Titans fall to defending state champ Covington Catholic
By Daarik Gray
For The Advocate-Messenger
COVINGTON — Defending state champion Covington Catholic proved to be too tall a task for the Mercer County boys soccer team in the first round of the KHSAA state tournament Tuesday night.
The Colonels used two second-half goals to help seal a 3-0 victory, ending the Titans record-breaking season. Mercer tied a school record for wins in a season (21), while breaking the school record for goals in a season (106) and least amount of losses (3).
“That’s a good team. We’ve got to give them credit, they played well tonight. I don’t think it is anything necessarily that we did bad, it is just they finished shots and we weren’t able to do that tonight,” Mercer County coach Garrett Stark said.
Coming into the game, the Titans were ranked No. 7 in the state while Covington Catholic was ranked No. 6. Tuesday night, the Colonels looked like they may well be the top team in the state for the second straight season.
Just 12 minutes into the game, the Colonels got a goal from senior Steven Schutt as he placed his shot from 35 yards out just above the outstretched arms of Mercer goalkeeper Zack Phillips.
“I just wanted them to come out and play well. I think the first ten minutes we were a little nervous and that was expected. You get in these big games and players are thinking about that. We tried to relax today, but that first ten minutes affected us somewhat,” Stark said.
Despite giving up the early goal, the Titans settled down for the remaining 28 minutes, as the score remained the same at halftime.
Stark admitted he didn’t think his team was getting enough scoring opportunities in the opening half, so he switched things up to begin the second.
“We were hoping to get some deep attacks and get some scoring opportunities,” Stark said.
Unfortunately it didn’t work out for the Titans, as Covington Catholic struck again just seven minutes into the second half as Nathan Deimling netted his 10th goal of the season.
Again, Stark changed up his formation for one last effort, but to no avail. Covington Catholic senior Griffin Lamb scored his 31st goal of the season with six minutes remaining for the Colonels final score of the night.
“In the end we switched up to a 3-5-2, which is obviously a little more risky and ended up giving up that last goal because of that,” Stark said.
This was the second straight year the Titans have drawn a team that was ranked higher than them going into the State Tournament.
“Last year we drew Henry Clay, which at the time I think might have been ranked No. 1 in the state. They made it to the championship last year. This year we face the state champion from last year, so that was obviously another tough draw. But our team always wants to face the top teams in the state because that is how we get better, so we are going to take it as a learning experience tonight for the program,” said Stark.
The Mercer County senior class ended their careers with a 69-17-9 record, four district titles, one region runner-up finish and two straight 12th Region titles. Stark said they’ve continued the legacy the Titan players before them had left.
“They’ve got a lot to be proud of. They’ve got a lot of history that they created this year and they need to keep their head up, because they had a great season and great careers,” Stark said.