Mason Boys Swat Hornets in Region Opener

SENIOR FORWARD Hollman Smith helped push Mason over the finish line against Wilson Memorial High School with a strong third quarter (Photo: Carol Sly)

Getting — or rather, staying — hot at the right time, George Mason High School’s boys basketball team cruised past Wilson Memorial High School, 65-44, in the opening round of the Region B tournament.

The Mustangs (17-7) haven’t had the cold splash of a loss thrown on them since their Jan. 15 (non-conference) defeat at Loudoun County High School. All throughout January, Mason bowled its way through the Bull Run District regular season schedule en route to reclaiming the District crown for the first time since the 2015-16 season where the Mustangs finished 29-1. Momentum is on Mason’s side to finally break through and make a Class 2 state tournament berth with this group of players, and with a familiar foe in Strasburg High School coming to The Pit tomorrow night, the Mustangs don’t want to waste the opportunity.

“It would be an unbelievable achievement for this group [to make the state tournament], given how it started in December and early January,” Mason head coach Chris Capannola said. “The goal of any coach is to be competing late into February, and we’re really on the upswing.”

Against Wilson Memorial, there was little doubt the Mustangs wouldn’t prevail, even after an up-and-down start. Senior guard Jay Nesson’s three and sophomore guard Deven Martino’s drive and score had Mason up 5-0, but a 6-1 run by Hornets had both teams tied with three minutes to go.

The Mustangs kicked it into high gear from there. Senior guard Max Ashton used a jab step to create an open jumper and senior forward Scott Graffam found sophomore guard Robert Asel for a corner three soon after to go up 11-6. A straightaway three by Graffam and a corner three by Ashton that got some rim love put Mason up 17-8 heading into the second quarter.

That’s where the wheels came off for Wilson Memorial. The Mustangs started the second frame on a 13-0 run spearheaded by Martino’s seven points but with key contributions from Asel, junior forward Johnny Goodwin and senior forward Seid Lejlic. The Hornets were able to get involved toward the end of the quarter with five quick points, but it was negated by consecutive threes by Martino and then Nesson to finish a 19-5 margin for the quarter and boost Mason’s lead to 36-13 by halftime.

“I told the guys this first four minutes [after the half] was gonna be their best shot, so it was just a matter of staying sharp,” Capannola added. “The whole idea is to play as if the score is 0-0 and win each minute.”

Mason withstood Wilson Memorial’s surge by mounting an offensive of its own. Stretching the lead to 30 points at 48-18, put the Mustangs comfortably ahead. The lead grew as large as 32 points before Capannola called off the dogs and started rotating in bench players for the final quarter.

Now the Mustangs are set to host Strasburg — a team they swept during the regular season series. The team will look to earn its first trip to the state tournament in three years at home tomorrow night at 7 p.m.