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George Mason Pushes Through to State Final

By Preston Williams
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 13, 2009 3:30 PM

RICHMOND, March 13 -- George Mason, known as the Virginia A school from AAA territory, took another step here Friday at the Siegel Center toward trading in that little-school tag for a big-game reputation when it comes to girls' basketball.

The Falls Church school, knocked off in the state semifinals last year, edged Lancaster, 54-52, in the Division 2 semis to surge into the state championship set for 3 p.m. Saturday.

The Mustangs (23-6) will face defending state champion Floyd County (26-3), the team that knocked them out in the semis last season. George Mason last won the state title in 1998, when Virginia A played in the fall.

Defending state finalist Lancaster wiped out an eight-point second-half deficit to briefly inch ahead by one midway through the fourth quarter, but Mustangs junior guard Chantal Thomas made all six of her free-throw attempts in the last 2 minutes 36 seconds. A Lancaster three-pointer at the buzzer tightened the final score.

"Our goal since the beginning of the year has been to get back here," Thomas said. "But now, since we're here, we want to keep going."

The teams each made 21 field goals, but Lancaster attempted 16 more shots, many of them inside attempts that did not drop. The Red Devils had 12 more offensive rebounds than George Mason.

"Very relieved," first-year Mustangs coach LaBryan Thomas said with a laugh of those Lancaster putbacks rolling off the rim.

"Usually, they put them right back," said Red Devils Coach Joanne Webb-Fary, who considered George Mason the toughest defensive foe this season.

Up 49-47, George Mason got an extra possession with 21 seconds left when Lancaster (20-5) was whistled for a flagrant foul. Freshman Lauren Kane made one of the two shots, then Thomas, the coach's daughter, padded the lead at the free-throw line, shooting in the direction of a robust Mustang cheering section that required six charter buses.

"I do believe it turned the game," Thomas said of the call. "I thought the momentum was starting to come our way, but after that intentional foul, the momentum came our way."

George Mason got all its points from starters, including 14 from junior guard Nicole Mitchell and 12 each from senior forward Kim Kenny and Thomas, who also had six assists. Mitchell had 10 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 steals.

Andrea White led Lancaster with 23 points, 13 rebounds, 6 steals and 5 assists.

Although the Mustangs play in the Bull Run District, they are not unknown among some of the larger schools in Northern Virginia. They beat four AAA schools this season -- Lake Braddock, Falls Church, Jefferson and Wakefield. This despite losing eight players off the 2008 state semifinal team.

"They know about us now," said Mitchell, the district player of the year.

George Mason 54, Lancaster 52

Up Next: George Mason will play defending champion Floyd County at 3 p.m. Saturday for the Virginia A title.

Finding Inspiration: Mustangs senior forward Kim Kenny, who said she has a tendency to get off to slow starts, scored six points between the 36-second mark of the second quarter and the 7:38 mark of the third. "Looking at the scoreboard, and looking at the fans, and looking at my teammates and thinking that I do not want to have the same result as I had last year," she said, referring to a 2008 state semifinal loss.

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