For the third straight year, the Grain Valley soccer team reached the Class 3 District 13 championship game.
After winning district titles by one-goal margins the past two falls, the season came to an end for the host Eagles by that same margin Wednesday night, falling 1-0 to Marshall.
Grain Valley's last-ditch effort featured a shot on goal with 10 seconds left. As soon as it sailed wide right and out of bounds, a handful of Eagles collapsed to the ground in agony.
Marshall players stormed to the opposite side of the field to celebrate after extracting a bit of revenge in the process.
The two teams met in the district title game last year and played to a 1-1 tie after 80 minutes. The Eagles then topped the Owls in penalty kicks to advance.
“Every time we have Grain Valley on our schedule, we have that game highlighted,” Marshall coach Justin Van Winkle said. “We lost to Grain Valley earlier this year (1-0 on Sept. 11 on the same field) so we know how tough of a team they were. We lost three times in a row (in districts) to them.
“Both coaches knew it would be a clash. We got the lucky bounce. It could've went either way.”
The bounce the Owls coach referred to was not actually a bounce, but more of a well-placed kick that made the difference.
Scoreless for 38 minutes in the opening half, Marshall turned the tide of the game around in a 1-minute span. With 1 minute, 45 seconds left in the first half, Noe Medrano was tackled and drew a foul call for Marshall.
He got the free kick on the 10-yard line marker on the football field. He ran up and booted it and the ball sailed toward the goal and then bent to the left at the last second, sneaking into the right goal post with 1 minute left in the first half.
That turned out to be the only goal and became the third straight one-goal margin for the Eagles (12-11) in the district finals. They beat Sedalia Smith-Cotton 1-0 in 2015 on the way to a third-place finish at state. Last year, the 2-1 margin against Marshall (17-8) was the start of a playoff march to a fourth-place finish for Grain Valley.
“It has been a little bit of a rivalry and battle the past few years,” Grain Valley coach Tyler Nichol said. “We have knocked them out of postseason the last three years, so we knew they'd be up for it and it would probably be a one-goal game either way.
“You know, it is one of those the-ball-isn't-bouncing-your-way type of days. It is tough and it is hard to swallow.”
In a unique coincidence, one of Grain Valley's best scoring chances came in almost the exact same spot where Medrano made his marker.
Nathan Racz was tackled from behind and drew a free kick for Grain Valley. Jack Knust took the free kick and his shot sailed toward the goal, but Marshall goalkeeper Diego Umano leaped and punched the ball away to keep the one-goal lead in the 62nd minute.
Grain Valley spent much of the final 10 minutes attacking, but didn't come up with many shots. The game also featured a five-minute delay when Knust and Marshall's Giovanny Sandoval both went up for a header and collided. Both left the contest with 21 seconds remaining.
Grain Valley had a free kick from the foul on Sandoval, but couldn't convert. The Eagles even pulled goalkeeper Nate Booker – who had five saves -- up from his spot to play as an attacker.
Grain Valley had limited shots in the first half but had one strong chance in the 16th minute. A cross pass went to into the goalie box and Alexander Engram went for it, he got to the ball about the same time as Umano. Engram got a kick off that rolled on the ground toward an open goal but rolled out of bounds just wide right of the post.
“It is a game of inches and whoever puts their chances away usually comes out on top,” Nichol said.