by Matt Delaney
Step one on the George Mason varsity boys basketball team postseason checklist was accomplished after winning the Conference 35 tournament by defeating Clarke County High School 70-38 in the semifinal on Thursday, Feb. 11 and Madison County High School 68-47 in the final on Saturday, Feb. 13.
The trophy ceremony following Saturday’s championship game was treated casually by Mason. Muted smiles crept across their faces as they posed for obligatory photos, appreciating the moment but looking forward to bigger ones to come.
This same team, who is one year removed from a loss in the 2A State tournament and two years from being knocked out in the same tournament they just won, knows success is fragile so big smiles are saved for grand finale.
“Last year [when we lost], we had one bad quarter in that game and that was it – you’re eliminated,” head coach Chris Capannola said.
“We gotta play a consistent four quarters because you can’t ever count another [team] out at this level now because we’re in [the Regional tournament], and like I told these guys careers are on the line.”
A loss from this point on would be the last game for 10 of the Mustangs current 15-man roster, but Capannola feels confident that pressure will serve the team well in the coming weeks.
“Kids play harder when they’re a senior and they know this is it,” Capannola said. “Last year we were the juniors. This year we’re the seniors so we’re not gonna let anything happen. No lulls, no extended slumps, no craziness and I like our chances to win a couple.”
Mason looked like state title contenders in their two games the past week.
Against Clarke County, the Mustangs carried out an expected victory thanks to success beyond the arc. Senior guard Thomas Beddow sunk seven three-pointers to lead a team total of 16 from downtown.
Madison County played Mason tough in the regular season, but was barely a threat in Saturday’s contest. The Mustangs took a 6-0 lead early and, despite a few close calls, had Madison County playing a from behind throughout a majority of the game.
A 29-24 lead at the half segued to Mason shutting the door on Madison County in the second half after outscoring them 39-23.
Next up for Mason’s is the opening round of the Region 2A East tournament, which gets underway this Friday, Feb. 19.