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Bellevue, MI battle for D-1 supremacy in boys lacrosse
A comeback for the ages, a miracle goal in the waning seconds of regulation, an overtime heart-stopper for the win and a little gamesmanship...and all in front of a crowd of over 2,600. That was the story the last time Bellevue and Mercer Island faced off in boys lacrosse. That win for the Wolverines not only gave them their first win over MI since 2002 but a state championship over a previously undefeated Islander squad in the most important match of the season.
This time around, it's the Islanders with the chip on their shoulders and the defending state champs will need to find a way to combat the intensity MI is certain to bring to Bellevue Stadium on Thursday night. "I believe the intensity is going to be high, it always is with a Bellevue-Mercer Island game," Bellevue coach John Baumann said. "It should be quality lacrosse on both sides."
Both teams have begun the season playing exactly that, overwhelming in-state foes and putting the quality of Washington lacrosse on the main stage with wins over high quality opponents from Nevada and Oregon in the Northwest Invitational.
Baumann talked about the importance of the tournament for his team as well as the Islanders.
"It's great experience for clubs like Bellevue and MI because we get high quality opponents coming to us out of state," Baumann said. "It just makes us a little sharper and keeps us at a higher level."
But there is no doubt both teams realize the road to a state title runs along a one mile stretch of Westbound I-90.
"They are a very good, talented team," said Mercer Island coach Ian Ohearn of the Wolverines. "We respect them."
Baumann added, "Some of the best players and coaches [in the area] will be on the field Thursday night."
As for an advantage, look for the more seasoned Islanders, with their 14 seniors, to press Bellevue from the start and try to force the younger Wolverines into mistakes. Baumann said he expects the team that can avoid those critical errors to come out on top in what looks to be a toss-up going in. "The team that plays cleaner between the lines is definitely going to get more opportunities," Baumann said. "Both teams can score, we have a little more youth and they have a little more experience."
While some are touting the game as a "bloody battle...perhaps on the level of Gettysburg" both coaches downplayed the importance of last year's contest on how their respective teams have prepared for this contest.
"We don't play on anger, we just play to get better," Baumann said.
Ohearn said his team has not talked about or focused on their near-miss in the 2010 title game a great deal and is instead preparing for what is certain to be a very competitive contest on Thursday night.
Bellevue is approaching the game with the same mindset.
"We just want to take care of business and we realize it's just another game," Baumann said. "Of course we want to win these games in March but clearly it's not the end of the world [if we don't]; we lost to them in the regular season last year and ended up getting them in the playoffs."
Bellevue-Mercer Island: Between the lines
Game: Bellevue VS Mercer Island Lacrosse; Thursday 3/31 @ Bellevue Stadium, 8p.m.
Key Matchup: How will the revamped Bellevue attack fare against the Islanders defense? The Wolverines have had little trouble finding the back of the net early on, scoring 11 or more goals in three of their first five contests. But against Palo Verde, a state runner-up in Nevada last season, the Wolverines managed a season low six goals. The good news? Baumann's squad was able to clamp down on defense, allowing a meager three goals to the visitors.
X-Factor: Both coaches stressed the respect they have for the other program and there is no reason to believe they were being dishonest. But in the Islanders case, there simply has to be some lingering resentment flowing to the other sideline. Not only was Mercer Island unscathed entering the 2010 state title game, they had a lead most of the night and surrendered a goal in the final minute that forced overtime. Then there was the penalty against Conner Beckwith for illegal netting in his stick to begin the extra frame, which was rather unpopular with the Islanders and pointed out to the officials by Baumann. There is little if any doubt that the 14 MI seniors will use the last matchup as motivation heading into tonight. Can the younger Wolverines find a way to match the ferocity that MI is certain to bring? Or will the Islanders exact a measure of revenge and set the tone for the playoff match that is almost certain to ensue later this year?