By KEVIN THOMPSON
In true Dickensian fashion, the Garden City High School soccer win Thursday was a best of times with a little of the worst of times thrown in, literally.
The Buffaloes won the Western Athletic Conference with a 5-1 win over Great Bend at Buffalo Stadium, their first such title since 2003.
All five of their goals were scored by seniors on senior recognition night.
The win upped their record to 10-2 (6-1 in league), with momentum heading into the final stretch before the Class 6A playoffs begin.
That was the best of times. A red card for a fight late in the game was the worst part of the night.
Joel Sanchez scored two goals to give the Buffaloes a 2-0 halftime lead, and those would prove to be enough.
For good measure, and to make a statement, Garden City scored three more times for a 5-0 lead before the Panthers scored a goal in the waning minutes. Jeremy Cruz scored just seven minutes into the second half. Diego Benitez added another two minutes later. And Win Ko capped the scoring in the 57th minute.
Benitez's goal started with his back to the goal before he turned and found the upper left corner of the goal.
But he was also on the throwing end of a punch late in the game that earned him a red card and an automatic one-game suspension, the only stain on an otherwise stellar evening.
"It's the best feeling to be champion for the first time in my high school career," Sanchez said. "This team is like a big family to me. It was senior night. It was my last home game. This is great."
All season long, the Buffaloes have worked to play as a team, he said, and everything has come together. With 15 seniors on the squad, they decided this season was it for them to make the run, and it paid off.
Goalkeeper Carlos Luquin echoed those sentiments.
"It feels really great. We've been busting our butts off in practice," he said.
A little revenge was also on their minds, he added. After beating Great Bend earlier in the season, the Panthers' coach called it a lucky win.
"When I heard that, I was furious. It just made me want to come out and play my best," he said.
For the record, Panther head coach Gustavo Prieto received a red card and had to leave the game at halftime.
Buffalo head coach Joaquin Padilla was happy with the win and title, both a result of getting players to realize the goals were achievable.
"We've worked hard to get them to believe that they can do this. About three games back (avenging a loss to Liberal with a home win last week), they started thinking it was possible. Today they performed the way they needed to," he said.
Addressing Benitez's red card, Padilla said the situation is something players need to control.
"When things happen and you get mad in a blowout, it doesn't really change what happens. You just have to deal with the consequences and go on," he said. "It was just a poor choice."
Other than that, it was a good night, he said.
Now, With the league title in hand, Padilla said the Buffs need to carry over the confidence into the final regular-season games and beyond.
"The title is one goal we hoped to achieve," he said. "Hopefully, we can host a regional game and see what happens."
The Buffs will close out their WAC schedule on Tuesday with a 5:30 p.m. game at Hays High, a team they defeated, 3-1, on Aug. 27. The Buffs will compete on Oct. 9 and 11 in the Wichita North Tournament.
Garden City 5, Great Bend 1
Great Bend 0 1 -- 1
Garden City 2 3 -- 5
GC — Sanchez, 9th minute
GC — Sanchez, 19th minute
GC — Cruz, 47th minute
GC — Benitez, 50th minute
GC — Ko, 62nd minute
GB — Mijares, 77th minute
Red card — Great Bend 1 (Coach ejected); Garden City 1 (Benitez ejected)