“Backs to the wall” was the phrase Mercer Island coach Gillian d’Hondt used to describe her girls basketball team’s loser-out situation on Saturday.
But judging from her team’s play on the hardwood, the Islanders appeared to be in more of a ‘back to business’ mindset.
Getting 35 points and nine rebounds from senior post player Anna Luce, Mercer Island rolled into the SeaKing district tournament quarterfinals with a 68-49 win over Eastside Catholic in their loser-out matchup Saturday at Mercer Island High School.
Coming off a KingCo championship loss to the rival Bellevue Wolverines two nights earlier, which was Mercer Island’s first loss to a Washington-state opponent this season, the Islanders (19-4) looked very much like the team that was previously 17-0 against in-state competition and riding a 12-game winning streak.
“I think honestly, it was one of the better things that could’ve happened,” Luce said of the loss. “I think it was kind of a wake-up call for the caliber of teams that are coming up. We’re used to beating teams by a lot and we really haven’t had a close game for a while, since [the Nike Tournament of Champions] in Arizona. So I think it was kind of what we needed to get refocused.”
d’Hondt called the KingCo championship loss “a gut check” for her group, but a good one.
“It showed us that we’re not invincible and we need to take care of business,” d’Hondt said. “We can’t just walk out there and expect to get a win.”
Against the Crusaders (10-11) on Saturday, Mercer Island led 16-8 after the first quarter and quickly extended its advantage to double digits, which the Islanders were able to maintain throughout the contest.
As a team, Mercer Island connected on 57 percent of its field goal attempts. Kailee Yan scored nine points for the Islanders, while Jessie Stenberg added seven points and Claire Mansfield dished out six assists.
d’Hondt said improved execution on the offensive end was a point of focus for her players as they looked to bounce back and keep their season alive.
“We weren’t ourselves on offense [against Bellevue], so we were looking to gain confidence and get back our chemistry, our teamwork and [get back to] reading the defense,” d’Hondt said. “I think we did a great job. Anything they threw at us tonight, we were picking it apart. We were playing together.”
Next, Mercer Island moves on to the double-elimination portion of the district tournament and will take on Rainier Beach (17-5) at 4 p.m. Tuesday at Chief Sealth High School. The winner will secure a berth to the 3A state regionals.