GCHS earns shutout of league rival Liberal.
By KEVIN THOMPSON
It's an apropos adage in any sport.
When you're the defending champion, everyone wants a piece of you.
The Garden City High School soccer team knows that, and in its Western Athletic Conference title defense, the Buffaloes held off challenger No. 1, Liberal, 2-0 on Thursday at Buffalo Stadium.
And the win was sweeter because it came against the team from whom they wrested the WAC title last year.
"The game was very intense," coach Joaquin Padilla said. "They had won the WAC so many years, and we won it last year, and we knew they wanted it back."
The close score reflects how close the match was, as the Buffaloes managed just a goal in each half but saw a defense rise to the occasion and get the shutout over a perennially strong Redskins team.
Eric Barragan scored in the 22nd minute on an assist from David Amaro. Barragan got through two defenders for his goal.
Mario Bautista scored in the 54th minute, an unassisted goal that he tapped in from close range after the Liberal goalkeeper had just cleared the ball.
It was all the Buffs needed as they improved to 3-2 for the season, but more importantly, 1-0 in the WAC.
The late afternoon game was contested at Buffalo Stadium, a north-south field, in a steady wind out of the north, providing another element to the tight game.
"But I thought we played well in the wind," Padilla said. "I wish we could have scored a couple more with the wind (in the second half) but we did control the midfield most of the time."
Acknowledging the toughness of the Redskins, Padilla said this was a good test of his team's mettle.
"Any time we play in the WAC and they know that we are the team, they want to come after you every game," he said. "So every game is going to be tough. Every game you have to be up. You can't afford to make mistakes."
Thursday's win gave Padilla some insight into how his team can rise to the challenges of defending a title, citing the Buffaloes' efforts to control both sides of the ball.
"We're trying to play wider, at times trying to get the ball out to the wings," he said, saying the tendency is to play a shorter game with three guys when outside players are wide open.
He saw that his young squad was more aware of seeing the open players wide, which also makes their game tougher to defend.
Israel Reyes defended the goal well with eight saves, and the Garden City defenders came up big, Padilla added.
"He does well," Padilla said of his junior goalkeeper. "He will keep improving and help us."
The Buffaloes play at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at Dodge City then take on Great Bend on Oct. 1.
"This team is good enough to do it over again," Padilla said of winning the WAC. "We just have to work more on team play and teamwork," he said. "We'll play with anybody."
Box score in Scoreboard, Page B2.