On some nights, the shots just don’t fall.
Such was the case for the Mercer Island boys basketball team in the Islanders’ SeaKing district loser-out matchup against Ballard Saturday night. After taking a four-point lead into the game’s final period, the Islanders went cold down the stretch. Mercer Island hit one of 10 shot attempts in the fourth quarter, as Ballard came back to end the Islanders’ season with a 41-37 win at Mercer Island High School.
As a team, Mercer Island connected on 29.5 percent of its field goals throughout the contest.
“We expected to move on. We respected Ballard, they’ve been on an amazing run. They play in a great league and we weren’t overlooking them at all. They just made a few more plays than we did,” Mercer Island coach Gavin Cree said. “It was not a great offensive game for either team. I think you could credit both defenses for good game planning and taking away the strengths of certain players.”
Defensively, the Islanders (14-9) looked to limit Ballard senior wing Simon Czyzewski, who the evening prior, had a big scoring night and hit a game-winner against Chief Sealth. Though Mercer Island managed to force the Beavers (8-16) into shooting woes of their own, the Islanders had their hands full with Ballard point guard Fresh Ausar, who led all scorers with 25 points. Early and often, Ausar found his way into the paint, scoring off a variety of floaters and layups.
“We didn’t defend [Ausar] well. He’s quick,” Cree said. “Even with what he did, we took everything else away. They had 41 points. You gotta expect to be able to win a game when you hold a team to 41 points, but we didn’t make enough shots.”
The Islanders found themselves in an early hole, shooting 4-21 from the field in the first half. A buzzer-beating 3-pointer from Valentin Boyanov gave the Beavers an 11-10 advantage at the end of the first quarter. Ballard extended its advantage in the second period, holding Mercer Island to four points in the quarter and claiming a 20-14 halftime lead.
The Islanders came to life in the third period behind the hot shooting of Joe Gormley. The freshman guard scored nine of his team-high 12 points in the quarter, connecting on four of his six shot attempts. As a team, Mercer Island shot 8-13 from the field to take a 31-27 lead.
But the Islanders couldn’t keep up the hot shooting and were limited to six points in the final period. Ausar scored nine of Ballard’s 14 fourth-quarter points, as the Beavers closed out the contest with a 7-1 run over the game’s final three minutes.
Boyanov added 12 points for the Beavers. Ethan Eason and Rainer McDonald each scored nine points for Mercer Island.
Though the season ended earlier than expected for his team, Cree praised his senior players for the leadership they provided throughout the year. The Islanders will see Shain Scott, Jacob Evans, Jack Delay and Blake Swanson graduate in the spring.
“We did put a KingCo banner on the wall,” Cree said. “I don’t think our kids necessarily expected to do that at the beginning year. I don’t think that was a shoe-in for us, and so accomplishing that, even with it being a tie [with Bellevue], was amazing. It’s on the wall forever for these kids. These seniors can look up there and see 24 KingCo championships and one of them is this year’s group. That’s gonna be there for the rest of their lives and we’ll remember this season in many ways because of that.”