Mount Vernon first-year boys basketball coach Bryan Hill is learning a lot about the school--and his team--in a short amount of time. Last night, in a 58-52 victory over Heritage (Hampton, Va.) in the Mount Vernon Christmas Tournament, he discovered the Majors can keep their composure down the stretch.

Mount Vernon (4-3) will play Phoebus of Hampton in the championship game. The Phantoms defeated Springbrook, 64-59, in the other semifinal.

Mount Vernon made 9 of 10 free throws in the final 1 minute 46 seconds to secure the victory. Sophomore guard Ryan Hughes made 5 of 6 while freshman guard Yemi Fadahunsi made all four of his free throws in that stretch.

"I am learning a lot about my team right now," Hill said. "We have talked a lot about finishing games strong and tonight we did that."

Following the game Hill briefly met Mike Skinner, the man for whom Mount Vernon's gym is named. Skinner is a former coach and assistant principal at the Alexandria school. Mount Vernon has won its tournament 10 times, though its last title was in 1989. The Majors are 0-4 in title games since then, including a loss to McNamara last year.

Springbrook (6-1) is the only Montgomery County public school to have played in the tournament in its 25-year history. The Blue Devils made their fourth appearance in the tournament this year. A victory in the third-place game tonight against Heritage would mark their best finish.

"We come here because it is a really tough tournament," Springbrook Coach Bob Cilento said. "It gives us a chance to see some different teams and different styles of play."

Springbrook trailed 17-14 following a three-point field goal by Blue Devils junior Anthony Brown with 2:02 left in the first quarter. But the Phantoms went on a 23-7 run and took a 40-21 lead--their largest of the game--following a field goal by Alexie Carroll with 3:10 left in the first half.

Springbrook eventually closed to 62-59 following another three-point field goal by Brown with 34.2 seconds left in the game. But Phoebus senior Dominique Strickland made two free throws on the Phantoms' next possession for a 64-59 lead. The Blue Devils would get no closer.

In consolation bracket games earlier yesterday, No. 18 Lee defeated Hayfield, 48-44, and T.C. Williams defeated West Potomac, 51-41.