Islanders roll out ‘red carpet’ for Lagerstedt | Taylor is clutch in win against Raiders

Longtime Mercer Island assistant coach Paul Lagerstedt, now with Thomas Jefferson, visits with an old friend prior to the boys basketball game on Jan. 28 at Mercer Island High School. - Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter
Longtime Mercer Island assistant coach Paul Lagerstedt, now with Thomas Jefferson, visits with an old friend prior to the boys basketball game on Jan. 28 at Mercer Island High School.
— image credit: Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter

For 12 years, Paul Lagerstadt made the drive from Tacoma to Mercer Island as an assistant coach for the Mercer Island High School boys basketball team before calling it quits after last season. He returned to the Island on Wednesday with his new team, Thomas Jefferson High School, and received a red carpet return off the court and a loss on the court, 50-44.

“They are a lot nicer before the game than during,” said Lagerstadt. “It is really cool. I miss everything about this place. I am a bit sentimental.”

The Islander coaching staff was a bit sentimental as well. A big red piece of crate paper was taped to the floor in the visitors’ locker room with a message written on it: “We are rolling out the red carpet, welcome back coach Lagerstadt.”

“We wanted to make sure he went into the right locker room,” joked Mercer Island coach Ed Pepple. “It is nice to have him back, but it is a catch 22. We want him to be happy, but not too happy.”

The only unhappy people in the gymnasium were the Raider players, and that feeling was constant through most of the game.

Jefferson was held scoreless through the first 3:30 minutes of the game, as Mercer Island finished the first quarter with a 13-5 lead, thanks to Islanders Quinn Sterling and Jon Poli. Sterling finished the first quarter with four rebounds and four points, while Poli had four rebounds and hit a long three-pointer.

A drive to the basket, followed by a lay-in by Islander Gabe Fruchter, gave Mercer Island its biggest lead of the game at 29-16 toward the end of the half. But the Raiders would come back during the second half.

Jefferson utilized strong defense to make a run and tie the game at 40-40 at the beginning of the fourth quarter.

Lagerstadt gave the Raiders an edge and Mercer Island a challenge it rarely sees.

“They knew a lot of what we were going to do, so it was a good test for us,” said Pepple. “We dug down deep. We are gaining experience down the stretch, and our defense did well to hold them to 44 points.”

The tie would be the closest that Jefferson would get to Mercer Island, thanks to some clutch shooting by Island senior Robbie Taylor.

Mercer Island’s first points of the fourth quarter would not come until 2:35 into the period, when Poli made two free throws. The 6-foot-3 Poli led his team with three three-pointers and 13 points overall.

But with the game tied at 42-42, Poli found Taylor and kicked the ball out to him for a long three-pointer, giving the Islanders a big advantage in a defensive struggle.

“I have confidence in my stroke,” said Taylor. “I knew if I got the shot, I would knock it down.”

Taylor would also hit two free throws with 49 seconds remaining.

“He didn’t really have a chance to shoot earlier in the game, but he was clutch for us,” said Pepple.

A turnover by the Raiders with less than 30 seconds raining in the game would finish any hopes of overtime.

Mercer Island was led by Peter Zajac on Friday, when the team defeated Interlake 59-38.

The Islanders hosted rival and league leader Bellevue on Tuesday (after Reporter deadline). Mercer Island will play at Sammamish High School as a part of a quadruple header. Tip time is scheduled for 8 p.m.

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