Grain Valley spoils Truman's chance at outright conference title

By Michael Smith
The Examiner

The Grain Valley boys soccer team has had a steady stream of talented goal scorers since 2014.

Some of those past players include Blake Desselle, Alex Thiessen, Noah Espinosa and most recently, Jack Knust, who graduated after last season.

The 2020 season has been a little different for the Eagles. There hasn’t been one primary goal scorer, and the offense has been more balanced between a handful of players. And in Thursday’s conference game against Truman, it was senior Alex Engram’s turn to be the main offensive threat.

He scored both of Grain Valley’s goals in the first half as his team hung on for a 2-1 victory on senior night at Moody Murry Memorial Field, spoiling Truman’s chance for an outright Suburban Middle Six title.

“We came out on senior night and really wanted to take it to them,” Engram said. “It felt really, really good to get that win on senior night. It will probably hit me later, but stepping on the field knowing it’s our last home game as senior, that’s crazy because I have spent four years in this program and I have really dedicated my time to it.”

Both of the senior’s goals came on through balls over the top. He converted both inside the 18-yard box on assists from Owen White and Micah Siems. Those goals put him in the team lead with nine for the season.

“Honestly, it’s felt like there was a weight on my shoulders to score more goals,” Engram said. “I have just tried my best, but it’s been easy because of the guys around me that help me get into position to score.”

Grain Valley coach Brett Lewis was pleased both with Engram’s play and the team’s performance as a whole.

“In the first 60 minutes, I thought we were the better team; we created more opportunities,” said Lewis whose team improved to 7-11 overall and 5-4 in the conference. “We probably really deserved a couple more goals. JR (Brown) missed a couple inside the box that he would normally score.

“Alex has been a stud this year but hasn’t scored as much as he would like to. But I tell you what, tonight against a very good Truman team, he stepped up. He became the Alex we all knew, getting behind the defense and being physical.”

And it helped Engram’s cause that the Eagles played well when it got into Truman’s third of the field.

“In practice, we have been working on pushing the ball in the final third,” Engram said. “I think we were finding those through passes toward the goal and we scored and finished our chances.”

And the success of getting it to the Patriots’ third was made possible by Grain Valley’s midfielders, whom Lewis said had a good game.

“We played through our midfield really well today,” Lewis said. “They did a fantastic job keeping possession for us. We were able to find our center midfielder a lot, he was able to drive it and get it to the right and left backs.”

Truman (9-8, 7-3), which tied Belton for the Middle Six championship and had won five straight, took a cautious approach with the district tournament beginning on Saturday. He pulled his starters with 15 minutes left. The Patriots’ lone goal came from a penalty kick by Alan Romero late in the first half.

“We wanted to make sure we didn’t have any injuries and we knew we would have at least a share of conference,” Truman coach Manny Tovar said. “We had two players get (yellow) cards, and we kept them out of the game to make sure nothing happened.”.

The Patriots will play a familiar foe in the Class 4 District ?? semifinals at 10 a.m. Saturday at Rockhurst High School as they take on conference rival Fort Osage.

“We really don’t have to work on too much because we have seen Fort twice already,” Tovar said. “We kind of know what they are going to do and they probably know what we are going to do.”

Grain Valley will enter Class 3 District 8 play as the No. 2 seed and will play Warrensburg at 7 p.m. Monday at Clover Dell Park in Sedalia. The winner will take on No. 1 seed Sedalia Sacred Heart, which gets a bye thanks to St. Paul Lutheran of Concordia dropping out of the tournament because of COVID-19 related issues.

“There’s a lot of teams in the state that we can hang with when we play like we know how,” Lewis said. “We’ve been bitten by teams that I thought we were better than and we didn’t get the result, so we aren’t going to take anyone lightly. We are confident with the way we are playing right now and how we are defending.”