SOMERSET — Jake Winkler admitted that the longer the match went Wednesday, the more he and his Danville teammates were starting to press.
But Winkler, as he has been all season, was there when the Admirals needed him, scoring off of a free kick with less than 6 1/2 minutes left to give the Admirals a 2-1 win over Mercer County in the 15th Region Tournament final at Somerset.
“To win this game, it feels great. Because when you win a close game, it feels great to pull it out,” said Winkler, who scored both goals for the No. 15 Admirals. Danville will now play at the winner of tonight’s 14th Region final between Paul Dunbar and East Jessamine in a sub-sectional game Tuesday. “It was tied 1-1 with less than seven to play, yeah, we were pressing for a goal.”
And it took everything Danville (21-3) had to get to that game.
The Admirals outscored Mercer 11-2 in the two previous meetings, but the Titans had them tied at 1-all with 6:10 to play.
That’s when Mercer was called for a foul. On the free kick, Max Meckes just tapped the ball to Winkler, who ripped a low shot past Mercer keeper Everett Hood into the lower left corner of the goal for a 2-1 lead.
“We just lined up and Max played the ball off to me and I just ripped it,” said Winkler, who now needs just one goal to tie Steve Smith’s 1985 school single-season record of 41 goals.
The Admirals’ defense did the rest, holding Mercer (13-7-2) without a shot from them on and sending Danville to the state tournament for the second year in a row.
“I said very early, we’re going to have to beat Mercer three times to win the region,” Danville coach Brent Beauman said. “I was sweating it all day, and it was the way it was. But we fought through it. Mercer County’s a good team. That’s the team I was expecting to play those other two times.”
And aside from the final score, Mercer coach David Welsh had no complaints about the way things turned out for his team.
“They were a class team. It was about as hard-fought game as we had all year. We finally came out with the intensity wit them that we were capable,” Welsh said. “I told them they’ve got nothing to hang their heads about.”
Especially with the way the Titans shut down a Danville team which had scored 127 goals coming into the game.
Welsh figured speedy sophomore Matt Gammon could keep up with Winkler, but the Mercer coach was more concerned with slowing down Meckes.
“We watched the tapes from the first two games, and basically we matched Winkler speed for speed, and he had basically been shut down until tonight,” he said. “But Meckes chewed us up the first two games. And we took our two strongest defenders, and told them, ‘He doesn’t move without you near him. Mark and stay on him and don’t let him get anything.’ And tonight he didn’t. Now, that then went back to Winkler, but ...”
Winkler was impressed with the Titans’ defense.
“Mercer played better than they had the first two games by tenfold. They were into this game, they wanted to win bad. They played great,” he said. “It was a lot more physical this time, but they just wanted it.”
Danville held a 24-6 edge in shots, including 15-1 in shots on goal and 8-1 in corner kicks. But the Ads kept coming up empty.
“It seemed like there was a lot of people behind the ball. So as soon as we gained possession there were people behind the ball,” Beauman said. “And they kept moving (Gammon) with Jake, that kid’s an amazing defender.
“And when we got the ball wide, they clogged the middle so we couldn’t get our through balls. They played a great team defense.”
And despite an early barrage of Danville shots, it was a scoreless match until Winkler was fouled inside 18 yards with 25:07 left in the half. He lined up for a free kick on the left side from 15 yards out and curled it into the upper right corner of the goal over Mercer keeper Slade Ransdell for a 1-0 lead.
“I hit it solid. I was really just trying to hit it far post and hope that somebody would get it and put it in,” Winkler said.
But from there, Mercer got more aggressive on offense and evened things up about five minutes later.
Landon Souder managed to gain control in a scrum near the goal and put it past Danville goalkeeper Matt Oster to make it a 1-1 game with 20:15 left in the half, a score which stood at the break.
“When Landon got that goal, it got everybody up and let them see, ‘Hey, we really can do this,’” Welsh said.
Mercer’s best scoring chance came less than 6 1/2 minutes into the second half, when Tate Spivey found himself with a nearly open shot, but a slight hesitation allowed the Danville defense to swoop in and clear the ball.
Beauman praised his team’s defense as well, especially in the second half.
“The second half we picked it up,” he said. “We talked with some people at halftime and they came out and really played hard.”
Danville had several second-half scoring chances, but got big saves from Hood, who finished with five saves while Ransdell had six for Mercer.
Oscar Cummins, Lincoln County; Matt Gammon, Mercer County; Christian Gateskill-Fuqua, Danville; Colby Hall, Somerset; Blake Hobson, Danville; Max Meckes, Danville; Sean Nolin, Mercer County; Zak Rice, Lincoln County; Tate Spivey, Mercer County; David Weigel, Somerset; Jake Winkler, Danville (most valuable player).