The Mercer County boys soccer team is heading back to the 12th Region Tournament Championship for the second straight year, after defeating Lincoln County 3-0 in the semifinals Wednesday night.
In the championship, the Titans will face the Boyle County Rebels, who defeated Somerset 6-0 in Wednesday nights other semifinal.
Boyle and Mercer County squared off in last year’s championship, which the Rebels won 3-2.
After one half Wednesday night, it wasn’t clear whether Mercer County or Lincoln County would advance to the final, as they remained tied 0-0 at halftime, despite a 7-2 shooting advantage for the Titans.
“We wanted to come out and possess the ball in the first half and get more shots, unfortunately we didn’t come out and play well in the first half, though,” said Mercer County Head Coach Garrett Stark. “But, you know, it is tournament time and you’ve got jitters going on and I think that we came out a little flat.”
The second half was a different story.
Mercer outshot Lincoln 10-0 in the first 16 minutes of the second half, before Nick McClain’s shot from 30 yards out went buzzing past the diving Lincoln County goalkeeper.
“It came bouncing to me and I saw that I had the shot, so I took it and I couldn’t have asked for a better outcome,” said McClain.
“I was happy for Nick, because he has had some rocket shots all season long, but they’ve either barely missed over or to the side. Tonight he was able to finish it and it obviously gave us a spark,” said Stark.
It wasn’t long before the Titans padded their lead, as Cody Shackelford scored less than a minute later to put the Titans ahead, 2-0.
“Getting that first goal in, especially in a tournament situation, relaxes them,” said Stark. “So after that first goal I thought our guys played more relaxed and had a little more intensity.”
Not only was Shackelford’s goal important to help spread the gap, it also helped him break the Mercer County single season goal scoring record at 26.
“Most of my goals this year have been off assists from my teammates,” said Shackelford. “It is also because our defense helps us create those chances up top.”
Shackelford wasn’t done for the night, though, as he added his second goal of the night with 11 minutes left in the game.
Tonight, Mercer County and Boyle County will square off in the 12th Region Championship at 6 p.m. at Southwestern High School. Stark said he hopes the Titans come out a little better than they did Wednesday night.
“We are excited to be in the championship game,” said Stark. “Hopefully we will play a good first and second half.”