Mustangs Take Down Central

SENIOR GUARD Max Ashton poses with his family and head coach Chris Capannola to celebrate his 1,000 career points as a Mustang. (Photo: Carol Sly)

Four straight losses are easier for George Mason High School’s boys basketball team to forget after big wins over Bull Run District opponents Central High School, 62-46, and Rappahannock County High School, 86-42, in the past week.

Those who witnessed the 2017-18 season for Mason (6-4) know how well Central played the role of arch-nemesis for the Mustangs’ last year. Three straight losses — by a combined margin of six points — including an gut-wrenching loss in the Region B semifinals at the buzzer to end Mason’s season and deny the team a trip to the Class 2 state tournament were all at the hands of the Falcons. It’s a new season with new characters acting out the 2018-19 season’s drama, but it still felt nice to snap the losing streak to a District rival.

“It was a big win,” senior guard Max Ashton said. “They won the district last year so just to come back and beat them here sets a tone for the rest of the year and we’re gonna try our best to win the district this year. No one can stop us, not even them.”

After halftime, the Mustangs had just finished one of their shakiest halves of the year. Mason was displaying all the indecisive tendencies that have gotten the team into trouble before: picking up dribbles with no clear passing lane, driving to the hoop with little demonstrated will to score and a defense that was too comfortable reacting rather than dictating their opponents’ gameplan. It’s not a matter of effort – the Mustangs are playing hard – but they play with an aloof temperament that keeps their actions a tick slow.

It’s why, despite trailing by only three at 24-21, it felt as if Central could blow the game open with a short run. And when the Falcons notched a gimme two inside to open the third, it appeared that run was about to start. But lo and behold, Mason was just warming up.

Ashton sank a three from corner and senior guard Jay Nesson stepped into a three of his own to give Mason a 27-26 lead that only grew from that point on. In the final four minutes of the third quarter, the Mustangs outscored Central 11-2 thanks to five points from senior forward Hollman Smith, another trey from Ashton and a sweet connection between sophomore guard Robert Asel and junior forward Daniel Miller.

Starting the fourth up 42-32, Mason didn’t relent. The Mustangs defense pestered Central’s shooters and made life difficult for its athletic big down low. The offense continued its intentional behavior, going strong to the hoop while staying sharp from downtown, and got the frustrated Falcons into foul trouble with over three minutes to play. Mason rode out the clock with trips to the line and a staunch defensive presence.

“That was the best half we played all year,” head coach Chris Capannola said. “We moved the ball great, we defended great. And, of course, the shots went down.”

Against Rappahannock County on Jan. 4, Mason’s 67-31 lead heading into the fourth removed any doubt the game would be clinched. The most noteworthy statline was Ashton counting his 1,000th point as a Mustang.

The Mustangs will host Strasburg High School on Friday night.