Photos by Molly Piper.
This was a big weekend in Division one as Bellevue hosted Mercer Island and Bainbridge visited Issaquah. The “Big Four” hold every State Championship title for the past 19 years. These programs have produced 31 All-Americans over the years, and currently have 56 alumni playing college lacrosse. Parity is coming to Washington, but the odds are still that this year’s champs will come from this quartet. It’s a great time of year, with lots of meaningful games and this weekend’s weather meant that some big crowds came out to watch these two traditional rivalry games.
Mercer Island vs. Bellevue
Certainly the most consistently intense rivalry of the past five years, these contests have featured rowdy fans, Facebook insults, streakers, an on-field fight and The Stick Check. This year’s scandal was the late-night painting of the Wolverine’s stadium bell by Mercer Island, followed by a quick un-painting by the Bellevue school district staff. Administrators from both schools were on hand at game time to ensure that order was maintained and no life-long memories were created. Such is the age in which we live.
The game itself was the most anticipated meaningless game of the season. This year’s conventional wisdom has these two teams a solid notch above the rest of the state and this game would dictate who the top dog was. However, the outcome of this game would have very little impact on the playoffs as these teams will be the #1 & #2 conference seeds and end up in opposite playoff brackets regardless.
But don’t try and tell the crowd that it was meaningless. Estimated to be around 2,000 folks, the stands on both sides of Bellevue’s field were packed with maniacal, screaming fans. The Lacrosse Network crew was there broadcasting, and Bellevue was honoring their 15 seniors playing in their last home game. There were six D1 commits playing on the field; Preisler, Reisman, York, Mahony, Johnson and Bethke (seven if you count Haehl, who has turned down an offer from Hofstra.) Unlikely that has ever happened before in Washington lacrosse.
Finally, the game started and the tension was thick in the air. Bellevue won the opening faceoff, one of their few, and went into a deliberate possession that would last three and half minutes. The Islanders’ Peter Mahony locked off Bellevue’s Cole Johnson, ignoring the rest of the action and just dedicating himself to preventing Johnson from touching the ball. Eventually, the Wolverines had a turnover and the Islanders got a turn at being ineffective on offense. The quarter ended in a 1-1 tie and the only thing we learned was that the refs were going to let them play.
The 2nd quarter plodded along with more examples of good defenses on both teams. Bellevue’s passes to the interior were consistently disrupted by Islander poles, but eventually the Wolverines eked out a couple of one goal leads. With five minutes left in the half, Bellevue held a 3-2 lead and seemed in control if not in command. But then Bellevue goalie Bradley Medeiros (8 saves) was betrayed by his stick. A couple of good saves turned into long rebounds that led to Islander goals. The Islanders peeled off the last three goals of the half, including two in the last 45 seconds, as they went ahead 5-3. Suddenly, the fans smelled Wolverine blood in the water and Coach John Baumann had to hurriedly rewrite his halftime speech.
Coach Ian O’Hearn’s Islanders had to feel good. They’d held Johnson and Hank Bethke scoreless, only given up three goals to a team averaging seven goals per half, and were leading by two. They’d had no trouble beating Bellevue’s ride and they were owning the faceoff X. Benji Rothenberg (11 saves) was in Beast Mode, both in the cage and with a huge thunk on Johnson while chasing a loose ball on the sideline. All this happening on Bellevue’s turf. It was a good half to wear the maroon and white.
But the 3rd quarter turned out to be blue and gold. Simon Jenkin, Eric Haehl and Johnson all scorched the nets from the outside. Bellevue changed up their offense, not fighting for the inside pass but taking advantage of the time and room from outside. The Wolverine defense tightened up and toughend up, physically roughing up the Islanders. They killed a couple of penalties, and shut out Mercer in the 3rd quarter. Haehl added his second goal and the quarter ended with Bellevue up 7-5.
Things continued in the same vein and Bellevue found itself up 9-6 with under five minutes to go in the game. But Devlin Conway, Mercer Island’s junior faceoff guy, stepped in and dominated the faceoffs. He owned Bellevue’s trio of faceoff men who were winning 65% coming into the game. Conway, who ended up winning 13 of 19 (68%) on the night, won the next two and MI converted them into scores, narrowing the margin to 9-8 with under two minutes to go. But Bellevue’s swift studs, Johnson and Bethke, were able to run out the clock and the game ends with the Wolverines on top.
So like I said above, the outcome of the game was relatively meaningless. Bellevue will be the #1 seed and Mercer Island will be the #2. And if they both take care of business, there will be a rematch on June 1st in Memorial Stadium. That game will not be meaningless.
