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MI boys basketball advances to state
Loss to Rainier Beach leaves Islanders with
No. 2 seed from 3A Sea-King District
Mercer Island Reporter
The last time the Mercer Island boys basketball team qualified for state, the current players were still attending Islander Middle School.
But the longest drought in 46 years came to an end as the Islanders defeated Seattle Prep 46-45, Feb. 25, at Bellevue Community College.
“I am not usually at a loss for words,” said Islander Drew Sexton. “We all had one goal and the entire community has been incredible. We have been dreaming of this since middle school.”
Rainier Beach defeated Mercer Island during the district title game, 53-47, leaving the Islanders with the No. 2 seed.
Against Prep, the Islanders jumped out to a 13-9 lead as Mercer Island senior Matt Schut scored on a breakaway. It was the only lead that was more than one basket during the first quarter. Islander Drew Sexton led Mercer Island with seven points during the first frame.
But the Panthers would answer with defense, shutting Mercer Island out during the first 4:30 of the second quarter.
“I think we set a record for air balls,” said Mercer Island coach Ed Pepple.
The Islanders had five airballs during the contest.
Despite only making three baskets from the floor during the second quarter, the Islanders only trailed Seattle Prep by 21-20 at the half.
“We have really learned how to win this year and play as a team,” said Schut.
Islander Leroy Lutu, who returned to the Islander lineup after missing a game with an ankle injury, was nonexistent on the scoreboard during the first half. But Lutu would reemerge when the Islanders needed him most.
The Islanders would take their first lead since the second quarter, following a pair of free throws by Lutu and a basket by Sexton, 26-24.
A bounce pass from Islander Evan Zahniser set up Lutu with a long three-pointer that gave Mercer Island its largest lead of the game at 33-27.
“[Lutu] is a money player,” said Pepple. “He is a bit hyper sometimes, and I had to settle him down. But we couldn’t have beaten them without him.”
The jolt from Lutu’s shot, along with six points from Sexton, gave the Islanders a 37-35 lead at the end of three quarters.
But like a great prize fight, both teams refused to stay down. A tie at 39-39 was met by another Lutu three-pointer. Prep came back to get within one point at 46-45. With 43.7 seconds remaining, Prep opted to hold the ball for the last shot, draining the clock down to nine seconds. The shot went up with three Panther players under the basket, but Islander Sam Rasmussen came up with the rebound with 5.6 seconds left to clinch the victory.
“I got lucky, and then just tried to hold on,” said Rasmussen.
The win was sweetened by the fact that Prep had defeated Mercer Island last year at districts, contributing to the Islanders exit from the postseason play.
“My first thought was, ‘This is nice payback,’” said Schut.
Islanders get beached in second half
The Islander boys entered the district title game with an undefeated mark against teams from Washington state this season. That run would come to an end, thanks to a dismal second half.
Ironically, the last time Mercer Island played for the district title in 2004 was against Beach, and they lost. But it was also the last time they qualified for state.
The maximum-capacity crowd at Bellevue Community College watched as Mercer Island out played the Vikings during the first half. The Islanders adjourned to locker rooms for halftime with a 32-23 advantage. The team’s biggest lead of the first half was 13 points, and the Islanders looked certain to run away with the title.
But the second half was a nightmare for the Islanders as Beach clamped down on defense. The Vikings took their first lead of the game at 40-39 and never looked back as Mercer Island hit just five shots from the floor during the entire second half.
The frustration of the Islanders came out when Mercer Island senior Jack Gala fouled out and then got a technical foul levied against him for arguing the call.
The Islanders were led by Lutu with 13 points.
The Islanders will start the 3A state tournament today as they take on Columbia River during the first round of state at Key Arena in Seattle at 12:30 p.m.
“I am so relieved that we achieved one of our biggest goals,” said Schut. “Now we can build on it.”