By BRETT MARSHALL
In sports, home is usually where the heart is.
And along with that, victories are more the norm than the exception.
But don't tell that to the Garden City Lady Buffaloes' soccer team, or to their counterparts from Wichita North.
On a hot, blustery late spring evening, the vistiing Lady Redskins left Buffalo Stadium Tuesday with a hard-fought 1-0 victory in the first round of the South Central Section Regional Class 6A playoffs.
GCHS' new home at Buffalo Stadium proved to be an unwelcome place for the Lady Buffs in this first year at the new facility. The Lady Buffs struggled, finishing with a record of 3-4-1 while reversing that trend on the road, going 6-3-0 to complete their season at 9-7-1. North advances to the regional title game on Thursday against the winner of Tuesday's Wichita Heights-Dodge City game.
The upset loss ended a late-season run for the Lady Buffs, who closed out the regular portion of their schedule by winning four of their final games, the lone loss to Heights in the Wichita North Cup championship game on May 4.
Yet all that didn't matter to the 7-10-0 Lady Redskins, who came out being more the aggressor in the first 40 minutes of play.
Despite another strong goalkeeping effort by freshman Ashlee Richman, it was a fluke bounce of the ball that allowed North's Dora Gallo in the 28th minute to just beat a diving Richman to boot the ball into the goal. That would be all the Lady 'Skins would need as the Lady Buffs struggled on the offensive end the first half while going into the teeth of a 20-25 mph wind that gusted occasionally to 35 mph.
Garden City managed just five shots in that first half, while North matched that number, with the one exception being Gallo's goal.
"They had the wind, and we had trouble getting the ball to their end," GCHS coach Joaquin Padilla said. "They had speed in front of us, and we had to make some adjustments. They were just quicker to the ball. It was that one little bounce."
Getting that helping wind in the second half didn't really see any results until about the 73rd minute, although near-misses occurred by Megan Martinez in the 46th minute when she missed from the right side of the goal box. Cecilia Alvarez drilled a shot from the 20-yard line on the right side and the ball was momentarily bobbled by North goalkeeper Devin Smithhisler in the 60th minute. Shots also just went wide or right at Smithhisler by the Lady Buffs' Alyssa Martinez, Haley Brennaman, Amber Miller and again by Martinez. It was Martinez' backfooted kick that looked as though it sneaked into the right goal with just 3:50 remaining in the game, but the Buffs were called for offside. It was unclear whether or not the ball settled in the goal, or had bounced back outside. The offside made it a moot point.
"That's been part of our problem all year," Padilla said. "Sometimes I think we just get too anxious, try to shoot too quickly. We had two headers that almost went in."
Of the Lady Buffs' seven losses, six of them came when they failed to score.
Padilla was at a loss to explain the home/road record discrepancy, saying that his team needs to be more aggressive at the game's outset.
"Energy-wise, we just didn't seem to have it at the beginning today," Padilla said. "We just didn't do that as well as we should have."
The game was the final for three seniors, two of whom start — Brennaman and Greta Peters — and Carla Velasquez. The Buffs return the rest of the nucleus of the team, including Richman, who was steady in goal all season for Padilla. The rookie gave up just 21 goals all season, with seven of those goals coming in sudden death shootouts.
"Defensively, we've been pretty good all season and Ashlee has done a tremendous job for us," Padilla said. "We've got to do some offseason things to work on our offensive sets and getting the girls to do more touch, and give-and-go type of plays."
Wichita North 1 0 -- 1
Garden City 0 0 -- 0
WN--Dora Gallo, unassisted, 28th minute
Shots--Wichita North 10, Garden City 16. Goalkeeper Saves--Wichita North (Devin Smithhisler 6), Garden City (Ashlee Richman 5). Corner kicks--Wichita North 1, Garden City 4.