The Mercer Island Islanders girls basketball team is just one victory away from a state championship.
The Islanders, who trailed the Snohomish Panthers 42-41 at the end of the third quarter, outscored the Panthers 19-9 in the final eight minutes of regulation en route to a convincing 60-51 victory in the Class 3A state semifinals on March 3 at the Tacoma Dome. Mercer Island senior point guard Kailee Yan came through in the clutch for the second consecutive game down the stretch. Yan scored eight of her 18 points in the final quarter and was a perfect 6-for-6 from the free-throw line in the final minute to seal the victory. Mercer Island head coach Gillian d’Hondt wasn’t surprised to see Yan rise to the occasion in a pressure packed situation.
“Kailee just steps up. She has that poise about her that she knows what she needs to do. She came up with a huge rebound, she hit all her free throws and she came up with a huge steal,” d’Hondt said.
Yan’s lay-up with 1:23 left in regulation gave the Islanders a 52-48 lead. Following Yan’s clutch bucket, The Islanders went on a 8-3 run to close out the game. The Islanders dominated on the defensive end of the floor against the Panthers. Mercer Island finished the game with 12 steals and corralled 21 rebounds. Yan said defense was the key to the win.
“We definitely picked up our defense. We had some great defense from Jessie (Stenberg). Claire (Mansfield) did her thing with all of those great passes and Anna (Luce) did it on the boards. I think we all had a really great team effort and we all contributed in a great way,” Yan said.
Luce finished the game with a team-high three steals and poured in a game-high 20 points. Stenberg, who had two steals on the defensive end of the floor, was jovial following the biggest victory of her high school career.
“We had it in our hearts. This is what we wanted to do and we pulled through. I’m just so excited. I’m speechless,” Stenberg said.
The Islanders will face the Bishop Blanchet Braves in the Class 3A state championship game at 3 p.m. on March 4.
“The girls just continue to impress me. I respect that coach (Brett Hecko) and I respect that team (Bishop Blanchet) but I just believe in my girls and I just know that we can do this. That is such a great feeling to know that all of their hard work is going to use. They are enjoying themselves. This is breaking ground in history for our school,” d’Hondt said.
The matchup against Bishop Blanchet will be the first time the Mercer Island girls basketball program has ever competed in a state championship contest.
The Islanders are confident they can come out on top in the title game. The Islanders and Braves played twice earlier this season. Mercer Island defeated Bishop Blanchet 50-44 on Feb. 16. The Braves conquered the Islanders 48-47 on Feb. 24. The third and final matchup between these two powerhouse basketball squads will decide which team hoists a state championship trophy.
“I’m really excited to play them. This is what we wanted. I think we can do it. We got this,” Stenberg said.
Mercer Island’s Josie Blakeslee echoed Stenberg’s sentiment.
“It is going to be a tough battle. I’m excited to see the outcome. I think we have a great shot at winning,” Blakeslee said.