by Matt Delaney
After coming up empty-handed in their five previous entries, George Mason’s varsity boys basketball team finally won the Joe Cascio Holiday Classic at Falls Church High School.
The Mustangs defeated John Paul the Great High School 56-53 in the semi-final on Tuesday, Dec. 29 and moved on to beat Dominion High School 57-42 in the tournament championship on December 30.
Head coach Chris Capannola used winning the tournament as a goal for the Mustangs since they had been struggling to find reasons to compete amidst a schedule of underwhelming opposition.
“I told them before the game that I don’t ever think that Mason, as a school, won a Christmas tournament,” Capannola said.
“We’ve been in it, but we’ve never won one…just being in this game is not enough for this group. Let’s try and be the first to win the tournament.”
Mason has touted their talent and depth for the entire season. Yet, a month in they still hadn’t been in a game that demanded their full mental and physical commitment to win.
Now with wins over two opponents who did just that, is fair to say this team is different from years past?
“I think the [team’s] seasoning has shown,” Capannola said. “Last year we came into the championship against Yorktown [High School] thinking we had a shot. This year, I think everyone in the locker room said ‘We’ll win,’ [or] ‘We’re going to find a way to win.’”
The seasoning was evident, but not until the second half of both games.
Mason eeked out to an 8-7 lead against Dominion by the end of the first quarter and went into halftime with a slightly larger lead at 24-20.
In their semi-final against John Paul the Great the Mustangs were up 11-4 going into the second quarter but were trailing 26-25 by halftime; a first on the season.
The stagnant offense was summarized as “really tentative” by Capannola but it made way for two second half showings that cemented Mason as the unquestioned champ in the Cascio classic.
Mason trailed John Paul the Great 36-35 by the end of the third quarter, but the game intensified in the fourth as the teams traded leads three different times.
The Mustangs nudged ahead 52-51 with under a minute to play but four big free throws from senior guard Thomas Beddow iced the game, sending the Wolves to the consolation bracket.
Senior center Douglas Bossart had 11 rebounds and 12 points, earning him a double-double. Beddow also had 12 points while senior forward Robert Tartt had 10.
Against Dominion, things fared more favorably. The Mustangs came into the second half with a renewed aggression and turned a 39-34 lead to start the fourth quarter into 51-36 minutes in, killing any championship hopes Dominion had.
Seniors led the stat sheet as Bossart earned another double-double with 14 points and 16 rebounds, Tartt had 19 points and senior guard Elliot Mercado added 12.
Tartt was also named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player, which was no surprise to anyone who watched the Mustangs.
His determined play was a constant force on both ends of the court and was contagious among his teammates.
“I try my best to play up [to] the moment,” Tartt said. “I wanna help us win by pushing my energy and pumping everybody up. When I get my energy up it transfers to other people and they get excited and then we start rolling.”
Mason rid themselves of some skeletons in their closet, but don’t expect them to rest on their laurels.
The Mustangs continued their string of successes by beating William Monroe High School 71-44 on Tuesday, Jan. 5 in a road contest. They face Rappahannock County High School at home on Thursday, Jan. 7.