Coach Dejon Hush and his Lake Washington boys hosted Ian O’Hearn’s Mercer Islanders to finish their three-games-in-five-days gauntlet against the top teams in Washington. The mere thought of Purple Kangaroos battling Snails (you didn’t know that, did you?) is enough to get me out on a blustery Monday night, so I settled into the stands and prepared to watch a slugfest.
The ‘Roos were fighting to hold on to the sixth playoff spot in the Northeast Conference. They’d just come off a big victory over King’s Way, preceded by a tough, ugly battle with Eastside Catholic in which they came up short. Mercer Island was trying to keep firing on all cylinders, having all but clinched the #1 seed in the Southwest Conference. The Islanders were coming off a tough non-league loss to Oregon Episcopal and didn’t want to make it two in a row, heading into a Saturday battle against Bellevue.
LW frustrated King’s Way on Saturday, grabbing a lead then stalling for much of the game. Coach Hush decided it was the strategy for this game as well. Cody Bernstein drew first blood for the ‘Roos and the Islanders only touched the ball three more times in the first quarter. LW constantly circled the offensive box (either inside or out of it depending on the referees) relying on their stick skills to keep the ball away from the potent Islander offense. Dean Smith, during his best days at North Carolina, couldn’t have drawn it up any better. LW held leads of 1-0 and 2-1 for most of the half, until MI’s senior attackman Jordan Tootil scooped up a rebound off the chestpad of goalie Jonah Friedl to tie it up right before the break.
Halftime couldn’t have been any fun for the Islanders, although O’Hearn and his staff clearly saw some things they could adjust to. Sophomore faceoff man Delvin Conway must’ve made some as well, because he won the opening faceoff as well as the majority of the remaining ones.
The Islanders upped their riding game noticeably in the second half to great effect. Turning the tables on LW, they only allowed the ‘Roos to run offensive plays twice in the 3rd quarter. Turnovers killed LW, but to Mercer Island’s credit, they were forced turnovers. Grant Preisler led the Snails’ charge in the 3rd as they broke the game open with three goals while shutting out Lake Washington.
If your offense consists of running around, stalling and keeping the ball away there are two things you cannot get; tired and behind. Unfortunately, LW’s passing, catching, rides and clears continued to suffer, a sure sign of lacrosse fatigue. And their offense is not currently configured to come from behind. The smothering Islander defense continued to shine, shutting out LW until a nothing goal late in the game made the final 7-3. Coach Hush’s strategy kept them in the game in through three quarters but in the end, MI’s horses were too much.
Lake Washington now rests up a bit until Friday when they travel to Curtis for a game between two teams scrapping for a playoff berth. Mercer Island, meanwhile, is on the shelf until Saturday night, when they host a marquee matchup against Bellevue, a game that many predict will be repeated during the playoffs.
As an aside, the game keeps alive the debate about which conference is stronger, Northeast or Southwest. Lake Washington, struggling to make the playoffs in the Northeast, is 3-1 against teams in the other conference. In fact, as a whole, the Northeast is 18-8 against the Southwest. I don’t know what I’m suggesting, but it is a little interesting. But probably just a little.