With his team ahead by one, Mercer Island’s 6-foot-8 center Andrew Pickles stretched his tall hand above the crowd following a missed shot and more or less blooped a loose ball into the basket to sustain what became a game-ending 8-0 run that gave the Islanders a 58-51 win over Liberty.
RENTON – When Liberty defeated Mercer Island in boys basketball on Dec. 8, it was considered a first at the school, a milestone win for a school that opened its doors in 1977.
Now coached by Omar Parker, a member of the legendary 1984 Mercer Island state championship squad that included Quin Snyder and a former assistant to iconic Mercer Island coach Ed Pepple, the Patriots were on the threshold of winning two straight against MI, leading by a point with less than four minutes to play.
Then, with his team ahead by one, Mercer Island’s 6-foot-8 center Andrew Pickles stretched his tall hand above the crowd following a missed shot and more or less blooped a loose ball into the basket to sustain what became a game-ending 8-0 run that gave the Islanders a 58-51 KingCo 3A/2A win Friday night over Liberty.
“It wasn’t conventional,” Pickles said, smiling as he recalled his momentum-shifting tip. “I really wasn’t trying to tip it in. I was more trying to tip it off the backboard and keep it alive. It just happened to go in. It was like a shooting star.”
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Pickles finished with 15 and Sam Nordale had a team-high 16 as Mercer Island (10-4 overall, 4-3) held the Patriots (8-6, 3-4) to just 16 points in the second half.
On this occasion, Mercer Island’s starting front line of Pickles, Nordale (6-7) and Emerson Schulz (6-3) was too much to overcome for Liberty.
“Rebounding,” Parker said when asked to identify the decisive factor in a tight game that included eight lead changes and six ties. “Especially down the stretch. They’re definitely bigger and stronger than we are, and the ball bounces one way or the other, and it got to them.”
Parker pointed to the goal Liberty had defended in the fourth quarter. “The ball was down at that end for what felt like the last three minutes of the game,” he said. “They were just getting second chance after second chance, and you can’t win when that happens.”
Mercer Island coach Gavin Cree agreed that his team’s rebounding edge was an important factor, along with the hustle his payers showed late in the game. “Our defense in the second half was good,” he said. “We gave up too many open three-point looks to a good three-point-shooting team in the first half, and in the second half we clamped down.”
Still, the Patriots had their chances. Liberty led 35-32 at halftime, let the lead skip away but fought back and tied it at 44 late in the third on a three-pointer by Jake Elfstrom. Reserve Chris Hanson drilled a three with less than four minutes to play to put Liberty ahead 51-50. Another reserve, Connor Chapman, sank three three-pointers in the second quarter. Noble Cooper led Liberty with 17 and Chapman had 13.
Josh Stenberg and Griffin Emanuels had 10 apiece for Mercer Island.