TOPEKA — Garden City High School’s boys soccer team was trying to advance to the Class 6A quarterfinals for the second straight year on Thursday at McIlroy Field against Topeka-Washburn Rural.
But the Junior Blues, the No. 2 seed of the South Central Regional, dominated the goal box area throughout and used that advantage to produce a 4-0 victory over the Buffs in the South Central Regional final.
The victory for Washburn Rural sends the Junior Blues into next week’s quarterfinal against Wichita North, 3-2 winners over Lawrence-Free State, also on Thursday. The Blues improved to 15-2-1 overall while the Buffs saw their season record finish out at 11-7-0.
“Overall, I thought it was one of our better efforts of the season,” GCHS head coach Joaquin Padilla said. “They’re a very good team. You can’t take anything away from them. Other than a couple of breakdowns, we outplayed them for much of the first half.”
It was another tough way for the Buffs to see their season end, although this game was not in doubt like the 2014 quarterfinal heartbreaker at Wichita East.
Washburn Rural got on the board first in the 10th minute when Nathaniel Sapata received a throw-in and deftly booted the ball into the net for a 1-0 lead.
The Junior Blues upped their lead to 2-0 in the 21st minute on a nifty corner kick by Ross Boyd that found 6-foot-4 midfielder Joah Hickel, who delivered a header into the net past Buffs’ goalkeeper Kender Acevedo.
That lead held through the remainder of the opening 40 minutes.
Prior to the start of the game, GCHS coach Joaquin Padilla and assistant coach Josue Negron had expressed concern about the Junior Blues decided height advantage around the goal box area, and that concern was warranted.
“It was just really tough around the goal,” said Acevedo. “They’re so tall, and they really crowd into the net. It was just really tough to stop.”
Much like the first half when the Buffs held the Blues scoreless for the first 10-plus minutes, the second half was a mirror image.
Just before the 57th minute ended (22:01), the Blues put a lock on the outcome when Brayden White scored on a direct kick that rifled its way into the lower right corner of the goal just past the diving Acevedo. A foot to the right and it would have been out.
Less than three minutes later, in the 61st minute, Marquis Pierce got a goal in a crowded scrum just in front of the goal box to finish out the scoring.
The Buffs managed nine shots, but only a couple of them were close. Alex Morales had the best chance in the first half when his kick from just outside the right side of the goal box sailed off to the right.
Other than that, most of the Garden shots came from further distances and went wide. Rural, meanwhile, had 14 shots and made their set pieces count. Their throw-ins resembled corner kicks and they took advantage of those opportunities.
Nine seniors concluded their GCHS careers.
Garden City 0 0 — 0
Washburn Rural 2 2 — 4
WR—Nathaniel Sapata, throw-in assist n/a, 10th minute
WR—Joah Hickel, corner kick assist Ross Boyd, 21st minute
WR—Brayden White, direct kick, unassisted, 57th minute
WR—Marquis Pierce, unassisted, 61st minute
Shots—Garden City 9, Washburn Rural 14. Saves—Garden City (Kender Acevedo 3), Washburn Rural (Jenner Hickel 1, Collin Freking 1).
Cautions—Yellow: Garden City (Erik Hernandez, 57th minute); Washburn Rural (Marquis Pierce, 29th minute).