A season full of learning experiences came to a close for George Mason High School’s varsity boys basketball team with a 75-58 home loss to Stuarts Draft High School in the 2A East regional tournament’s opening round last Friday night.
Mason (16-9) led throughout the game until a bad start to the fourth quarter put its season in jeopardy.
Stuarts Draft’s up-tempo style helped it overcome Mason’s slim 51-50 lead by scoring four points in the first 40 seconds of the final frame. A minute later the Cougars were up by nine, and soon the lead ballooned to 64-51.
The quick 14-0 run put the Cougars ahead for good and all but ended the Mustangs’ year.
“We didn’t answer their run at all,” head coach Chris Capannola said. “We just don’t have anyone to put in to stem the momentum. They keep attacking [and] it flusters you. These young kids get flustered. They have nine seniors; we have one. It was about a four-minute stretch there and that was it. We just couldn’t score.”
The Mustangs had their chances to respond in the fourth.
Despite being winded from trying to match Stuarts Draft’s 15-man rotation with just six players, Mason got to the free-throw line and found the open man on more than one occasion. However, the Mustangs missed foul shots, misfired on jumpers and committed unforced turnovers, all of which the Cougars turned into points on the other end. Fatigue caused the floor to fall out from under Mason and allowed Stuarts Draft to enjoy a 25-point fourth quarter.
“We just keep wearing them down throughout the game – that’s what we’re used to,” Stuarts Draft head coach Mike Gale said. “Making big runs throughout the game and chipped away little by little. A one-point ballgame going into the fourth? That’s all you can ask for.”
A fourth quarter collapse was preceded by a strong game from Mason. The Mustangs came out hot with a 21-9 lead by the end of the first quarter. In the second, Stuarts Draft found its footing with 26 points to nip at Mason’s heels down 37-35 at halftime. Mason started the third with a nice run but that was the team’s last comfortable margin.
All eyes look toward the future now, with the lessons from this game building the foundation of the team’s next postseason run.
“I told them, ‘remember this feeling, because next year at this time hopefully it’s a winning feeling,’” Capannola said. “They can say, ‘I remember that last year, we’re not gonna let that happen again.’ You can say that as underclassmen, but you’ll mean it as juniors and seniors.”