earlier this year.