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Girls take first KingCo tourney title ever
Mercer Island sophomore Hailey Gullstad began the KingCo tournament with an injured back and groin. She finished it with cotton swabs in both nostrils, ice on her back and a big smile on her face. Gullstad and the Islander girls basketball team survived everything that Bellevue and Liberty could throw at them to capture the school’s first KingCo tournament championship.
“It’s like our principal says, pound-for-pound she is the toughest kid in the school,” said Mercer Island coach Jamie Prescott, who shared ‘coach of the year’ honors with two other coaches.
The Islanders pushed through during the semifinals to defeat Bellevue for the second time this season, 46-44. Gullstad and Kate DaPron led the Islanders with 10 points each, but it was the Islander center who stole the show with six blocked shots.
“It was more being in the right place at the right time,” said DaPron.
Senior Janelle Chow also scored nine points and was voted to the tournament’s first team.
The Islanders held a slim four-point lead at the half before the Wolverines overwhelmed Mercer Island during the third period. Bellevue’s 22 third-quarter points were more than Mercer Island scored during the entire first half. Despite the outburst, Bellevue led by just seven points heading into the final eight minutes of play. Behind DaPron’s command of the key and freshman Heidi Black’s six defensive rebounds, which prevented Bellevue from gaining second-chance shots, Mercer Island stifled Bellevue’s offense and managed to come from behind.
The win put Mercer Island into the finals for the second consecutive year, this time against Liberty, a team that they defeated twice during the regular season. Liberty was one team that the Islanders had success against in the key, but the Patriots proved to be ready for the challenge. The Islanders struggled to score during the first half as inside shots misfired during the first 14 minutes of the game.
“I just couldn’t find my target when I could get a shot off,” said DaPron.
Liberty took its largest lead of the game at 20-11, as the Islanders looked lost before Chow hit a long three-pointer to end the 9-0 run. With just 2:43 remaining in the half, Mercer Island shot 7-for-26 from the floor. The Islanders decided to go outside with their offense. The team would score three consecutive three-pointers, coupled with a free throw, which cut the lead to points, 25-24, at the half.
The Islanders continued to barrage from the outside as the game got more and more physical. They took their first lead of the game, 28-27, on a Gullstad three-pointer, since a 1-0 advantage to start the game. Gullstad and teammate Jae Shin combined for four three-pointers during the third as Mercer Island built its biggest lead of the game, 41-33.
Another three by Gullstad gave Mercer Island a 58-49 advantage during the fourth before Liberty went on a 7-0 run. A hard foul on Gullstad, the second in three possessions, gave Mercer Island definitive control of the game and the victory, 60-56.
“Everyone deals with injuries,” said Gullstad, who was voted to the tournament’s first team. “You just have to push through.”
Along with the No. 1 seed to districts, Mercer Island will get some needed time off to rest. The first-round bye means that Mercer Island will play its first district game on Saturday.
“It is much better this year,” said Chow about making it to districts. “We made school history, and it feels great.”