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Mercer Island's upset bid comes up short | Prep boys basketball
There were three minutes left to go in the fourth quarter. The Islanders were down two. Mercer Island's student section was rocking.
This wasn't how it was supposed to go against nationally-ranked Rainier Beach.
Fighting its way back from a 16-point deficit in the second half, the Mercer Island boys basketball team used a second-half rally to scare reigning state champions Rainier Beach in Friday's regional-round matchup at Bellevue College. But the upset bid came up a few defensive stops short, as the Islanders lost to the Vikings, 61-55. The loss ended the season for the Mercer Island.
After the game, coach Gavin Cree said he never had a season-ending loss where he felt as proud and as happy with the efforts that his team put out, going up against a Rainier Beach team that, earlier in the week, was already making plans for a national prep tournament in New York.
“It was a championship effort. I couldn’t be more proud to be their coach,” Cree said of his team's effort. “We almost shocked the world tonight. If you polled every sportswriter in the state, they’d say Rainer Beach would win the state championship. And with all the talk about New York this week for them, going for that opportunity, we were ready. We never gave up. The effort was 100% and I can’t criticize anything they did effort-wise.”
Rainier Beach's shots were falling in the first quarter, as the Vikings jumped out to an early 8-2 lead. Mercer Island hung around, getting 7 first-quarter points from Kaleb Warner and a couple 3-pointers from Jake Stenberg to trail 19-15 after one. But the Islanders struggled to score in the second quarter, managing only baskets from Nick Taylor and Andrew Pickles to trail the Vikings 32-19 at the half.
In the second half, Mercer Island began to chip away at its deficit, getting 3-pointers from Stenberg, Warner and Pickles. A basket by Daniel Sims at the end of the third quarter cut the deficit to eight, with the Islanders trailing 47-39. The Vikings opened the fourth quarter with a 5-1 run to give Rainier Beach a 52-40 lead. But the Islanders responded with a 10-0 run, capped by back-to-back 3-point shots from Warner, bringing the score to 52-50 with three minutes to go. Drawing fouls and getting to the line, the Vikings were able to extend its lead to 56-50. A 3-pointer from Sims cut the deficit to 56-53 with just over a minute to go, but Rainier Beach's David Crisp answered with his third 3-pointer of the game, as the Vikings held on for the win. Warner led the Islanders in scoring with 18 points, while Pickles had 12 and Stenberg had 11.
Asked after the game if this was a final example this season that Mercer Island could play with anybody, Cree mentioned his team watched "Hoosiers" together the night before the game, with the point being that no one, not even the students at their school, thought the Islanders could win against Rainier Beach. "Our kids told them all week, 'yeah, we can,'" he said. "You have to play the game. It’s a team game. The team was prepared to play together and execute and play with a lot of heart, and that’s what can happen. Anybody can win those games."
And while Cree admitted his team wasn't feeling great after the season-ending loss, there were plenty of silver linings for the Islanders to take away from its loss to Rainier Beach, including the Islanders being announced the academic state champions in 3A boys basketball.
“They have nothing to hang their head about," said Cree. "Something we talk about a lot is be satisfied with the effort that you leave on the floor. When you walk off the floor, just be satisfied with what you gave to get the job done, and then you’re successful… that’s what success is. We were satisfied with our effort. It was certainly disappointing and we can look back at a couple plays, but we played like champions today and I'm really proud to be their coach.”
Mercer Island's Kaleb Warner drives past Rainier Beach’s Djuan Piper. (Photo by Joseph Livarchik)
Mercer Island coach Gavin Cree and Jake Stenberg head into a timeout celebrating a fourth-quarter 3-pointer by Kaleb Warner. (Photo by Joseph Livarchik)