Ballard carries Mercer to third straight region title in senior year

Published 6:49 pm Friday, November 10, 2017

Brandon Ballard had a dominant follow-up to Mercer County’s back-to-back 12th Region championships, earning himself Advocate-Messenger Player of the Year honors along the way.

The senior scored 36 goals in his final campaign and assisted 15 more to lead the Titans to their third-straight region title —although it wasn’t easy.

“This year, we relied on a whole team effort just like previous years, but this year was special because we had a lot of younger guys step up,” Ballard said. “Because of this, we still had our ups and downs, but we still came out on top in our region.”

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Ballard said he wasn’t sure about the goalscoring this year but knew he had to be a leader after the team lost 10 seniors — seven of whom were starters — from the 2016 team.

“I didn’t exactly know what role I had to take on this season, but I knew I had to be a leader,” he said. “Thankfully while helping my team out, I was able to score and break records along the way. But the only reason I was able to do that was because of the passes from my teammates to put me into scoring positions.”

Ballard is joined on the All-Area team by teammates Austin Bartley and Trey Releford. Marcus Lewis, Angelo Ontiveros, Hunter Booth and Kola Raskin all made honorable mention.

“This year, Brandon stepped up along with his other two senior teammates (Bartley and Releford) and did a great job leading the team,” Mercer head coach Garrett Stark said. “Brandon knows what it means to play for the Mercer County Titan program and he showed great leadership this year as a senior captain.”

The Titans entered the 12th Region tournament on a loss, a 1-0 defeat against West Jessamine in the 46th District championship.

It was that loss that Ballard said motivated him and his teammates.

“Coming into regionals as a two seed was definitely an eye-opener,” Ballard said. “I think the loss to West in the districts really instilled a drive in our team to take the regions like we always do. So coming in as a two seed  gave us a hunger for a championship because we knew what losing one felt like, and that was not going to happen again.”

Stark said that Ballard started playing for the Titans as an eighth-grader — Stark’s first year with the program.

“He has worked extremely hard since then and has accomplished a lot on the soccer field and in the classroom,” Stark said. “He is a great soccer player and also a great young man who is going to continue to do great things in life.”

Stark said he noticed Ballard step his game up when it mattered most.

“Brandon was a solid backbone to our team this whole year,” Stark said. “He really excelled on the field when our team needed him to. His play in postseason was excellent. He gave everything he had on the field and his teammates followed suit.”

Ballard will leave Mercer County as arguably the most decorated player in school history: He’s got three region titles to his name and holds the school record for goals.

“Like I said before, without my teammates, none of the scoring, records, and assists would be possible,” Ballard said. “I consider my former teammates and this year’s teammates as my brothers, and I think we’ll share that special bond throughout the rest of our lives.”

Ballard isn’t decided on a college yet but said soccer is definitely in his future plans.

“Soccer will always be a part of my life, and I’ll still be playing the sport in college,” he said. “I’m not sure yet where I’m gonna be going to school, but soccer will be a part of it.”

Stark said that even past the accolades, Ballard will be remembered for the person he is.

“It has been an absolute pleasure coaching Brandon during his high school playing days at Mercer County,” the coach said. “He has always worked hard to help our teams’ succeed. He has experienced a great high school career and has definitely left his mark on our program.

“He will be remembered for a long time because of his soccer success, but he will also be remembered for being the great young man he is.”