Boys can’t hold on, but the Wildcats can

Mercer Island loses all four post-season games

Mercer Island loses all four post-season games

By Matt Phelps
Mercer Island Reporter

The Mercer Island High School boys basketball team finished the regular season in second place in 3A KingCo with a 13-3 record. But the post season was a different story. The Islanders abruptly finished the season with a four-game losing streak, culminating with a 47-43 loss to West Seattle during the second round of the district playoffs Thursday at Ingraham High School in Seattle.

“We couldn’t score with a pencil,” said Mercer Island head coach Ed Pepple, whose team entered districts as the No. 4 seed from KingCo thanks to two league-tournament losses. “I was very disappointed with the performance. They played hard but we were careless with the turnovers.”

The Islanders final game began with optimism. The team’s fast-break offense was too much for the No. 7 seed from Metro to handle during the first quarter, as Mercer Island built a 14-7 lead. But West Seattle slowed the pace of the game to a crawl during the second quarter, stalling to run down the clock — a tactic that the team would use to their advantage throughout the game.

West Seattle took a 15-14 lead without a single shot in the paint during the first 13 minutes of the contest. A big shot by Drew Sexton gave Mercer Island a very slim 18-17 lead heading into half time. But the shot was just the second from the floor during the second quarter for the Islanders.

“Our offense was non-existent,” said Pepple. “We just had too many breakdowns.”

With Mercer Island dominating the key, West Seattle began to look for three-point shots, hitting three of them to start the quarter. The three pointers were the only of the game for the Metro team. West Seattle’s strategy to run down the clock every possession seemed to take Mercer Island out of their game plan.

The Islanders fell behind 31-29 just prior to the start of the fourth quarter, but Mercer Island’s offense would not be stymied for long.

Down 35-29, the Islanders began to pick the West Seattle players’ pockets, setting off multiple fast breaks. Mercer Island earned three steals, a defensive rebound and seven points in 45 seconds to regain the lead 36-35. The Islanders looked like they were about to retake control of the game with 4:30 left to play.

But West Seattle continued to stall and run their half-court offense just well enough to keep ahead of Mercer Island.

“Normally we are pretty disciplined and our strategy was to push (the pace of the game),” said Islander senior Kramer Aspiri. “But they just kept stalling.”

The Metro team took a 46-43 lead late in the fourth quarter.

With less than 30 seconds left Mercer Island brought the ball up court with a chance to tie but a long three rimmed out and senior Trevor Fulp grabbed the rebound but committed a foul. The infraction was Fulp’s fifth of the game. Frustrated with the call Fulp slammed the ball to the hard wood, earning a technical foul with 6.4 seconds remaining.

“Out of the five fouls I had, I thought two or three were legit,” said Fulp. “But I can’t make excuses, everything rushed to my head and I lost it.”

The one made free throw and ensuing possession finished Mercer Island’s hopes for a chance to tie.

Both Matt Schut and Lutu led the Islanders during the game with 11 points each.

The Islanders found themselves in the precarious position against West Seattle thanks to a loss on Feb. 20 to Seattle Prep 62-50 during the first round of the playoffs at Mercer Island High School.

The game was won with a 15 point second half advantage by Prep.

It is the first time in school history that an Islander boys basketball team has missed the state playoffs three consecutive seasons in a row.”We really wanted to win this game for our seniors,” said Islander Jack Gala. “I am disappointed we couldn’t get them to state. It is frustrating because everyone knows that we can play better.”