Boys basketball second at tourney

By Matt Phelps

The Mercer Island boys basketball team traveled south over the break and came within three points of taking the championship during the Don Bambauer Memorial Christmas Classic held in Kentfield, Calif.

``The coaching staff was pleased with the progress the team made as the tournament went on,'' said Mercer Island head coach Ed Pepple. ``We played three really good teams and were obviously disappointed with the result, but not the effort.''

During the third period of the title game Thursday, the Islanders scored just seven points, as their opponents, Willowridge High School from Houston, took advantage.

``We got behind 16 points late during the third and made a strong comeback,'' said Pepple. ``We got their lead all the way down to three points and had the ball with an opportunity to tie the game, but it didn't quite work out.''

The Islanders outscored their opponents 14-4 during the final period. But the opportunity to tie the game, for the first time since the first quarter, was stripped from them as a steal for Willowridge led to two points and the title, 52-47.

``We had a lot of guys show promise and defense continues to be a bright spot,'' said Pepple. ``But we have to create more offense. We are still looking for a few of our guys to step up.''

The Islanders were led by Alex Stuck with 16 points and Noah Blakney with 15 points. Only three other players scored.

Mercer Island made a big statement during the opening game with a 77-48 victory over Vintage High School from Napa, Calif., on Dec. 27.

Blakney, Kristof and Ryan Iani all scored 14 points for the Islanders as every player on the team scored during the game. Blakney pulled down nine rebounds and was 6-for-6 from the free-throw line. Mercer Island's defense smothered Vintage and helped the Islanders to a 39-19 halftime lead.

Mercer Island made a big fourth-quarter push to get past its quarterfinal's opponent, Kennedy High School from California, 52-41. The Islanders began the game with a lead but never took complete control. Mercer Island held a four-point lead at the half, 19-15. Kennedy cut that lead to just two heading into the final period.

The Islanders found a little extra offense during the fourth quarter, scoring as many points as they had during the first and third quarters combined. The 22 fourth period points, combined with strong defense, gave the Islanders the win. Iani led the team with 14 points, while Blakney had 13 and Kristof had 10. The Islanders had balanced scoring, as seven players scored during the game.

The Islanders played a close semifinals game with the hometown team, Marin Catholic, earning a 60-57 victory in overtime.

Marin Catholic started the game with fire, outscoring the Islanders during the first period 21-12. Mercer Island cut that lead in half before the end of the second quarter. Strong defense allowed the Islanders to complete the comeback and take their first lead of the game 40-39 to start the fourth period. Marin would tie the game during the fourth quarter to send the contest to overtime, where the Islanders outscored their opponents 9-6.

Mercer Island was led by 21 points from Blakney and 11 points for David Kelley and Kristof.

``We have a lot of young guys with no varsity experience prior to this year,'' said Pepple. ``David Kelley and Carter Newhof really stepped it up during the tournament. Kramer Aspiri came off the bench and played well in California. He earned himself more minutes.''

Blankey and Kristof were named to the All Tournament Team and combined for 106 points during the four games.

``They are both consistent and great leaders for this team,'' said Pepple. ``We just need a little more consistency on offense over all and we will be right in the KingCo title hunt.''

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