The tournament MVP scored 17 of her 21 points in the second half to lift the Islanders to their first state girls basketball championship with a 52-47 win over Bishop Blanchet.
TACOMA — There was a lot weighing on the minds and shoulders of the Mercer Island girls basketball team early in Saturday’s Class 3A state championship game at the Tacoma Dome.
The thought of being the first Mercer Island girls basketball team to put a shiny state title trophy in the trophy case was big. The bright lights and big stage were almost too much.
Even the Islanders’ top scorer, senior Anna Luce, was feeling the pressure.
After trailing by as many as eight points in the first half, Luce and her teammates found renewed vigor in the second half.
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Luce, the Dartmouth College commit, outdueled Bishop Blanchet senior Jadyn Bush, a future Ivy League opponent at Harvard, piling up 17 of her game-high 21 points in the second half as the Islanders came through with a 52-47 victory and the school’s first state girls crown.
It took MI’s 5-foot-3 senior guard Kailee Yan getting in the face of the 6-2 Luce for a halftime pep talk. Her coach, Gillian D’Hondt, also reassured Luce there was time to make a difference.
“First off, I wasn’t physical enough and I guess I was a little skeptical and a little nervous, I guess, because this was the championship game,” said Luce, who hit 8 of 12 shots, added 10 rebounds and three steals and was named tournament MVP. “They are great defenders, so props to them. Kailee definitely did (issue a challenge). She said, ‘You are so much better than this. We need you to start stepping up.’
“At halftime, Gillian really calmed us down and said, ‘There’s nothing to lose. You have 16 more minutes to play hard, so give it your all.’ ”
Luce did, starting with 10 points in the third quarter and seven in the fourth against the top-ranked Braves.
The fifth-ranked Islanders (24-6), who had never finished better than sixth at state (2010) and had only reached the state semifinals that season, shook off the jitters and put together an 11-0 run in the opening 2:15 of the second half.
During the second-half resurgence, Luce scored five in the opening run that pushed MI in front, 29-23. The Islanders stretched the lead to seven points, but Blanchet (25-2) fought back to tie the game at 43 on Ella DiPietro’s three-pointer from the top right side with 2:24 left in the game.
Yan, who had 14 points, knocked down a 17-footer with 1:32 to play and the Islanders never relinquished the lead, through the Braves got within 48-47 on DiPietro’s driving layin from the left side with 27.3 seconds left.
Yan buried a three-pointer for a 48-43 Islanders cushion with 49 seconds left.
“Even though we were up, we still had to keep our composure to win,” Yan said. “We kept reiterating that in timeouts. We made it a point to close out as hard as we could on their shooters and then change the trajectory of their shots.”
Then, it was Claire Mansfield’s time to shine. The Islanders’ junior point guard hit two free throws with 22.3 seconds left for a 50-47 lead and then two more with 1.8 seconds left to seal the victory.
The last two foul shots came after Mansfield jumped the passing lane for a steal with about six seconds showing on the clock.
“We trust each other so much on defense, and we knew we were solid defensive players and we knew everyone would do their job there,” said MI junior guard Jessie Stenberg.
The Islanders became the second consecutive KingCo 3A team to bring home a state title, following Bellevue in 2016 and emerged from the Wolverines’ shadow of recent years.
“They play together, they do what it takes, they play tough defense, they’re relentless and they don’t ever give up,” said D’Hondt, a 2000 Blanchet graduate who finished second at state as a player for the Braves when now head coach Brett Hecko was an assistant with the program. “It was just a matter of taking those shots we needed to take. In the second half, we came out and we turned it on. We took over. Both [Yan and Luce] are so aggressive offensively.”
The Braves missed a chance to be the first Metro League school to win a state crown since Cleveland secured a Class 3A repeat in 2014.
“If you had told me we’d be 25-2 with four new starting players, and have a chance to win a state title, not only make to Tacoma, but to come down here and play for a title, I think many of us would’ve taken that,” said Braves first-year coach Hecko, who also coached the boys program to state. “It’s really the great senior leadership we had this year.”
The Braves led by as many as eight points in the first half, but the Islanders kept fighting back and still trailed 23-18 at halftime. A big shot for the Islanders came just before the first-quarter buzzer as Mansfield sank a running 25-foot, three-pointer to trim Blanchet’s lead to 12-8.
“We came out pretty nervous,” D’Hondt said. “It was about being confident in the shots were taking.”
Annie Maher’s layin capped a 7-0 run as the Braves opened their biggest lead of the half at 21-13 with 2:52 left before halftime. Jadyn Bush, despite picking up two fouls by the 7:43 mark of the second quarter, produced six points in the first half.
Maher led Blanchet with 14 points on 7-of-11 shooting and Bush finished with 10 points, 11 rebounds and three assists.
The Braves’ interior defense held MI’s Luce, in check with four points on 1-for-5 shooting before the halftime break. Luce did have six rebounds by intermission. If not for a trio of three-pointers, the Islanders could have fallen behind by more.
“I’ll see her again,” Bush said of future Ivy League meetings against Luce. “I think we did go away a little bit from what we as players were doing in the first half. We were all over the boards in the first half. We went away from that and it cost.
“[Luce] is patient smart and she reads the defense well. She has good moves.”
For Bush, it was the second defeat in the Class 3A state championship. In her freshman season in 2014, Bush and the Braves fell to Cleveland 54-45 in the title game.
“I’ve been here before,” she said, playing for a third coach in four seasons. “I’ve been in second place before. You learn more from the games you lose. But if you’d asked me on Nov. 14 [the start of practices] if I thought I’d be here [playing for a state title], and I have all the confidence in the world in these guys, I don’t know. There’s been lots of changes.”
Class 3A all-tournament team
Anna Luce, Mercer Island (MVP)
Jadyn Bush, Bishop Blanchet
Morticia McCall, Lincoln
Oumou Toure, Kamiakin
Kelsey Rogers, Lynnwood
Kailee Yan, Mercer Island
Kyra Beckma, Snohomish
Kaprice Boston, Lynnwood
Katie Brandvold, Snohomish
Jillese Bush, Bishop Blanchet