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Mercer Island boys place fourth at Seahawk Classic | Prep boys basketball
The Mercer Island boys basketball team returned Tuesday, Dec. 31 from the Redondo Beach holiday tournament after posting a 2-2 record against competition from around the state of California. The 16-team Sea Hawk Redondo Beach Classic took place Dec. 26-30.
“Traveling with our team over the holiday break is always a critical part of our development every season," said coach Gavin Cree. "Not only do we get to spend time together focused solely on basketball and team bonding, but we also have the opportunity to play against a high level of competition. We were definitely tested on this trip and expect to use that experience to propel us in the second half of the year.”
The Islanders first game was Thursday, Dec. 26 against Palisades High School from Los Angeles, a school with over 2,700 students. The Islanders overcame a sluggish start and pulled away late for a 54-45 victory. Chris Lawler, Kaleb Warner and Andrew Pickles led a balanced scoring attack with 16, 14 and 11 points, respectively.
Friday’s quarterfinal was a back-and-forth affair between the Islanders and John Muir High School from Pasadena. The Islanders went on a second-half run to lead 45-35, but the Mustangs staged a furious rally to take a 52-51 lead with less than a minute to play. An untimely technical foul on Muir allowed the Islanders to convert a couple free throws and escape with a 53-52 victory. Warner led the Islanders with 23 points, followed by Lawler with 12.
Saturday’s semifinal showdown was against host team and defending California state champions Redondo Union High School, another larger schoolwith approximately 2,300 students. The Redondo Sea Hawks featured returning league co-MVP Ian Fox and 6-foot-8-inch, 270 lb. center Terrell Carter. Redondo’s pressure defense and tempo was too much for Mercer Island in the first half. Poor shooting and multiple turnovers allowed Redondo to race to a 19-point halftime lead at 37-18, with Fox accounting for 16 of Redondo's first half point total. In the second half, Mercer Island's defense improved and the team caught fire from long distance to pull within 10 at 49-39 at the end of the three quarters. The hot shooting continued in the fourth quarter, as Lawler and Jake Stenberg combined for six 3-pointers to close the gap to four points with less than four minutes to play. But Redondo answered hitting a pair of late threes to hold off the Islanders and claim a 64-57 victory. Lawler led the Islanders with 21 points, followed by Stenberg with 18, 16 coming in the second half.
“I was really proud of the way we came storming back in the second half against such a strong opponent,” said Cree. “You don’t win the state championship in California’s open division without being pretty darn good. We realized that we can beat anybody that night.”
The loss put the Islanders in the third place game on Monday against Sacred Heart Cathedral from San Francisco. The Islanders fell behind early again, mounted a late rally to close within five before losing 58-50 and settling for fourth place. “We kind of ran out of gas in our last game,” said Cree. “We expect more from ourselves than what we showed against Sacred Heart. We will learn from that one.”
Redondo Union defeated Bishop Montgomery 63-56 in the championship game. Carter was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player, while Lawler was named to the All Tournament Team.
Coach Cree was pleased with the Islanders effort in stretches but hopes for more consistency as the team returns home to resume KingCo league play in January. “We learned a lot about our team on this trip and came home with an idea of where we need to improve both individually and as a team," he said. "We’re looking forward to the challenge.”
The team’s overall record is now 8-2 with the next two games on the road at Lake Washington Tuesday, Jan. 7 and Bellevue Friday, Jan. 10.