Mercer Island Upsets Duxbury on East Coast Road Trip

After wrapping up a three-game East Coast road trip this past weekend, Washington boys' lacrosse elite Mercer Island returns home to the Evergreen State with confidence at an all-time high.

Fueled by a thrilling 7-6 overtime victory over national power Duxbury last Wednesday, Mercer Island finished its spring break trip to Massachusetts with a 2-1 overall record against top lacrosse competition. Through composed, disciplined play, balanced contributions and a veteran-like demeanor, the Islanders (9-2 overall) raised eyebrows from coast to coast and demonstrated that they should be considered among the nation's top 50 programs.

Meanwhile, with Duxbury ranked as one of the top 25 teams by most high school lacrosse publications across the country, last week's victory for Mercer Island was the first ever for any Washington lacrosse program over a nationally-ranked team. Last season, Duxbury finished No. 34 in the final LaxPower boys' rankings and No. 2 in the state of Massachusetts behind St. John's Prep (Danvers). Meanwhile, Mercer Island has played in 9 of the last 10 Washington state title games and finished 21-1 overall in '10.

A trip like this to the East Coast gives our team experience against nationally-ranked competition," Mercer Island head coach Ian O'Hearn said. "Now we can bring that experience back to Washington, feel confident throughout league play and hopefully carry the momentum into the playoffs.

Mercer Island's impressive road trip is the latest example of a marked improvement in the overall strength of boys' teams today in "non-traditional" lacrosse areas. Including the likes of St. Ignatius Prep (CA), New Trier (IL) and Cherry Creek (CO), emerging powers from a number of regions are now routinely proving that the talent gap between the East Coast and the rest of the country is getting smaller each year.

For Mercer Island, that talent was on full display against Duxbury as standout midfielder Connor Bernal led the way with two goals, including the game-winner with just 45 seconds remaining in overtime. Colton Knebel also added a pair of goals and goalie Brian Bernstein made 17 saves. On the other side, Paul Hellar scored a game-high four goals for Duxbury.

We told the kids that this was a nonleague game and that wed traveled more then 3,000 miles to get better as a team," O'Hearn said. "We said, 'Dont be nervous. Just go out there and play 110 percent and whatever happens, happens.'

The much-anticipated game proved to be a seesaw affair from start to finish. After a 1-1 deadlock at intermission, both squads scored three goals in the third quarter to set up a thrilling final stanza of regulation. The Islanders held on to a 6-5 edge late in the fourth before Duxbury tallied the equalizer with just under a minute remaining. Then in overtime, the Dragons grabbed the opening face-off and controlled possession for more than two minutes but couldn't capitalize. Following a time out, Bernal took advantage of a mismatch and deposited the game-winner.

On Friday, the Islanders followed up against a formidable Concord Carlisle team that features a stout defensive unit and is coming off a 17-4 campaign in '10. This time around though, the Islanders couldn't find their rhythm against the Patriots, falling behind 8-1 at the half before ultimately losing 9-5. With the Concord Carlisle defense forcing low percentage shots and taking away open shooting lanes, Mercer Island never got comfortable and ultimately couldn't recover.

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