RICHMOND – It came right down to the wire in one of the most gripping state championship games in memory, but Coach LaBryan Thomas’ George Mason High Mustang girls held on tenaciously to defeat Gate City, 50-47, here last Saturday.
The win accomplished the fourth VHSL Group A, Division 2 state title, overall, for the Mason girls, first winning in 1998 and then in 2008 and 2009. Thomas was also the coach of those last two champions.
But last year in the state Final Four tournament, the Mustang girls were humbled by Radford in a blowout. That made this year’s title win all the more sweet, said star senior Lauren Kane, speaking to reporters after the game.
It was four clutch free throws by Kane in the final 1:23 of the regulation that held the lead for Mason, only a single point ahead at the time, 45-44.
“I was nervous,” Kane told reporters. “In fact I’ve never been that nervous in my life.” She said she was so nervous she was surprised to see all four of the shots go in.
Mason’s chances dimmed when star junior forward Stephanie Cheney fouled out with more than four minutes left.
But Katie Goodwin filled in, winding up with 11 rebounds for the game, and Krista Kelly also played a major role. Ashley Alexander was also stalwart in the end, despite playing with four fouls. She hit Mason’s only 3-pointer in the game.
Kane finished with 16 points, Alexander with 11 and Cheney with 10, to lead Mason scoring. Cheney also blocked five shots, and Mason blocked eight shots overall, and Gate City had none.
Shutting down Gate City’s two biggest talents, Jordan Gose in the middle and her sister Morgan Gose on the perimeter, was key to Mason’s victory. The latter had scored 44 in the semifinal.
“This is the hardest working team I’ve ever coached, and I am proud to be their coach,” Thomas said.
In Mason’s semifinal win over Glenvar High School of Salem Thursday night, it was a tough, physical game throughout, but in the end the size, skill and grit of the Mason girls prevailed, 64-48.
Glenvar Coach Nick Stewart credited Mason with the combination of size, skill and “knowing how to win.” He said Mason forced Glenvar’s leading scorer, Jessi Strom, “out of her comfort zone.”
Key to that effort, according to Thomas, was principally Kelly. “We have a goal each game of keeping the other team’s top scorer to under 10 points,” Kane said. “We didn’t quite achieve that goal tonight (Strom scored 17), but we won.”
Cheney led Mason in scoring with 20 points, including 10 out of 11 from the free throw line. Kane added 13 points and was key to getting Mason off to a fast start, scoring 12 of her points in the first half as Mason fought to a 29-25 halftime lead. She ran into foul trouble in the second half, picking up her fourth with 3:39 still left in the game.
But Glenvar was down by nine at that point, 55-46, and began to foul as a tactic to eat away at Mason’s lead. But starting with two free throws by senior guard Leah Roth, the only Mason player to play all 32 minutes of the game, began a run of seven straight Mason free throws in the game’s final minutes before a layin by Kelly capped off the scoring.
Thomas credited his bench with making a major contribution. When Mason hit a dry spell in the second period, going scoreless the first four minutes while Glenvar rallied to take a 22-18 lead, Jaya Chavern hit a clutch three-point shot and Goodwin battled under the boards for three key rebounds, and Mason got the lead back by halftime.