Senior forward Shelby Cansler tallied 21 of her game-high 28 points in the second half and Bellevue perked up on defense to earn a 65-55 victory over eighth-ranked Mercer Island in the KingCo 3A championship game on Thursday night at Newport High School.

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BELLEVUE – The top-ranked Bellevue High School girls basketball team hadn’t faced this kind of adversity since December.

The Wolverines clearly welcomed the challenge of a rare deficit.

Senior forward Shelby Cansler tallied 21 of her game-high 28 points in the second half and Bellevue perked up on defense to earn a 65-55 victory over eighth-ranked Mercer Island in the KingCo 3A championship game on Thursday night at Newport High School.

“It’s always hard to play a team three times, because it can be anyone’s game,” said Cansler, who made 10 of 17 field goals. “I think in the first half, we just weren’t playing as hard as we can. We were playing a little timid.”

Bellevue, ranked No. 14 in the nation, beat MI for the third time this season, but had to work hard for the win after falling behind 10-0 in the opening 4 minutes, 15 seconds.

The Islanders still led 45-42 just five seconds into the fourth quarter, but Bellevue used a stifling midcourt trapping defense to trigger a 14-0 run and take control 56-45 with 3:16 left in the game.

Cansler had four steals, all coming in the second-half rally, as Bellevue finished with 12 steals and forced MI into 18 turnovers.

“You never want (the playoffs) to be your down time, but at the same time, we’re going to grow from that experience,” Bellevue coach Leah Krautter said. “That made us work hard and actually made us play under pressure. The girls fought hard and, in the second half, we focused on playing together and as team and bringing our energy back.”

Bellevue (21-0) becomes the No. 1 seed from KingCo into the Sea-King District tournament and opens play Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. at Bellevue College. The Wolverines face the winner of Saturday’s loser-out game between the Metro League’s No. 4 and No. 9 seeds.

Mercer Island (17-4) takes the No. 2 seed from KingCo into first-round Sea-King action and hosts the Metro No. 8 seed on Saturday at 7 p.m. in a loser-out contest.

“We did an amazing job coming out strong and we showed we can execute a game plan,” said MI coach Gillian d’Hondt. “We got back on defense. They just left it all out there on the floor. This is something we needed to come together and show that we can face anybody. We just faced the best, and we gave them a great game.”

The Islanders were led by Anna Luce’s 18 points and Jessica Blakelee’s 16. MI hit 7 of 16 from three-point range, with Blakeslee hitting three in the second half.