Smith-Cotton outshot Grain Valley, out-possessed them and had the ball in the Eagles’ end for much of the game, but it was Grain Valley breaking through with the lone goal to beat the Tigers 1-0 in Wednesday’s Class 3, District 13 final at Tiger Stadium, denying S-C’s bid to return to the Final Four.
The game was scoreless until Grain Valley broke through in the 65th minute as Antonio Zamora took a long pass, made a run through the S-C defense and slotted a shot past Landon Dove.
“I really felt like we were the better team,” said Smith-Cotton coach Ethan Weller. “We got plenty of opportunities in the first half and we just never really got anything that was for sure on frame and the ones we did, he kind of parried away and we didn’t follow.
“That’s the game of soccer. I don’t know how many games I’ve seen where one team is the better team and they somehow don’t win it. We’ve kind of talked all year and even last year about games like this, a game where you’re probably the better team but the other team’s organized and athletic enough to stay with you and cause you problems and they take advantage of opportunity.”
Smith-Cotton took a total of 22 shots — 12 of them on frame — but the Eagles defense and keeper RC Jones turned all of them away. The Eagles defense turned away multiple S-C chances off of corner kicks in the final 15 minutes. Smith-Cotton had a free kick in the final seconds but the Grain Valley defense stopped several shots.
“When they transitioned and got that goal, they basically just dug in,” Weller said. “They were going to play every ball long and just keep us out. You’ve got to hand it to them. They got us.”
Grain Valley had the first shot of the game, a header saved by Dove in the third minute, but the Tigers began to take control after that. In the fourth minute, Jordan Lawson hit the post with a shot. A minute later, Thomas Todd had a chance off a corner which was turned away.
Jones made saves to deny Brendon Hofheins, Carlos Aguire and Vlad Varshytskyy in the first half. In the 12th minute, the Tigers sent a long pass forward to Alex Esquivel, which Jones got to first.
“Their keeper came up big on a couple of saves,” Weller said. “We never really followed on some rebounds. We definitely felt like we had the run of play.”
Grain Valley had a few early opportunities. Roberto Ramirez turned one away with a tackle. Blake Grupe stopped another. Goodson made a play to deny Alex Hein. With just seconds left in the first half, Dove made a diving save to keep the game scoreless.
“They’re well organized,” Weller said of his defense. “They play well together. We talked about trying to make sure we keep track of their midfielders. That was just the usual effort you get from those guys game in and game out.”
Eric Ingles can be reached at 660-826-1000, ext. 1483 or on Twitter @Eric_Ingles