By BRETT MARSHALL
It had been difficult enough for the Garden City Buffaloes to erase the year-long memory of a 4-3 double-overtime loss to Derby in the second round of the Class 6A soccer playoffs.
And so when the Buffs finally knotted the score at 2-2 with 18 minutes left in regulation of Tuesday's first round game against Lawrence-Free State at Buffalo Stadium, one couldn't help to wonder if history wasn't repeating itself.
But thanks to a long chip pass from junior Eric Barragan to sophomore Gilberto Tovar on the far left wing, the Buffs got the winning kick with 6:17 (84th minute) remaining in overtime for a dramatic 3-2 victory over the Firebirds.
Tovar had been on the left wing for much of the game, and had told Barragan earlier that he thought if the positioning were right, a pass that way could possibly work.
In this case, it worked to perfection.
Barragan got the ball on the far right just outside the 17-yard penalty box and lofted the pass over several Free State defenders where Tovar was waiting.
He was able to slip by one defender and drilled it just inside the left goal post and past Firebird goalkeeper Tyler Bryant, who had baffled the Buffs for much of the game.
"They had been leaving the whole left side open for most of the game," Barragan said of his cross to Tovar. "We kept looking for the right time to try it and this time it worked perfectly. Gilberto was able to go in for the run."
Tovar said it was a quick reaction type of play, one that they work on, but this one provided one of the key goals of what has been a highly successful season for the Buffs.
"I was just going up the line by myself and I saw a gap open and it was a long time waiting," Tovar said. "They kept playing the right side and finally we found an opening. They're a great team and came out with everything they had."
Now 13-4-0, the Buffs travel to arch-rival Dodge City for a 5 p.m. Thursday regional championship showdown. The teams split during the regular season, Dodge winning on their home turf, 2-0, and the Buffs returning the favor, getting a 3-2 overtime win against the Demons.
It won't take any pep talks to get the Buffs ready for the Demons. The soccer game comes one day before the 115th football game between the two schools and the 76th Hatchet Game.
"Now we have to prepare for Dodge City and prove that we are a great team," Tovar said.
The Buffs outshot the Firebirds 17-7, but Free State made its shots count, getting two goals from the seven it had.
"We knew coming in they'd be a tough team," GCHS head coach Joaquin Padilla said. "They had a good goalkeeper and some good strikers. I thought our defense was our strength again tonight."
Free State scored first, getting an unassisted goal from Chris Allen on a boot from the 30-yard line that eluded the outstretched arms of Buffs' keeper Isreal Reyes. That was in the ninth minute, and it held up for the remainder of the first half.
David Fuentes evened the score when he also scored from 30 yards out, with the ball finding the high left side of the net in the 46th minute. Lawrence regained the lead when PJ Budenbender took a centered pass from Allen and beat Reyes, who had come out to the outer front of the goal box, but Budenbender beat him to the ball and knocked it in, with the score coming in the 58th minute.
Just over three minutes later, Barragan scored on a penalty kick after being tripped in the penalty box. When Bryant guessed by going to his right, Barragan answered with a rifle shot into the right side of the net and again it was tied with just 18:04 left in regulation.
Both teams had opportunities near the end of regulation to win the game, but couldn't get that elusive game-winner.
Free State (6-10-1) missed its lone shot of overtime when it soared high over the crossbar. Tova's winner was the lone shot of OT for the Buffs.
Lawrence Free State 1 1 0 -- 2
Garden City 0 2 1 -- 3
LFS--Chris Allen, unassisted, 9th minute
GC--David Fuentes, unassisted, 46th minute
LFS--PJ Budenbender, Allen assist, 58th minute
GC--Eric Barragan, penalty kick, 61st minute
GC--Gilberto Tovar, Barragan assist, 84th minute
Shots--Lawrence-Free State 7, Garden City 17. Saves--Free State (Bryant 4), Garden City (Reyes 1). Corner kicks--Free State 0, Garden City 4. Penalties--Lawrence Free State: Yellow (Alex Trent, Daniel Clarke, Josh Hodge).