Story Courtesy of George Mason
FAIRFAX, Va. – The road to L.A. came to an end on Thursday night when the George Mason Patriots had their dream season conclude with a 3-1 loss to the Princeton Tigers. The Patriots got 41 assists from senior Brian Negron and double-digit kills from RS-senior Christian Malias and sophomore Kyle Barnes, but the x-factor was Princeton's .327 hitting.
Malias completed his illustrious career by tallying his 30th career match of double-digit kills and finished his time in Fairfax with 30 matches of 10 or more to his credit.
Graduate student Johnny Gomez tallied 14 digs to lead the match, the fifth time this season he's recorded that amount. The Indialantic, Fla. native will finish fifth in program history with 723 digs, and total 947 at the DI/II level.
Senior Brian Negron logged 41 assists to finish his career at 3,684 (second all-time in school history) at an average of 9.77. Negron also notched eight digs Thursday night to tie his season high, and logged the team's lone ace.
Sophomore Bryce Gatling led the Patriots by factoring into six blocks to tie his career high. The sophomore finished the season as the team leader in blocks per set at 0.97 and second in total blocks at 59.0 – all in just 61 sets played.
"First of all, hats off to Princeton. Sam Shweisky is like a brother to me and his team played extremely well tonight," head coach Jay Hosack said. "I look at the body of work we put together this season, I look at the accolades – obviously, this was not the way we wanted to end the season, but I could not be more proud of my guys, I could not be more proud of my staff, and I could not be more proud of our fans. We have the best fans in the country."
Three straight blocks kick-started the Patriots in the opening set to a 5-2 lead, with Gatling factoring into all of them. The teams exchanged 3-0 runs which set up the temporary point patterns which would ensue. However, the turning point was a 5-0 run by the Tigers that put them up 16-13 and forced a Patriots' timeout. Princeton built off its momentum with a 4-0 run late in the set to extend the lead to 23-16. Barnes staved off a match point with his third kill of the frame, but no comeback was sparked from the play as the Tigers won 25-17.
George Mason continued the physical play at the net and got back-to-back blocks from Jack Reese to go up 7-4 early. Princeton tied it up with a 3-0 run at 7-7, and the teams traded points all the way to the 17-17 mark. After Princeton went up 18-17, the Patriots swung momentum back in their favor with a 3-0 run that was capped off with a block from Gatling and Travis O'Gorman. Up 20-18, the Patriots' two-point lead was a large enough cushion to stay ahead and in charge the rest of the set, one that the Green and Gold took 25-22.
The third set began with Mason's first ace of the night, courtesy of Negron. The tightly-contested play carried over to set number three with the squads battling back and forth to the 11-11 mark. The Tigers grabbed the first 3-0 run of the stanza to go up 14-11 and force a Mason timeout. The Green and Gold were down by as many as five at the 21-16 mark, but fought back by posting a 5-0 run to tie the score at 22-22. With the newfound circumstances of first team to score three wins the set, Princeton did that and went up 2-1 in the match with a 25-23 set three win.
Princeton went up 4-1 in the fourth set and never looked back. The Tigers benefited from six kills out of the hand of Greg Luck and maintained at least a two-point lead the entire frame. The Tigers' lead got to seven at 24-17 after a 4-0 run. Just as they've done all season, the Patriots refused to quit and battled back by stringing together a 3-0 run with kills from Negron and Barnes. It wouldn't get any closer at 24-20, as the Tigers claimed the final point to win the set 25-20 and advance to the EIVA finals with a 3-1 win.
George Mason will return three All-EIVA winners to the 2019 roster, including two first-team selections in Hayden Wagner and Kyle Barnes. The Patriots currently have three incoming freshmen to replace the roster spots of Malias, Negron and Gomez.
BEYOND THE BOX SCORE
• The Patriots had two players with double-digit kills for the 15th time this season.
• Johnny Gomez got credit for a kill, his fourth of the season.
• Sophomore Hayden Wagner finishes as the team leader with 306 kills, RS-freshman Jack Reese finishes at the team leader in blocks with 77.