Final Thoughts on MI/Bellevue
I’ll leave you with these unrelated thoughts:
- Having Peter Mahony lock off Cole Johnson seemed to work.
- Bellevue’s Blake Backer shut down Grant Preisler as well, limiting him to one goal by my book.
- Devlin Conway is my new favorite faceoff stud.
- Mercer Island beat Bellevue’s ride every time.
- Bellevue killed all five of Mercer Island’s EMO chances.
- Why does Andrew Matthews fly under folks’ radar? The Bellevue LSM played every series in the game and was nasty.
- Mercer Island didn’t get whistled for a single penalty. Perhaps it’s time to play a little rougher with the Wolverines.
Bainbridge Island vs. Issaquah.
About 350 fans braved 75⁰ temperatures and relentless sunshine to watch the Spartans of Bainbridge visit the Eagles of Issaquah. As we’re all waddling to our seats, happily packing the free dinner provided by the Issaquah Booster Club, Bainbridge took the opening faceoff down and scored. So fast that I didn’t even see who scored it. But my burger was delicious.
The Spartans would go on to dominate the quarter, simply owning the time of possession. They’d rack up three in the quarter and five in the half while holding the Eagles to just one in each of the two quarters. I shudder to think what would have happened if Brady Hahn, Issaquah goalie extraordinaire, had decided just to be mediocre this night. He ended up with 14 saves on 22 shots, and singlehandedly kept Issaquah close.
Issaquah’s varsity roster sports twelve underclassmen, the most of any of the “Big Four” and it showed tonight most obviously on the Eagles’ clearing attempts. Easily rattled in the early going, the turnovers squelched any offensive momentum that they could get going. Bainbridge rode the extra possessions to a 5-2 halftime lead. My best guess is that Bainbridge Coach Jack Visco was happy to be ahead by three and unwilling for any player to share his joy. Likely he fretted about missed opportunities and that large man in front of the Issaquah goal who had kept them in the game so far.
The second half started the same as the first. Except this time it was Issaquah scoring quickly. Before I could sit down with my second burger (Hey, they were free, what am I supposed to do?) Mikey Giannopulos scored a fast goal and found Zach Fritz for another one. Suddenly it was 5-4, and the home crowd starting getting their groove on again.
Bainbridge’s senior leaders, Jake Knostman, Kaegan Ingrasci and Greg Shea fought hard to stave off the attack, each scoring a goal in the third quarter. But Issaquah, behind Fritz, Giannopulos and junior Matt Thomas (4g) led an attack that pumped six goals through the pipes and the game was knotted up 8-8 after three quarters.
The fourth quarter was one for the keepers. Bainbridge junior netminder Reynolds Yarbrough’s quick hands and crisp clears kept Issaquah to one meager goal, a nice goal, but just one, from Derek DeYoung. Fortunately for Issaquah, that was enough, as Hahn pitched a shutout in the fourth quarter, and the Eagles snuck home with a tepid 9-8 win.
Both teams now head into crucial two week periods that will determine their playoff seeding. This week Issaquah (8-2) faces Eastside Catholic and Mercer Island on the road and needs victories to have any chance of catching #1 Kingco East seed Eastlake. Bainbridge needs to take care of business next week as they travel to Eastlake then end the regular season hosting the resurgent Auburn-Riverside. Realistically, they need to run the table and hope Eastside Catholic stumbles a couple of times, and loses their #1 Metro seed.
Final Thoughts on Bainbridge/Issaquah
- Fate determined that Issaquah had to play this season with 12 underclassmen on Varsity. They could be very scary when these guys are juniors and seniors.
- While on JV, Greg Shea decided that he was not Bainbridge Island’s goalie of the future. He made a very good decision. I never saw him play goalie, but as a midfielder he’s scored 14 goals in the last five games and reignite a Bainbridge offense that was getting one-dimensional.
- It’s so nice not playing the football lines at Issaquah. (They got new turf with lacrosse lines.)
- Even though he’s just a sophomore Mikey Giannopulos is having a stellar year. He’s tied with Devlin Conway for the league lead in groundballs, and Mikey’s chipped in 17 goals to boot.
- There’s a reason Fairfield’s so high on Jake Knostman, and it’s not just because he’s leading Division 1 in both goals and points. But that’d be a pretty good reason too.
- There’s going to be some grumpy players (and parents) when this year’s All-State Goalies are announced. There’s 20lbs of talent this year that’s got to be put into three 2lb bags.