A furious fourth-quarter comeback bid by the Grace Brethren Christian School boys basketball team wasn't enough Saturday night.
The Eagles, behind most of the game, were unable to overcome missed shots and overmatched size. After 32 minutes of physical play, the defending Potomac Valley Athletic Conference champions lost the crown to the McLean School, 58-52.
Saturday's contest at Thomas S. Wootton High School was a rematch of the 2012 PVAC championship, but this year's outcome was different.
The Mustangs used their height advantage and fast-break skills to largely dominate the younger and smaller Eagles for much of the game.
“It was a great defensive game,” Grace Brethren coach Tony Cabbagestalk said.
He said his team, playing without any seniors, faced a challenge with the older and bigger Mustangs. But he said the experience would pay off in the future.
“We have five juniors and seven sophomores,” he said. “We're definitely looking forward to next year and we'll be right back here next year.”
Grace Brethren partisans had little to cheer about during the opening quarter until Michael Lepzam broke the ice with the Eagles' first field goal with less than a minute to play. Those points, together with three free throws, eased the pressure applied by McLean, which had scored nine quick points and ended the period with 13.
The Mustangs protected their lead with dominance in the lane and with several blocked shots.
McLean's greater size and strength, as well as successful shooting, kept them ahead, although the Eagles outscored the Mustangs in the second and third quarters.
Momentum started to change, however, as McLean's shooting cooled and the Eagles answered the Mustangs' aggression with drive and stiff defense. The Eagles' effort was punctuated by Desmond Brogsdale, who made a field goal as the third quarter buzzer sounded to bring his team within three, 45-42.
Pushing aside a free throw by the Mustangs, the now emboldened Eagles pushed hard as the final period opened. A 3-pointer by Jordan Berry brought them within one point of McLean.
With 6 minutes, 50 seconds left to play, A.J. Cabbagestalk gave his team their first lead of the contest and a chance to win.
The Mustangs, though, weren't rattled. They recovered the lead, 50-49, with 3:04 remaining and never gave it up. Grace Brethren was forced to foul three times to get a chance at the ball and the Mustangs iced their victory with free throws.
After he accepted the championship banner, Mustangs' third-year coach Omar Griffin was pleased.
“It was a very good game — a little bit closer than I would have liked it to have been — but they pulled it out,” he said with a laugh. “That's sometimes how we play. We don't always blow the team out and make it easy for ourselves.”
Griffin said he tried to leverage his players' size and strength.
“That's just the way we play,” he said. “We have a lot of athletes and we try to get it up and down the floor. We try to be physical.”
Two Mustangs — Jordan Young and Donte Hobbs — shared the tournament's Most Valuable Player honor, which was presented at center court after the game.
Young led all scorers with 19 points.
Hobbs added 13 points, including three crowd-pleasing dunk baskets.
Griffin also praised his co-MVPs.
“They maintained control of the ball, they finished their layups and made their foul shots. That was definitely the difference in the game.”
McLean was the top seed going into the tournament, while Grace Brethren came in as the No. 2 seed.
McLean 58, Grace Brethren 52
McLean 13 14 18 13 — 58
Grace Brethren 5 15 23 9 — 52
McLean (21-3; 18-2): Jordan Young 19; Darrel Barbee 14; Donte Hobbs 13; Walter English 8; JoJo McKay 4.
Grace Brethren (21-11; 15-4): Desmond Brogsdale 16; A.J. Cabbagestalk 15; Jordan Berry 8; Micheal Lepzam 8; Michael Grey 5.