By MIKE MARSEE
HARRODSBURG — It’s been a long time coming, far longer than any of them can remember. And the Mercer County boys felt pretty good about finally getting their hands on a championship trophy.
But the Titans won’t be satisfied if this is as good as it gets.
Mercer captured its first district title Wednesday night, whipping West Jessamine 4-0 to win the boys 46th District Tournament on its home field at King Middle School and earn the right to host the regional tournament on that same field next week.
The celebration that followed the final siren was subdued, as the ninth-ranked Titans have greater goals in mind. They did take a little time, however, to savor an accomplishment that has long eluded them.
“It’s the first one, and it feels amazing,” midfielder Landon Souder said. “All four years we’ve been waiting for this, this moment, this game. Now we’re moving on. Region next.”
In fact, the Titans were scheduled to return to the practice field this morning to begin working toward that goal.
“District championship isn’t our main goal, but it definitely shows that the program is progressing and getting to another level. To have the first district (title) ever, and to have it for this group of seniors is awesome,” Mercer coach Matt Vogel said. “I think it announces that we’re definitely here to play, that we’re a team that can beat anybody in the state if we play aggressively, so it’s definitely a different step, but it’s not our main goal.”
Mercer (18-3-1) lost in both the district and regional finals last year by 1-0 scores to end what was to that point the program’s best season ever. This year its senior-dominated team that has won even more games and risen higher than ever in the statewide rankings and that would not be denied a championship Wednesday.
“We knew they were going to be aggressive, and it was important to us that we didn’t have a play-not-to-lose mentality, because if you play not to lose, that opens you up to get beat. But if you play aggressively and play to win, then you’re going to be playing your best soccer,” Vogel said.
The Titans were the aggressors from the outset. They led 3-0 by halftime and didn’t allow West Jessamine (12-10-1) a single shot in the final 66 minutes.
“I feel like we’re on a pretty good roll right now,” midfielder Mason Angel said.
Souder scored Mercer’s first two goals, and Angel and Alex Bosse got one each. They are three of the four players who have scored at least 10 goals each for the Titans.
But Mercer’s real calling card might be its defense, which has 11 shutouts — including two in three wins over West Jessamine — and ranks among the state’s top five stingiest teams with .72 goals allowed per game.
“Defense is a big thing for us, and I’m very pleased with our back line. Anybody that I put back there was awesome,” Vogel said. “The thing with West, they’re very high-powered offensively, they do a good job moving the ball, and I thought we did a great job defensively, and I’m very proud of them.”
Mercer goalkeeper Slade Ransdell got to watch the defenders at work without doing too much work himself. He didn’t play a single ball in the second half, and he said the teammates in front of him have been on top of their game at the best possible time.
“Our defense is probably one of the best in the state, in my opinion,” Ransdell said. “With the way they’re playing right now going into region, I think we have a really good shot at keeping it up.”
The Titans will host the 12th Region Tournament, which is expected to begin Monday. They’ll be the favorites in the eight-team tourney, and they said being at home will add to their edge.
“Playing on our own field, it’s not only just fan support and being close (to home), but even the dimensions of the field. ... It’s a full-size field, unlike some other places where you’re either playing on a huge field or you’re playing on an itty-bitty field, and we have an advantage,” Souder said.
Angel said playing in front of more friendly faces will also be an advantage.
“It’s good because of the fans. The fans really help, and it’s just nice being home,” he said.
Souder scored on the first shot of the game, taking a pass from Matt Gammon that also drew West Jessamine goalkeeper Wesley Holifield out and beating Holifield for an easy shot in the eighth minute.
He scored again in the 30th minute on a one-on-one opportunity, and Bosse scored less than 3 minutes before halftime when he punched in a ball that the Colts couldn’t clear after a shot from the side by Angel.
Angel capped the scoring midway through the second half, taking a pass from Souder on the right side and firing from outside the 18-yard box.
Mercer outshot West Jessamine 15-2, and the Colts’ only two shots came in a 2-minute span early in the game. Holifield had five saves for the Colts; Ransdell had one for the Titans.
Josh Bowman, West Jessamine; Sam Brown, West Jessamine; Dylan Carss, Mercer County; Matt Gammon, Mercer County; Jackson Green, East Jessamine; Shawn Murphy, West Jessamine; Jarod Rocco, East Jessamine; Landon Souder, Mercer County; Daniel Steele, Mercer County.