Brian Acosta, Erik Barragan-Renteria and other Garden City Community College soccer players lay sprawled on the pitch. Spent. Others had their hands over their faces and others slowly walked to the sideline to gather themselves.
Just to the side, euphoria struck the visiting Johnson County squad as the Cavaliers celebrated their 1-0 victory over the Busters in the Region VI tournament first round match, ending Garden City’s first season back as a program since 2010.
Just minutes earlier, the youthful Busters were in full control of the match at Broncbuster Stadium, out-shooting the Cavs, 21-4. Despite the Busters controlling the pace and the ball for nearly the entire match, the visiting Cavaliers found a goal in the 79th minute on a header by Kyle Scott to go up 1-0.
The Busters had several last-gasp attempts for an equalizer, but like all of their efforts for the match, all were left begging as the fourth-seeded Busters were upset by fifth-seed Johnson County on Thursday afternoon.
“I think it’s just mental strength, and whoever is able to carry out the game,” freshman David Amaro said, interrupted by the cheers of the Cavs and surrounded by the aura of heartbreak on the Buster bench. “I just think keeping your head throughout the game will help you get what you’re looking for. And I guess they came and they were more focused than we were. We had a couple of chances, and we had to get them in the net…”
They didn’t. And it was more than a couple of chances.
Freshman striker Jordan Burton had a golden chance early in the first half when he found himself behind the Johnson County backline and on the other side of a long through ball. But his lob shot over the Cavs’ attacking goalkeeper, Caleb Cothrin, carried over the post.
Cothrin was tasked with saving 11 shots, including a couple of diving stops of what were sure goals for the Busters.
“We played well, we just missed a lot of goals,” head coach Charles Long said. “We can go down the list. We had opportunities. Their keeper made some really nice saves, too. He played big.”
Meanwhile, the Cavs had just two shots in the first half, with their only threat coming on a 35-yard free kick that tested Garden City keeper Frederic Gomez, who mishandled the shot but was able to gather the rebound.
Garden City dominated time of possession in the first half, tallying 13 shots to the Cavaliers’ 2. But the Busters were not able to break through, with their best chance actually coming by accident, when defender Marcos Sena, on the attack, had a Johnson County clearance attempt hit him in the head and nearly rebound into the Cavs’ net for the opening goal.
Instead, Cavs goalkeeper Caleb Cothrin punched it away to another Buster attacker, who drilled another shot towards the net, but this one Cothrin caught to end the threat.
“It’s something we’ve been struggling the whole year with, putting it in the back of the net,” Barragan-Renteria said. “That killed us. It killed us in a lot of games. And this is a a game where you’ve got to put it in the back of the net to keep going, and sadly we didn’t do that. They took advantage and came out with the win.”
To begin the second half, the Busters continued to dominate the possession, sending shot after shot towards the Johnson County net, only to have it just miss or saved by Cothrin.
As the game wore on, though, the Cavs began to land a couple of counter-attacks, including one that sprung a forward free down the right side with a seemingly clear look at net. But Barragan-Renteria, usually a forward but playing on the backline for much of Thursday’s match, slid in at the last second to deflect the shot out of bounds, keeping the match scoreless for just a few seconds more.
On the ensuing corner kick, Scott sent his header inside of the near-left post for what ended up being the game-winner.
“It wasn’t meant to be. I was disappointed in our guys because we deserve to play, keep going,” Long said. “I’m proud of them, the effort they put out, their professionalism. They were not as mad as I was at the referees. They understood we were in trouble, and they played in spite of that.”
Long was referencing the center ref for Thursday’s game that the Busters have had multiple issues with during the season, including a few times Thursday. One such instance came in the final minutes.
With the Busters desperately trying to find an equalizer to send the game to extra time, Barragan-Renteria dribbled into the 18-yard box and was tackled by a defender, which the ref could have called a penalty kick if the defender made contact with Barragan-Renteria, instead of the ball, first. No call, and the Cavs were given a goal kick.
“With these guys, you’re not going to get a break, so play,” Long said of the refs and how he wanted his Busters to perform. “I was real proud of them. They played all the way. With 13 seconds left, we’re still trying to find a goal. They never quit.
“For me, that’s something I can build on. The heart. That drive. It’s a heartbreaking loss. I think if we went into overtime, we would have beat them. I think if we had another five minutes, I think we might have scored, but we didn’t.”
Instead of extra time, the Busters were left with an 11-5-1 overall record and the offseason.
“I’m proud of what we accomplished,” Barragan-Renteria said. “What, 11-5? That’s a good record for a first-year team.”
Said Amaro, “We had a great season. I’m really proud of my team. We went all out, left it all on the field.”
Out of the 25-man Buster roster, 23 are freshmen. Undoubtedly, while not all will return, the core of a strong program again is there.
“I told the guys, ‘First season, you’re ranked four times. You finish fourth, that’s good,’” Long said. “‘Learn from it,’ and hopefully next year we come back and have majority of sophomores, and that will help with some maturity-level. But (this year’s) a start.”
The Cavs improve to 10-6-2, and move on to the Region VI semifinals on Nov. 1, when they travel to take on Pratt, 6-0 winners over Northwest Kansas Tech Thursday.
Johnson Co. 0 1 — 1
Garden City 0 0 — 0
JC—Kyle Scott (Kevin Combs), 89th minute.
Shots—Johnson Co. 4, Garden City 21. S.O.G.—Johnson Co. 3, Garden City 11. Saves—Johnson Co. (Caleb Cothrin 11), Garden City (Frederic Gomez 2). Yellow Cards—Johnson Co. (Valiente, 47th; Gonzales, 64th); Garden City (De La More, 38th).