Mustangs hold off Wildcats

FRONT ROYAL — George Mason took advantage of a slow start by Warren County and made some timely shots on Wednesday night.

The Mustangs hit several clutch 3-pointers throughout the game to pull out a 54-43 Bull Run District girls basketball victory over the Wildcats.

“Too many missed opportunities on missed layups and turnovers,” Warren County coach John Kelly said. “Every time we got within five-to-seven points, we’d come out and either miss an open layup or we’d turn the ball over. We’ve got to learn not to do that.”

George Mason scored the game’s first 10 points, and built a 16-point first-half lead. The Wildcats cut the lead down to six points late in the first half. Warren County went on a 10-0 run, aided by five points from Sam Schroyer, to cut the lead to 26-20.

George Mason senior Haley Zullo hit a 3-pointer with 24 seconds left in the first half to extend the lead to nine at the half.

“Our seniors, they stand tall and they play hard when it comes down to it,” George Mason coach LaBryan Thomas said.

After a basket by George Mason’s Katie Goodwin to start the second half, Warren County’s Arianna Smoot scored back-to-back baskets to cut the lead to seven.

“She’s one of the kids that brings energy,” Kelly said of Smoot. “She isn’t always the most fundamental basketball player, but her athleticism takes over and she’s able to jump for her size and she moves.”

The Mustangs (8-3, 7-1 Bull Run) responded with a 6-2 run to take a 37-26 lead with 3:02 left in the third period.

The two teams went back and forth the rest of the period. George Mason closed the period with back-to-back 3-pointers from freshman Nicole Bloomgarden and sophomore Kenya Bliss.

The Mustangs hit seven 3-pointers. Thomas said his players enjoy playing against a zone defense, which Warren County was using for part of the game.

“It opens things up for us when teams play zone,” Thomas said. “We struggle a little bit when they play man-to-man. The young kids, were trying to acclimate them in, and they struggle in man. When they play zone, they know what they’re supposed to do in the zone and we’re getting good shots. It all works out.”

The two teams went back and forth for most of the final period, but the Wildcats didn’t help themselves at the free-throw line where they went 2-for-5 during the first six minutes of the period. They finished the game 6-for-13 from the free-throw line.

“In the fourth quarter you can’t miss free throws and win ballgames,” Kelly said. “It’s funny because the things we said on the board [before the game] is stop their 3-point shooters, make your free throws in the end, and then bring energy for all 32 minutes. And those are three goals we didn’t reach tonight.”

Bloomgarden led the Mustangs with 13 points, while Goodwin added 12 points, 10 rebounds and two steals.

George Mason has four sophomores on the team, and Thomas said he is seeing progress from his young squad.

“We still got some young kids we’re trying to work in there and get them acclimated to everything that’s going on,” Thomas said. “It’s a slow process when you got ninth graders trying to play varsity.

“Overall as a team, I think we’re getting to where [we want to be]. We’re not quite there, but we’re getting there.”

Autumn Troxell led the Wildcats with 20 points and seven rebounds. Schroyer had nine points and seven rebounds for the Wildcats, and Smoot had eight points.

Things won’t get any easier for the Wildcats (6-6, 5-3) as they play at first-place Clarke County on Friday night.

“I think that’s something that we look forward to, is, can we improve on tonight?” Kelly said. “They’re a great team. They’re the top team in our district for a reason. It’s just can we move forward, protect the ball better? Can we move better? Can we bring energy better? If we can do that, then it’s a success for us.”

Contact staff writer Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or tkeeler@nvdaily.com