At the end of three quarters, the table was set for Poquoson High’s girls basketball team to advance to its first state semifinal in decades. The Islanders led George Mason by four points, benefiting from the support of a large and loud crowd that made the 40-minute drive to see them play in the Warhill High gym.
But over the final eight minutes, they ran into a determined and efficient foe that enjoyed a huge benefit of its own — lots of free throws. The Mustangs went to the free-throw line 13 times in the final quarter, making 12, and that proved to be the difference as they rallied to turn back the Islanders 51-42 in the Class 2 state quarterfinals.
Nicole Bloomgarden (13 points) and Maddie Lacroix led the way with four free throws each in the fourth quarter. Kaylee Hirsch, the Mustangs’ 6-foot center, made her only two free-throw attempts of the quarter and added two baskets to finish with a team-high 19 points.
“In our previous games when we were down, we felt we’d already lost,” Hirsch said. “Tonight we stressed discipline, being down, and we pushed ourselves forward to win.”
Poquoson led 35-29 on Sondra Fan’s basket off of a dish by Davah Headrick with 1:32 to play in the third quarter. Fan scored six of her game-high 22 points in the third quarter on strong drives to the basket despite intense defensive attention from the Mustangs.
But with the decibel level climbing, George Mason kept its poise and seized control of the game with a 13-point run that began late in the third quarter. Hirsch scored the first six points on a stickback, layup and two free throws.
Bloomgarden, the Mustangs’ point guard, scored the next five points, driving to the basket for a three-point play and a layup. Hirsch followed with a basket inside to give the Mustangs a 42-35 lead with 3:39 remaining.
By that point, the Islanders had been charged with eight fouls to the Mustangs’ three, a tally that would climb to 13-5 by game’s end. That clearly irked the Islanders, but their coach, Page Yarbrough, urged her players to battle through that.
“(Hirsch) is good,” Yarbrough said. “It helped that the foul count went with it, but you can’t do anything about that, so I told my girls they had to overcome it.
“They started driving more because we had to help out on (Hirsch).”
Hirsch was a big factor from the start, scoring 10 points in the first quarter. Fan countered with eight points, with three of her four baskets via drives into the lane, and the game was tied at 12 after a quarter.
Poquoson, and Fan in particular, looked for more inside in the second quarter for center Hope Jennings (13 points), who had three baskets. George Mason went outside a little more, getting two 3-pointers from Elizabeth Dodge, and led 26-24 at halftime.
Bloomgarden’s go-ahead basket in the final seconds of the half were her first points of the game. She would add 11 more in the second half as Poquoson was left to look back on its best season in years.
“These kids were freshmen when I came in (as assistant coach),” Yarbrough, the Islanders first-year head coach, said of seniors Fan and Jennings. “They’re my kids, my goofballs, and I’m going to miss them.”
Fan said, “It was a fun group. We always laughed, had fun and had a good time.
“It didn’t go our way tonight with the fouls, but we played hard.”
GEORGE MASON 51, POQUOSON 42
GEORGE MASON (22-6): Bloomgarden 13, Dodge 9, Douglas 4, Short 2, Lacroix 4, Hirsch 19. Totals 16 17-21 51.
POQUOSON (20-7): Jennings 13, Pinder 5, Fan 22, Headrick 2. Totals 16 6-6 42.
George Mason: 12, 14, 5, 20 – 51
Poquoson: 12, 12, 11, 7 – 42
3-point goals: George Mason 2 (Dodge 2), Poquoson 4 (Fan 2, Jennings, Pinder).
O’Brien can be reached by phone at 757-247-4963 and follow on Twitter @MartyOBrienDP