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Originally published Thursday, February 7, 2013 at 10:12 PM

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Mercer Island beats Bellevue, takes KingCo 3A crown

Mercer Island, 20-2, jumps ahead early and now takes top seed into Sea-King districts

Seattle Times staff reporter

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BELLEVUE — Mercer Island, like most teams, entered this season with a list of goals.

The first centered on winning the KingCo 3A regular-season title, which the Islanders accomplished. Mercer Island crossed off the second goal — win the KingCo 3A tournament — on Thursday by holding off a hard-charging Bellevue rally for a 51-47 victory.

As a result, third-ranked Mercer Island gets the No. 1 seed and a bye in the Sea-King 3A district tournament.

"It was a big game," Mercer Island coach Gavin Cree said.

Mercer Island (20-2) has lost to only one in-state team all season — Bellevue (15-8). In the third meeting between the two schools, the Islanders jumped on the Wolverines early.

Mercer Island led by 10 at halftime, and a three-pointer from Joe Rasmussen extended the lead to 15, the largest of the game, with 4:30 left.

After Rasmussen's three, Mercer Island's students serenaded Rasmussen, a 6-foot-8 center who signed with Seattle Pacific University, with chants of "MVP, MVP." They were right: He was named KingCo 3A's MVP.

Rasmussen played despite rolling his ankle Tuesday and led Mercer Island with 13 points, seven rebounds and three blocks.

"He wasn't at his best, but he did enough," said Cree, who was named KingCo 3A's coach of the year. "And he's such a presence out there."

Yet Bellevue didn't fade away. After Rasmussen's three-pointer, Bellevue went on a 12-0 run sparked by Mercer Island's eight fourth-quarter turnovers.

Michael Carlson's layup after a Kyle Foreman steal cut Mercer Island's lead to 50-47 with 1:13 left. But Nick Nordale hit one of two free throws for the Islanders, and Bellevue didn't score the rest of the way.

"I thought in the first half we were a little tentative, a little passive on defense," Bellevue coach Chris O'Connor said. "I don't think we played as tough as we needed to. But our kids played their hearts out in the second half."

Kaleb Warner scored 12 points for MI, while Kyle Foreman led Bellevue with 13, including seven in the fourth.

Bellevue girls 61, Mercer Island 54

When Mercer Island started cutting into Bellevue's lead in the fourth quarter, the Wolverines didn't panic.

"It's just kind of been one of those seasons where we knew we weren't going to let it go," Bellevue coach Leah Krauter said.

The fifth-ranked Wolverines held on, in large part, because of Shelby Cansler, a freshman who led Bellevue (21-1) with 20 points. She was also named KingCo 3A's MVP after the game.

Cansler's biggest bucket came right after Mercer Island guard Kris Brackmann's steal and layup cut Bellevue's lead to 55-51 with 1:42 left.

"She is special," said Krauter, who was named KingCo 3A's coach of the year. "She's great to coach. She's an all-around great player, and she really wants the ball."

Brackmann led Mercer Island (18-5) with a game-high 23 points. But the Islanders couldn't erase a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit.

Bellevue gets KingCo 3A's No. 1 seed and a bye in the Sea-King 3A district tournament next week.

Jayson Jenks: 206-464-8277 or jjenks@seattletimes.com

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