With a 4-0 rout of Dodge City on Tuesday night, the Garden City Buffaloes are once again a win away from a state quarterfinal berth.
It's a position the Buffaloes have found themselves in four of the last five seasons — but each time, the Buffs lost in the regional final, sometimes in heartbreaking fashion like a loss on penalty kicks to Dodge City two years ago.
With those pesky Red Demons out of the way, the Buffs (11-1-5) host Topeka (10-6-1) at 6 p.m. Thursday — the winner advances to the state quarterfinals, which are set to be played on May 21.
“That Centennial League for Topeka and Lawrence is tough,” GCHS assistant coach Josue Negron said Tuesday evening, after the Buffs’ win. “They’re going to be tough. It’ll definitely be a good game, and we look forward to it.”
Topeka is coming off a 5-0 rout of Haysville-Campus in the region semifinal on Tuesday. Meanwhile, the Buffs are on a 14-match undefeated streak, going 9-0-5 and outscoring opponents 42-5 in that stretch.
They are led by seniors Noeli Munoz (12 goals) and Elyssa Salazar (six goals), as well as sophomore Anahi Castillo’s eight goals. Three others have at least four goals; though, Ivanee Medrano was injured during Tuesday’s region semifinal, which took four hours to complete due to Medrano's early injury and a two-hour lightning delay in the middle.
But the Buffs did not seem fazed by either pause in play.
“It’s not that strange, actually,” Negron said of the weather delay. “It happened to us two years ago when Dodge came here during the regular season, and then it happened to us three years ago when we went there. I don’t know what it is with the weather during our games.”
Tuesday’s win also came with the big downside of an injury to the freshman Medrano, who had to be taken off the field on a stretcher in the opening minute of the game with an undisclosed injury.
“That happens that early, I think we were a little struck by that,” Negron said.
The injury forced an early change in the lineup, moving Nateara Beasley up top and JoJo Dominguez came off the bench to replace Beasley in the midfield.
“I thought Nateara and JoJo came in and did a good job settling the team down,” Negron said.
And an early goal helped, as well.
Playing with the wind in the first half, heading north, the Buffs (11-1-5) got several quick chances, including a header that went over the cross bar in the third minute. But it was the familiar duo of Salazar and Munoz who connected in the ninth minute for the opening goal.
Salazar chipped a pass over the back line, and Munoz controlled it with her chest, dropping it to her feet and past Dodge City goalkeeper Rachel Garcia for the easy tap in.
Dodge City’s defense was able to hold for much of the rest of the first half, repelling several Garden City attacks — but the Red Demons’ attack never could threaten Garden City keeper Hannah Kipp, who had just two saves all game.
In the 37th minute, Castillo received a pass at the top of the box with her back to the goal, spun on her heel and drilled one into the right-hand side of the net for the 2-0 lead.
Almost immediately following the goal, the center ref halted play after a bolt of lightning struck within the 10-mile radius.
By the time the small cell moved over Garden City, it was more than a two-hour delay before play resumed.
“We had slow warm-ups, and the delay just made us wait longer. It was so long,” Salazar said.
The one positive was it pushed the game so far into the evening the lights had to be turned on, which is “fun,” Salazar said, adding to the excitement of the win.
Under those lights, Haily Enriquez scored a highlight reel goal, curling in a ball into the upper 90 from 30 yards out, giving the Buffs a 3-0 lead in the 46th minute. Finally, it was Beasley — who moved up in the formation after Medrano’s injury — who put the finishing touches on the win with a goal off a deflected corner kick in the 61st minute.
“It wasn’t that big a chance, and Beasley ended up scoring a goal, so it worked out,” Negron said of the change. “But that injury is really unfortunate, and it kind of cut into our depth, as well.”
Contact J. Levi Burnfin at email@example.com.