Mustangs March Into Playoffs

SHOOTING HER SHOT is senior guard Nicole Bloomgarden in last week’s blowout win over Madison County High School. (Photo: Carol Sly)

Cruising right along, George Mason High School’s girls basketball team downed Clarke County High School, 59-41, for their second win over the Eagles in a week Tuesday night.

The Mustangs (18-5) have shown a measure of stability once the calendar flipped to 2018. Nearly every game has played out the same way: Mason builds a lead in the first quarter by way of methodical offensive possessions and smart defense, which allows their offense to loosen up and their defense to be more gutsy cutting off passing lanes and, eventually, their advantage continues to balloon. Games have played out this way since early January and the Mustangs look to keep it going into March.

“Three years with the same kids, we’ve just got it figured out by now,” head coach Michael Gilroy said. “They’ve seen every situation, know where to go with the ball, now it’s about taking that next step in the postseason.”

Mason’s eager to get back to the 2A State Tournament, where they fell in the quarterfinals last March. But until then, they’ll be sharpening their skillset against opponents the likes of Clarke County.

In their latest win, the Mustangs again brought that consistency. An early 7-0 lead grew to 17-5 after senior guard Nicole Bloomgarden hit a circus shot through traffic and junior guard Maddie Lacroix weaved her way around defenders for a nice finish at the rim.

The Eagles came close, briefly. A split trip to the charity strike had Clarke County down 19-12 midway through the second quarter, That was until a few fruitful trips to the line for Mason and a buzzer-beating three-pointer by Bloomgarden to end the half had the Mustangs carrying a 31-17 advantage into the break.

Mason really started feeling it on the court once the third quarter came around. Senior forward Kaylee Hirsch hit the first three buckets for the Mustangs with a layup down low, rebounding her own miss and putting it back in and a right-handed baby hook a few feet from the basket. Senior guard Elizabeth Dodge nailed a three from the elbow soon after. Sophomore forward Daria Douglas accomplished a rare feat when she converted three consecutive and-one’s when her final bucket was a putback at the buzzer.

Up 49-25 to start the fourth quarter, Mason starters stayed in to get some added reps. Senior forward Jenna Short connected on a pass to Douglas down low for two and senior guard Victoria Rund found Douglas for that same look the next possession, making it one of the sophomore guard’s best nights so far. Shorts’ baseline dribble-drive and score put Mason up 55-33 and signaled the end of the starters’ night.

The insistence to feed the teams bigs in Hirsch, Short and Douglas in the paint with low lob passes has been a new development for Mason this year. In years past, they tried to squeeze bounce passes to the bigs with little success. The change in approach has added another gadget to the Mustangs’ tool belt and Gilroy is confident that it will give the team more options as they make a deeper playoff run.

Mason hosts Central High School for the Conference 35 championship tonight before beginning the Region tourney.