Mustangs have too much offense for ‘Cats

FRONT ROYAL — Warren County came off a comfy two-game road swing only to run into a bunch of angry Mustangs in their own gym in the final regular-season game for the two Friday night.

George Mason, undefeated in the Bull Run District (16-0) and having lost one game all year (20-1), did about what it wanted to the Wildcats (6-10, 6-14) in a 68-47 victory.

The Wildcats will travel to Strasburg, a team they split with this year and defeated on the Rams’ home court 60-59 on Feb. 2, on Monday at 7 p.m. in a first-round Bull Run tournament game.

Earlier this season, Warren County was silenced at George Mason, 68-35, to a team that averages 18-point victories, even including the one game it lost outside the district.

Warren had edged Strasburg and then two days later went to district rival Manassas Park and came out with a 44-34 win.

But there was nothing like that against the Mustangs, whom Warren County coach Vernon Mathews said was the No. 2 team in the state rankings.

“They turned us over early and we didn’t rebound very well. That was pretty much the story of the game,” said Mathews said.

The Wildcats trailed 22-13 after the first quarter, and then scored flourishes of points in the second and third periods, but each time it seemed to matter less and less.

The Wildcats got a 3-point bucket from Robert Rutherford and a goal by Cameron Ford, but still were behind 40-26 as the half came to a close.

They scored all seven of the third period’s last seven points, including a banked in 3-pointer at the buzzer by D’Andre Lawrence, but trailed 55-37.

In the fourth quarter, George Mason coach Chris Capannola platooned his second team for much of the way.

All the Mustangs play a representative amount of minutes. Coming in, 6-foot-1 Robert Tartt averaged 14.8 points, but the other four starters put up points anywhere from a 3.4 points-per-game rate to a 9.3 average.

“The thing about it is,” Mathews said, “they had a whole different cast down there that did us in.”

Four Mustangs finished in double figures, including Elliott Mercado (18), Thomas Beddow (14), Tartt (11) and Joshua Allen (10).

When the visitors weren’t busy stealing the ball from Warren County on their press or trapping it in the half-court, they got four 3-point goals from Beddow.

Warren County got an outstanding game from Robert Rutherford, who scored eight goals and a free throw for a game-high 19 points. He also netted two treys. Ford totaled 11 points, but none in the first half.

“Robert was really strong in there,” Mathews said. “He battled and he fought and he had a good game.”

George Mason forced 16 turnovers from the Wildcats in the first quarter, and even as Capannola subbed out starters, the Mustangs held a hearty lead on the boards, hauling down 21 to Warren’s 12.

The Mustangs also stole the ball eight times from the Wildcats. Tartt pilfered Warren ball-handlers five times, while reserve Michael Lin turned over Warren County ball-handlers three times. Tartt also had eight rebounds, seven in the first half.

“We started off so [poorly], so it was difficult to tell how good we did or not. The third quarter was a mirror image of the second quarter, but we couldn’t get over the hump,” Mathews said. “We’ll just have to put this behind us. We beat Strasburg on their floor and I’m sure they’ll be fired up about us.”