Mustangs Advance to Region Championship, Qualify for State Tourney

A BIG NIGHT for senior forward Jenna Short (center, with ball) and senior guard Nicole Bloomgarden (right) spearheaded Mason’s 45-41 win over East Rockingham High School and secured the Mustangs’ second consecutive state tournament berth. (Photo: Carol Sly)

A tense contest with a Region 2B Championship and VHSL Class 2 State title berth on the line saw George Mason High School’s girls basketball team edge out East Rockingham High School 45-41 last night.

With the win, Mason (21-5) gets a shot at their first region title since 2013 and will play in the state tournament for the second year in a row.

The Mustangs kept East Rockingham at arm’s length throughout the game despite the Eagles’ streaky shooting that threatened to overtake the lead late.

A quick two from East Rockingham cut Mason’s lead to 27-35 at the start of the fourth. Senior guard Nicole Bloomgarden responded with a dribble drive to the rack for two, but the Eagles knocked in two more buckets to bring the score to 37-31. Bloomgarden found senior forward Jenna Short on a fast break and Short added two more points from the line to go up 41-31 until East Rockingham found their deep ball again to narrow the gap to 41-34.

The Mustangs were a little shaky throughout the remainder of the fourth quarter. Mason botched a pass and almost started a Eagles fast break until junior guard Maddie Lacroix knocked the ball loose, and off an East Rockingham defender, to regain possession. Short sank her free throws to put Mason back up 43-34 with under three minutes to play, but the Eagles scored seven unanswered points to trim the lead to 43-41 with 43 seconds remaining.

Lacroix split her trip to the line to force East Rockingham to tie with a three-ball, but on the most critical possession an Eagles player shuffled her feet and was called for traveling. Bloomgarden only had to sink one free throw the following possession to ice the game.

East Rockingham ended their five minute field goal drought in the third quarter with a quick three, but the Mustangs continued to add to their lead. Short hit another three and got a hockey assist the next possession when she started a passing chain that went through Lacroix and found Bloomgarden for a two on a fast break. Senior forward Kaylee Hirsch banked in two buckets that book-ended an Eagles three-pointer to end the period up 35-25.

The Mustangs found their groove in the second quarter.  Short’s deep three from the left elbow tied the game at 14 apiece and set her up for her best game of the season so far. After a baby hook from an Eagles forward knotted the score at 16, Mason went on an 8-1 run to end the half thanks to four points from sophomore forward Daria Douglas, a coast-to-coast drive and score from  Bloomgarden and a putback from Short to enter the intermission up 24-17.

Four three-pointers in the first quarter established East Rockingham’s shooting advantage and had them ahead 12-9 with under a minute remaining. Mason made quick work with the short time as  Lacroix’s miss at the rim the following possession was rebounded by senior guard Isabella Ashton and worked the ball around to senior guard Elizabeth Dodge for a long jumper to end quarter down one at 12-11.

Short led all scorers with 15 points and Bloomgarden was right behind her with 14.

Mason will take on Buffalo Gap High School at the Region 2B Championship at Spotswood High School tomorrow, Feb. 24 at 6 p.m.