Titans answer the call: Mercer County comes back to beat Danville in region

Published 11:32 pm Tuesday, October 17, 2017

SOMERSET — The two teams met before.

Mercer County and Danville had a thrilling regular-season game, and Tuesday’s match in the 12th Region quarterfinals was much of the same.

But this time, there was a different result. Mercer County came back to beat Danville 4-3 behind a pair of goals from Brandon Ballard.

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It was Mercer’s first win in four games.

“We’ve obviously had an on-and-off season, we had some injuries early on, but I couldn’t tell you how proud I am of these guys tonight,” Mercer head coach Garrett Stark said. “We got a little panicked when we gave up the first goal, but we stuck in and played well to end the first half.”

Danville took an early 1-0 lead on a powerful shot by Nathan Hazlett outside of the box, just four minutes in.

Ballard would score his first goal with just three minutes left before halftime, but the Admirals had an answer: Saif Siddiqui scored to put his team ahead 2-1 at the break.

“I hated giving up that second goal right before half, but we talked about that at halftime: If we could come out, score more goals, we figured we could win. We were able to do that tonight,” Stark said.

Danville made some slight adjustments at halftime, pulling a player from attack into the midfield.

“We kind of switched formations a little bit, I felt like they were attacking the outsides, so we played another midfielder instead of three forwards,” Danville coach Brent Beauman said. “But we kept attacking, and we felt like we were the better team. They were just outworking us, and we were making some silly errors. You’ve got to give them all of the credit, Mercer County played a great game and they just kept on coming.”

With 10 minutes gone in the second half, the onslaught began. Marcus Lewis scored on a breakaway, chipping the ball into the net to tie the game 2-2. 

That goal was the spark. Moments later, Ballard would score his second on a free-kick from midfield. The ball hit the top of his head as he flicked it above the Danville defense to fall into the net.

“I thought we played really well in the first half, I don’t think we scored enough goals but we got a lot of opportunities,” Stark said. “With (Ballard and Lewis) up top, they’ve got speed, they’ve got creativity and they’re starting to play well together.”

Then, less than a minute later, Andrew Turpin headed home another free kick to put the Titans ahead 4-2.

“These guys just don’t want to quit,” Stark said. “Right now, we’re playing for the seniors. That’s what every team does. We’ve got three this year and these guys are playing hard for them.”

Both teams were well aware of the last time they met: a 10-goal fiesta with Danville coming out on top 6-4, with three goals coming late in the game.

“When you get the lead or your score goals, it gives people energy,” Beauman said. “Tonight was the first time all season that we didn’t come back to win, that’s something that they’ve been really good at this year. I don’t think anybody ever doubted that we weren’t going to win, till we didn’t.”

It took Danville time to regroup, but in the final 10 minutes it was again the Admirals who were creating the chances. Briar Sanders scored with four minutes left in the game. 

“I was really just at a loss for words, just shocked that we lost that game,” Beauman said. “We kind of regrouped, but it’s a great life lesson. Sometimes you may be better but it doesn’t go your way a certain night. You just have to learn from it. Tonight, unfortunately, it’s the consequence of losing four good seniors and their time with us is finished. But they’re amazing guys that are going to go on and do tremendous things. I can’t wait to see what they end up doing.”

Danville’s four seniors — Hayden Block, Saif Siddiqui, Tyler McGirr and Josh Bostic — led a team to more regular-season wins than any other team in the 12th Region  this year.

“Josh, this is his first year. He’s an incredible kid and I wish he had been playing forever,” Beauman said. “I have never seen someone pick up soccer so fast who had never played at this age.

“The other three have been playing since middle school. I’ve had Hayden and Tyler in elementary school, Saif in fifth grade. I’ve known them forever. They’re just good kids and they really love this team, love playing and competing.”

Stark said his team is looking forward to the semifinals, which will be against host Somerset. The Briar Jumpers beat Mercer 4-2 in the Titans’ first game of the season.

“We’re going to have a tough way no matter what,” Stark said. “Drawing this Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday path is tough. We’ll drive back home and then we come back late tomorrow night. They’re a good team, they had a really a good schedule this year and they played well.”

The Titans are fighting for their third-straight 12th Region championship. Semifinal action kicks off at 8:30 p.m. in Somerset.