Mustangs Squeak by Stuarts Draft in Buzzer-Beating Finish

JUNIOR GUARD Maddie Lacroix’s deep three-pointer tied the game with under a minute remaining and put Mason in position to win against Stuarts Draft. (Photo: Carol Sly)

It’s not the postseason without a little drama and George Mason High School’s girls basketball team came to entertain when a buzzer-beating putback carried their 40-38 win over Stuarts Draft High School Tuesday night.

A cloud of doubt hung over Mason (20-5) for most of second half as they watched a 20-12 lead coming into the third evaporate thanks to Stuarts Draft hot shooting and their own sputtering offense. Down 38-35 with a little over a minute remaining, hopes of another Class 2 state title berth were looking to end on a whimper. That was until junior guard Maddie Lacroix launched a straightaway three-pointer from downtown that caught the front lip of the rim and fell in.

“We were just passing it around and no one was trying to shoot it,” Lacroix said. “So I just put it up and was glad it went in.”

Stuarts Draft’s following possession was their own attempted straightaway trey — one that had characterized the Cougars’ comeback and became a bane for Mason in the second half. Though after a miss, a Mason rebound and a timeout, the Mustangs had one last chance to seal the win and prevent overtime. With 18 seconds to work with, Mason fished for an opening inside and ultimately settled for another hopeful deep ball from Lacroix on the left wing that clanged off the rim. But the Mustangs prayers were answered when senior forward Kaylee Hirsch’s solid positioning allowed her to rebound and putback the game-winner as time expired, sending the Mason bench and stands into an elated frenzy.

“We were like, ‘Damn, we’re going to end on this note?’” Mason head coach Michael Gilroy said. “But [Hirsch] makes a huge play and I thought [Lacroix’s] shot was going to be the game-winner from where I was. And we did what I didn’t want them to do. I said ‘No three’s,’ but we hoist a three and get out of a here with a W.”

The win was probably Mason’s ugliest in some time. The Mustangs were flat-footed throughout most of the first half and permitted Stuarts Draft’s offense to get away with lazy passes Mason would’ve devoured against most opponents. Offensively, the Mustangs telegraphed their intent to feed forwards inside for close-range buckets and seemed reluctant to shoot from deep to loosen up the Cougars’ tight 2-3 zone.

But it wasn’t all forgettable. Sophomore forward Daria Douglas flirted with double-digit blocks as a defensive specialist who shut down Stuarts Draft’s best player in the fourth quarter. And senior guard Victoria Rund kept the offense afloat with her strong drives and heady ball movement that pulled Mason out of its slump in the second half.

The Mustangs are hoping they will regain the form they demonstrated against Central High School in the Bull Run District Championship game on Feb. 15. In that contest, Mason’s starters limited the Falcons to nine points total, including holding them scoreless in the third quarter — a common theme of the Mustangs’ winning performances — and took a 47-21 victory as well as their third consecutive district title.

Mason can’t get too high on their horse just yet. They have a quick turnaround against East Rockingham High School tonight at 7 p.m. at home in The Pit. A gutty win is worth celebrating, but a loss at this point in the region tournament still spells the end of their season. The Mustangs need to bring their best from the opening tip to keep their state tourney aspirations afloat.