The fragility of success is all the more apparent as you near the top.
George Mason High School’s varsity girls basketball team experienced this firsthand as a sound opening half was bulldozed by a jumbled finish in the Mustangs’ 61-45 loss to Martinsville High School during the Virginia 2A State quarterfinals at James Madison University last Thursday.
Mason (23-6) didn’t lose a game in 2017 until it dropped two in the final week of their season.
Last Thursday’s contest showed a team that realized it needed another year before reaching the status of Virginia’s best.
In the first half, the Mustangs used sluggish pace and procedural ball movement to efficiently pick Martinsville apart, helping the Mustangs keep the score even at 25 entering halftime.
Change, however, came swiftly following the intermission.
“That third quarter was a dry spell and then some. Couldn’t put that ball in the net,” head coach Michael Gilroy said. “We were just a step slow on every trap, every pass. We didn’t have that instinct I was looking for.”
Three early points from junior forwards Jenna Short and Kaylee Hirsch at the free throw line kept Mason right behind Martinsville at 29-28 before the Bulldogs turned up the heat.
A five-point swing off a basket and a three-point play in a 30 second span gave Martinsville their largest lead of the game and seemed to deflate the Mustangs.
Gilroy burned two timeouts trying to salvage morale, but to no avail.
Martinsville stretched its lead to 41-30 entering the fourth quarter after outscoring Mason 16-5 in the third. The deficit visibly weighed on the Mustangs and affected their production on the court.
“We just didn’t have the right mentality,” said senior guard Sarah Lubnow, who played her final basketball game against Martinsville. “It seemed like we gave up and there was no reason to give up yet.”
A sleepy Martinsville squad awakened in the second half and altered the tone of the game. The Mustangs’ passing lanes went from noticeable to non-existent. The paint became infested with swiping hands. Layups were even denied the privilege of grazing the backboard as the Bulldogs staunchly defended their basket. Combine that with the Bulldogs finding their groove on offense and it made for a disheartening end to the season.
Though that’s not to say it was easy for Martinsville, despite the team’s advantages in length and athleticism. They had to respect Mason’s game before they could overcome it.
“Mason is such a methodical team. They do a great job passing and setting staggered screens,” Martinsville head coach Charlie Holland said. “I mentioned [to Gilroy, postgame] about his game plan against me. I told him I tried to change it up on him because he’s a good darn coach.”
The Mustangs have little reason to hang their heads. They served as Mason’s best girls basketball team in five years and met their coach’s high expectations of entering the state tournament, a huge jump for a team that couldn’t close during last season’s regional opener at home.
When reflecting on this quarterfinal, they’ll see they had opportunities to dig themselves out of their second half hole. It just required a calmer mind, a sharper eye and a bit more urgency.
“We’re still very young. No other team in the tournament has the junior class we do,” Gilroy said. “When you got four or five seniors that know it’s their last game, you play with a different grit. To only have one player out there that knows this is the end, I can’t simulate that in practice — ever. They had some kids that did not want to go home more than us.”