Riley, ‘Cats aim for title

Tanner Riley lays up the ball in mid-air against Mercer Island. - Mark Lowry / Snoqualmie Valley Record
Tanner Riley lays up the ball in mid-air against Mercer Island.
— image credit: Mark Lowry / Snoqualmie Valley Record

Some athletes are at their best on a big stage. Last week, Mount Si ’s Tanner Riley showed that he’s that kind of player.

Riley scored 33 points — 25 of them in the second half — as the Wildcats rallied last Thursday, Feb. 19, to beat Mercer Island 49-40 in a Kingco Tournament boys’ basketball semi-final game at Bellevue Community College. The win, their third straight in a week over the Islanders, advanced Mount Si to the league title game.

For Riley, it took everyone to help put his 33-point run in motion.

“It all started with defense. As soon as we got stops, then we started running. Their little zone slows us down, and it’s hard to play offense and get shots off,” Riley said.

“But once we started running, we got open shots [and I] started creating for myself,” he said.

Mount Si post Taylor Campbell thought that both teams gave it their all.

“[It was a] Very physical game. Lots of rebounds going everywhere, lots of people running around. Everyone was trying to get a handle on the ball, but no one could get onto it,” Campbell said.

The contest was close from the tipoff. Mercer Island’s first half efforts were dominated by a sophomore star of their own. Quinn Sterling was to the Islanders in the first half what Riley was to the Wildcats in the second.

Sterling carried the MI team, scoring 12 points in the first half, eight of which were in the first quarter, to help the Islanders to a halftime lead of 22-20. Sterling finished with 19 to lead the Islanders. Jonathan Poli hit a buzzer-beater to give the Islanders the edge going to the locker room.

Then it was all Riley in the third quarter. After being held to just eight first-half points, the junior star went on a tear, scoring 14 points in the frame to nearly triple his point total. Riley started it by hitting a pair of free throws, then after Poli hit a pair of foul shots, Riley hit three straight baskets. Following a Zander Nelson free throw and sandwiched around a couple of MI scores, Riley hit three more baskets in a row. His efforts were key to a 15-5 run that closed out the quarter and put Mount Si up 35-31 going to the final frame.

Another player from the Islanders who gave the Wildcats fits was Peter Zajac. The senior hit two huge shots in the fourth to help pull the Islanders even at 40-40. Campbell put Mount Si back in the lead shortly thereafter with a basket, then Riley got in the pilot’s seat and guided his team in for a successful landing, scoring the final seven points to close things out.

“Tanner’s good,” said Wildcat coach Jeff D’Ambrosio, who added that a change in his game which coaches helped him make with was key.

“We worked on getting him to just go to the middle, attack the soft part of the zone and pull up for his jumpers, and he started to get a little more comfortable doing that today,” he said.

“[I’ve] got a lot of friends in the student section,” Riley said. “They’re great; they come everywhere with us, and I like to have fun with them. They get me going, they get the whole team going.”

The Wildcats’ trip to the Kingco title game last Friday, Feb. 20, at BCC was a short one, as they were blown out by Bellevue, 67-39. The Wolverines built a solid early lead and never looked back, as they held Riley to just eight points. The loss for Mount Si sent them into a loser-out home game this week at the district tournament as the Kingco number two seed.

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