By Chris Hall
On a cool Monday night, Mercer Island soccer continued a successful year by efficiently winning their first playoff match. Following a successful regular season culminating in a second-place league finish, the Islanders smoothly switched into playoff mode, starting the postseason off with a 1-0 win over Bellevue. Mercer Island and Bellevue met in a loser-out match in the first round of the KingCo tournament. Players from both teams arrived to witness the end of a game between Lake Washington and Mt. Si, with Lake Washington coming out on top. The winning team would face the Kangaroos on Wednesday.
In-between the two games, the all-league ceremony was conducted, with Mercer Island well-represented. Senior midfielder Matt Grohnke, junior defender Jeremy Chow, senior midfielder Woody Jacobson, and senior defender Matthew McNamara were All-KingCo Honorable Mentions. Junior midfielder Alex Wood and junior forward Jake Michael were named to the second team, and senior defender Nick Goelz, senior midfielder David Lee, and sophomore forward Jordan Morris were honored as first team All-KingCo. Finishing fifth in the regular season, Bellevue lost to Mercer Island both times. But this was an elimination game, the regular season was long gone, and Bellevue came ready to play.
In their last home game, a primetime match up against Sammamish, the Islanders came out looking nervous. But there was none of that to be had, as the Maroon and White came out gunning, with several early solid shots stopped by Bellevue goalie Kyle Vascovitz. Senior Matt Grohnke lived up to his Honorable Mention tag, providing an offensive sparkplug for the Islanders throughout the game. With thirty-five minutes left in the first half, he made a daring run culminating in an unfortunately intercepted pass into the box, and with thirty-three minutes left he threaded a gorgeous pass into perfect position for Michael. Michael muffled the chance, but the Islanders persistence would be rewarded. Sophomore midfielder Jordan Morris took a pass from junior midfielder Alex Wood and sent it into the back of the net with twenty-three minutes left, as a roar went up from the Islander crowd.
Bellevue immediately counterattacked fiercely, culminating in a close call with seven minutes left that saw a diagonal shot from the left narrowly pass by the far post. But the Islanders kept their focus and went into halftime with a 1-0 lead looking confident and in control. Following halftime, the game quieted down for a while, with the Islanders best chance coming on a skillful, but ultimately unsuccessful run by Morris with thirty-three minutes left. But as the clock ticked down, the game ratcheted up, and the last twenty minutes turned into a shootout. Both teams attacked furiously, with the Wolverines desperately looking for an equalizer and Mercer Island looking to score again and seal the win. Senior and first team midfielder David Lee dramatically juked his man and sent the ball to Honorable Mention senior defender Matthew McNamara, who fed it to Wood for a near-miss with eighteen minutes left. With eleven minutes left, on a Bellevue corner kick a charging player lost his balance and crashed into the left goalpost, knocking back several feet. In the ruckus, a Bellevue player got off a hard shot junior goalie Nico Terentjev barely blocked. Grohnke led a counterattack that culminated in a beautifully lofted shot into the goal, before it was ruled off-sides. With eight minutes left, Bellevue scraped a goal, but it too was ruled off-sides. On the ensuing possession only a Terentjev dive prevented a legitimate goal off of a corner kick. The intensity rose dramatically, with the crowd vocally protesting the two disallowed goals. Bellevue attacked like there was no tomorrow, and with the loser going home, the stakes were life-or-death.
Unfortunately in the last two minutes, tragedy struck. Bellevue midfielder Pavel Spichak hurt his ankle, and after being visibly in pain, was substituted out. With his departure seemed to go the Wolverines energy, as the fans fell silent and the team seemed to give up. MI cruised through the last few minutes, attacking with swagger, almost scoring a second goal multiple times. The referee whistled to signal the end of the game and the crowd let up a cheer for the 1-0 win. The Islanders face Lake Washington in another loser-out game Wednesday night.