With victories in the district playoffs, the "comeback kids" from girls basketball nearly knocked off top-ranked Holy Names Academy in the Sea-King District 2 final, fading in the final seconds of the game to a 59-68 loss.
Holy Names (25-0) came into the game having only once faced a serious challenge to their in the regular season with a 49-45 win away at Seattle Prep. Their players are being recruited by Cal-Berkeley and Pacific, among others. And the crowd was dominated by the Holy Names Cougars faithful. Maureen Mclaughlin—watching her niece #32 Chalayia Fuller contribute from the bench—was one of about a dozen family members wearing homemade "Chay's Fan Club" t-shirts. She was pretty confident of a Holy Names win at halftime as they led Mercer Island by 14 points, 32-18.
"I pay $6 to come to every game, and they win every game by 40," she said.
But at several points in the third an fourth quarter, the game was wide-open for the Islanders' taking.
Clawing their way back from a 19-point defecit, the Mercer Island (17-11) renaissance began in the third quarter with a Jae Shin 3-pointer. Her trey sparked a 22-7 run as the Islanders roared back to 40-44 with less than 2 minutes to play in the quarter. On the next possession, the Islanders forced a turnover and Shin—who finished leading all scorers with 23 points—missed a three pointer off the rim. Mercer Island rebounding gave her another chance, but Shin was body checked on a non-call at the top of the key as the ball slipped through to Islander Sarah Taylor, who was also fouled. Taylor missed both foul shots as the Islanders shot less than 70 percent from the free-throw line.
In the fourth quarter the Islanders kept driving the ball inside on contested lay-ups and smart passing from Hailey Gullstad, penetrating through the Holy Names defense and drawing fouls. Two Taylor free-throws brought Mercer Island within a point, 46-47 to start the fourth quarter and the Islanders threatened to grab the lead several times, only to be undone by an errant pass or a steal by the Cougars star backcourt of seniors Claire Conricode and Erika Johnson (6 steals combined). Gullstad, in particular, seemed drained after running at full steam in four games over the past week.
But Mercer Island's Shin was tireless in unlocking the Holy Names defense. After a shot was blocked by Cougars forward Kayla Warren, the Mercer Island co-captain returned seconds later with a trey to bring the Islanders within 3, 58-55. Following another forced turnover, Gullstad was fouled and hit one-of-two free-throws for a 57-58 scoreline. For over a minute, neither team could hold the ball for a full possession as they scrambled back and forth, until Warren grabbed a turnover and drove to the basket for the score with 1:13 to play.
The Islanders were actually handed a chance to come back within a basket when Holy Names head coach Lee Adams drew a technical foul for substituting in senior forward Alexis Reichelt. She had been absent for the entire season with a torn ACL and wasn't on the player's roster for the game. But Shin missed a three-point attempt and the injured Reichelt got an open look at the basket to hit the final basket—a 3-pointer—with seconds to play.
The loss sends Mercer Island into a WIAA 3A State Championship regional playoff against Glacier Peak on Friday, Feb. 25 (game time TBA) at Marysville-Pilchuck High School. The state tournament regional is for the right to play at the 2011 Hardwood Classic Tournament at the Tacoma Dome, scheduled to begin March 3.
For a more complete report of the game, see reporter Ryan Rouillard's game wrap-up at Mercer Island High School's The Islander newspaper website.