It has been a battle this season for the Mercer Island girls basketball team. The team that fought its way into the KingCo tournament, then battled uphill through the district tournament, only to face one of the top teams in the must win regional round. The season long battle paid off on Friday night when the Islanders beat Everett, the No. 1 team out of District 1. The final score was 57-44 for Mercer Island.
"In our pre game talk I told the girls we've had a lot of ups and downs this year, on and off the floor. So yeah this is validation of that," said Islanders head coach Kaela Yuen. "We've had a lot of grind it out practices this year and hard games, tough losses. It feels like it's all worth it."
Mercer Island had the first points on the board during the game against Everett at Glacier Peak High School on Feb. 22, but the Seagulls offense kept grinding away to a 12-8 lead at the end of the first quarter. Though Mercer Island kept battling for points in the second quarter, Everett's three-point shooting got hot and gave the Gulls a 28-22 advantage at halftime.
But it was a game of two-halves and the Islanders came out swinging in the second.
"I think we just made a few adjustments and put our game plan out there and really committed to it. That was the difference," said the coach.
In the third quarter, the Islanders pushed back, scoring 18 points while holding Everett to eight to take a 40-36 lead going into the final minutes.
As the Islanders pulled farther ahead, Everett kept fouling, but even that didn't go the Gulls way as the Islanders sunk their free throws. In the final minutes, the Islanders scored 17 points, while Everett hit just eight, marking the different between a trip to the Dome and a trip home.
Strong defense from the Islanders was another difference maker in the game.
"I was really shocked by how many blocks we had out there," said the coach. "We're not usually that team and I don't want them to get comfortable blocking those shots. It was very much a team effort."
Senior Kris Brackmann scored a team high of 17 points in the game, while Rachael Tessem had 14 before fouling out and sister Renae Tessem added 11 points. Jessica Blakeslee posted seven points in the win, while Jamie Mounger had four and both Julia Blumenstein and Suri Johnson had two.
The Islanders, now one of the top eight teams in the state, will play at the Tacoma Dome Thursday morning.
Until Thursday, Yuen wants the team to take a look at Friday's game and remember what that win took.
"I think the heart that which we need to play, all the teams are good so it's really just a matter of will. Who wants it more. We do play with a lot of heart," said the coach.
Mercer Island is set to face Wilson in the first round of the final eight at 10:30 a.m. on Thursday, Feb. 28. Wilson, 22-2, was the Narrows 3A champions with a perfect 12-0 league record.
The winner of Thursday's game at the Tacoma Dome will play on Friday, March 1 will play the winner of the Kamiakin vs. Seattle Prep game at 3:45 p.m. The loser will play the loser of the Kamiakin vs. Seattle Prep game on March 1 at either 9 or 10:30 a.m.