For the second consecutive year, the George Mason girls basketball team emerged as State Champions, defeating the Lancaster Lady Devils by a final score of 58-47, in a game that epitomized the domination with which the Mustangs played by the entire season. Leading by as many as 18 points during the final game, Mason was able to both execute their balanced scoring as well as stop Devils star Andrea White to a relatively modest performance, leading to a game that was never in question.
The two teams faced each other last year in the State Semi-finals in close affair that wasn't decided until sophomore Lauren Kane's free throws. This year's game, however, was effectively finished by the halfway point of the opening quarter.
Senior Nicole Mitchell capped off her high school career with a memorable performance, scoring 11 points in the first quarter alone. She also grabbed 14 rebounds, dished out five assists, and had four steals, in a game that will leave a resounding mark on her four year career. The only aspect of Mitchell's game that was slightly off was her outside game, as she only went 1-4 from the three point line. However, the one 3 she hit turned out to be huge, as the 20 footer made with 5:00 left in the first quarter gave Mason a 7-4 lead that they would hold on to for the remainder of the game. After her stellar first quarter, with the exception of an offensive rebound and short jumper at the four minute mark in the second quarter, Mitchell wouldn't score again.
It turned out that she didn't need to. While continuing to involve her teammates and dominate the boards, the rest of the Mustangs were able to pick up the scoring load for the remainder of the game. Mitchell was joined by fellow senior Chantal Thomas, reigning District and Regional player of the year, who ended her career on a spectacular note as well. After a relatively quiet first quarter, Thomas exploded, scoring eight points in the second quarter and six in the third en route to an 18 point performance to lead both teams in scoring. She also had seven rebounds and four assists, all while commanding the Mason offense for much of the game.
After the Mitchell three, Mason's only one in the game, Mason ran out to a wide lead, following a layup by sophomore Bria Platenburg and an ensuing steal and layup by Mitchell, capped off by a Mitchell fast-break layup that put Mason ahead 13-6. In the second quarter, once Mason's lead had reached double digits, the margin only dipped back down to single figure for 20 seconds of the remainder of the game.
On the Lancaster side, while White filled an impressive stat sheet (17 points, 16 rebounds, 5 blocks), she was a virtual nonfactor when the game mattered most, due to both a stifling double team from the Mustangs and two early fouls which not only both caused injuries to a Mason player (Kane and sophomore Leah Roth respectively), but left her with a sense of restraint that hindered her playing ability for the remainder of the half.
Mason also received help from Roth, the starting point guard who has amassed five State Titles in her first five high school sports seasons, and freshman Stephanie Cheney, who, after scoring 16 points on Thursday's game, continued her dominating presence with nine points and eight rebounds. One of her biggest supporters was her brother Jordan, a 2nd Team All-District player for the boys team who was in attendance on Saturday.
"I was very proud of her," he said after the game, following that with a bit of a grin as he said "I think she definitely takes after me."
Roth also added four points, with Kane and Platenburg each adding a relatively modest six and eight respectively to fill the Mustangs scoreboard. Platenburg also added seven rebounds and three assists.
After White hit a basket at the final buzzer to make the score 58-47 in favor of Mason, Mitchell and Thomas hugged at the Lancaster free throw line, knowing that this was the culmination of all their hard work and effort over the years, while the rest of the team, comprised of many newcomers, joined in moments later. Seniors Kelsey Kane and Adeyianka Johnson also ended their tenures with consecutive titles, while first year player Emily Pyne rounded out the class of seniors with a championship to her name.
The future still looks bright for the Mustangs, even with the loss of some key talent. Lauren Kane conceded that the loss of Thomas and Mitchell would cause Mason to "struggle a bit next year" early on as it relates to adjusting to a new nucleus, but added that it would help make them a better team in the long run. Kane and Platenburg both expressed that they felt they could "definitely [win] again next year."
While it was bittersweet for the Mustangs as they said goodbye to some of the most outstanding players in the history of the program, the team held their heads up high knowing that they had just fended off all challengers, and with the exception of two losses in the Chantilly Christmas Tournament in December, were undefeated and roundly trounced opponents. For the first time in the history of the school, the Mason basketball team successfully defended their crown.
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