notched perhaps their biggest win in several years, knocking off reigning 3A state champs Cleveland in a SeaKing district playoff game, 65-62 at Bellevue College.
Despite missing two of their starters, senior forward Sarah Taylor and sophomore Christina Williamson, the Lady Islanders stayed within striking distance of the Cleveland Eagles (19-5) and pulled out the win in the final seconds of the game. The win also avenged their 55-57 loss to the Eagles last year in the state tournament.
"Our other kids really stepped up," said Islanders head coach Jamie Prescott.
(16-10) started slowly as Cleveland's all-star senior guard Cheyenne Wilson and junior forward Olivia Smith sprinted down the court on fast-breaks and steals for a quick 8-2 lead. The Islanders managed to somehow stay within 10 points for most of the first half, despite making just under 23 percent of their shots from the floor and turning the ball over 14 times. Senior guard Jae Shin was ice-cold from the 3-point line, going 1-for-6.
Foul trouble for the Eagles, however, began to play a significant role in the game. At halftime, 12 of the Islander's 23 points were scored from the free throw line as they trailed, 30-23.
In the second half, each team took to a full-court press as they looked to slow each other down, but the Eagles continued their high-tempo game and stretched their lead to 14 midway through the third quarter on a shot from Wilson, 37-23.
But the Lady Islander's fight back began in earnest on the next play. Mercer Island forward Kris Brackmann penetrated inside and was fouled on a lay-up, converting it for the three points. Cleveland supporters in the stand—vocal throughout the game— grew even louder in their criticism of the officiating team for calling more fouls against the Eagles in a physical game.
As the third quarter was ending, Eagles forward Bionna Hart was called for a technical foul after directing a comment toward one of the referees. Senior guard Halley Gullstad converted three of four shots and then Brackmann scored a trifecta from behind the arc, bringing the score to 39-40.
The Islanders sensed a comeback was on in the fourth quarter as the lead changed hands 11 times and was tied 7 times. Despite being outrebounded, 41-26, Mercer Island made most of their shots.
With less than a minute to play, Wilson stole the ball for a lay-up to push Cleveland ahead, 62-61. But two fouls on senior guard Halley Gullstad and a turnover on a traveling call doomed the Eagles.
Gullstad keyed the victory down the stretch as she was repeatedly fouled and converted 13 of 16 free throws. Overall, Mercer Island shot a remarkable 87.1 percent from the charity stripe.
"I think that we got outhustled physically at times in an emotionally challenging game for us," Prescott said after the game. "We've got to make sure we can rebound."
Gullstad led all scorers with 25 points and Brackmann had 21, while the Eagles were led by Wilson with 16 points and Makayla Roper with 13.
The victory secures a route to the first round of the 2010-11 WIAA/Dairy Farmers of Washington/Les Schwab Tires State Championships set for Feb. 25 and 26. The Lady Islanders can finish no worse than fourth in the SeaKing District Tournament, and depending on where they finish in the district tournament will play in either Bellevue, Auburn or Marysville.
Next for Mercer Island is the Seattle Prep Panthers (16-7), who defeated KingCo champs Mt. Si in Wednesday night's other game by a score of 52-43. The district semifinal is scheduled to tip off at 4:45 p.m. tomorrow, Feb. 17.