Mercer County boys win 12th Region title
Published 1:39 pm Monday, October 23, 2017
By BRIAN RICKERD
SOMERSET — Mercer County coach Garrett Stark said he and his Titans felt pressure to win their third 12th Region championship coming into this season, and while Stark’s team took some lumps along the way,
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they managed to get the job done, holding on to edge West Jessamine 2-1 in Thursday’s regional final at Somerset High School.
Mercer County moves on at 12-9-3 to a state tournament, round-of-16 matchup Monday night at the home of the 10th Region champ — either Campbell County or Bishop Brossart. Those two teams play Saturday at
noon at Campbell County for that regional crown.
“Obviously I felt the pressure this year coming back after being back to back region champions,” Stark said. “And I think some teams underestimated us. I think we returned only four starters from last year, and we played a really tough schedule. So we took some losses, and I think some people probably looked at that win/loss ratio and thought we probably weren’t as strong this year.
“This was a rebuilding year, but I had faith in my boys all season,” Stark added. “They played with a lot of heart and determination.”
Stark’s Titans held the upperhand over the first 50 minutes of Thursday’s match against the 16-7-1 Colts, taking a 1-0 lead with 12:18 left in the first half on a point-blank goal by senior Brandon Ballard, and then upping that to 2-0 on a goal by junior Angelo Ontiveros just 1:34 into the second half.
Ontiveros’ goal came off an assist by junior Kola Raskins.
At that point, however, the Titans appeared to lose their edge and West Jessamine played with a greater sense of urgency. The Colts came within 1-2 with 19:31 left on a goal by freshman A.J. Kinnell, off an assist to junior Lucas Labrillazo.
That final 19:31 was chaotic, with both teams squandering a slew of great opportunities to score.
“I mean, we had a lot of clock when we scored that second goal,” Stark said. “I would have really liked to score a third one, but they put us under a lot of pressure.
“They weren’t going to quit,” Stark said of the Colts. “We knew that. We knew it was going to be a battle to the end.”
Nobody was more relieved and excited about the outcome than Mercer County junior goalkeeper Johnny Johnston, who took over the starting spot in goal just a couple weeks ago when Stark decided to make changes in his team’s rotation.
Johnston held up Thursday, though he was peppered with shots down the stretch, all the while Stark kept yelling at his keeper to “relax.”
“I felt like Johnny was nervous, so I just wanted him to relax and take his time and not make any mistakes back there,” Stark said. “I thought he played a great game. He was active; he communicated, and he did what a keeper is supposed to do.”
Johnston suggested his coach didn’t need to worry.
“I was a little nervous at the beginning of the game, but I adjusted,” Johnston said. “I figured the players knew their feet, where their power was, and who to watch for.
“I think I played pretty decent,” Johnston added. “I felt like I was prepared.”
Thursday’s outcome reversed a 1-0 loss to West Jessamine in last week’s 46th District final.
“We played well in that game,” Stark said. “We just weren’t able to finish. Tonight we were able to finish a couple.”
Ballard, Raskins, senior Trey Releford and senior Austin Bartley made
the All-12th Region team for Mercer County, while Labrillazo, Kinnell
and junior Gordon Shearer made it for West Jessamine.