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Islanders Rally, Defeat Bellevue for KingCo Tourney Crown, 53-48

Mercer Island boys basketball stages comeback in the final minutes to seize back KingCo 3A/2A Championship from holders Bellevue Wolverines.

Quinn Sterling scored 15 points and used a game-closing 13-3 run to beat Bellevue 53-48 and win the KingCo tournament crown on Thursday night at Bellevue College.

The Wolverines led 45-40 with 4:15 remaining in the game, but Mercer Island held Bellevue to just one field goal the rest of the way to pull out the win.

"It was just a great defensive effort," Mercer Island guard Derek Newhoff said of the late rally by the Islanders. "We just started shutting them down, got some boards and executed on the offensive end."

Newhoff sealed the win with four clutch free throws in the final 20 seconds.

"I was just trying to focus, just the adrenaline was kicking in on me," Newhoff said. "The biggest free throws of my life, obviously, I had to knock them down."

The win ended Bellevue's two-year reign as tournament champs and gave Mercer Island its first tournament victory over the Wolverines since 2008.

"We struggled to beat Bellevue the last couple of years," Newhoff said. "It feels great to get a win."

Bellevue looked to be pulling away from Mercer Island when it began the fourth quarter on a 8-2 run to take a 45-40 run. But the Wolverines offense went quiet the rest of the way, making just one field goal over the final 5:45.

"We extended our defense and pressured them," Bellevue coach Chris O'Connor said of the fourth quarter. "Because of that maybe some of our shots were a little short, maybe we were a little tired in the fourth quarter."

The Islanders led 49-47 when Bellevue sent Mercer Island point guard Derek Newhof to the line with 20 seconds left to play. After Newhof converted the baskets into points, the Wolverine's Will Locke was called for traveling with 11 seconds left. Mercer Island made their free throw shots, effectively ending the game. 

Bellevue star Nate Sikma, who was named KingCo MVP after the game, was slowed all night by a constant stream of double-teams thrown at him by the Islanders. Sikma, who came in averaging over 18 points per game on the season, was held to just two in the first half and finishd with 12 for the game. The Islanders also held Bellevue guard Will Locke, who scored 25 in a win over Mount Si on Tuesday, to 11 points.

"We really wanted to pay attention to Locke and Sikma," Mercer Island head coach Gavin Cree said. "We did a pretty good job on both of those guys all night.:

For Mercer Island, the win was a welcome ending to what has been a tumultous and injury-filled conference season. Stars Quinn Sterling and Kaj Sherman missed significant chunks of time and third-option Brian Miller is still out with an injury.

"We just believed," Cree said of his teams mentality heading into the game. "We were ready to do it."

The Islanders certainly benefitted from the return of their two stars against Bellevue. Sterling made two three-pointers in the first quarter and finished with a team-high 15 points, while Sherman scored seven points in the fourth quarter and pulled down several rebounds down the stretch.

"He just draws a lot of attention," Cree said of Sherman. "Even if he's not scoring a ton, he's being effective."

Mercer Island began the game on a 8-0 run, but Bellevue quickly countered and the game was back-and-forth the rest of the way. There were seven lead changes and seven ties in the second half alone. Both teams threatened to take control with small runs, but neither led by more than 5 after halftime.

Bellevue will be a number-two seed and plays West Seattle on the Wolverine's home court in the first-round of the Sea-King district playoffs that begin on Saturday, Feb. 12. The win gives Mercer Island the number one seed from KingCo and a bye in the first round. The Islanders will play the winner of Saturday's Eastside Catholic-Chief Sealth game at 8:15 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 15 at Bellevue College.

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