A red card in the 70th minute put the Garden City Buffalo girls soccer team down a player late in Thursday’s regional championship, and the Topeka Trojans took advantage to score the winning goal on a rebound in the 71st minute, capturing the 1-0 victory.
The Trojans’ (11-6-1) late goal at Buffalo Stadium not only ended a 14-game undefeated streak for the Buffs (11-2-5), but it also ended Garden City’s season.
It was a physical game all night, which boiled over in the 70th minute when sophomore Anahi Castillo and a Trojan defender were caught pushing and shoving, both receiving a yellow card — but it was Castillo’s second yellow, giving her an automatic red card and rejecting her with 10 minutes left.
“We tried calling the referee over to our sideline, to try and explain what was the problem and she never came,” head coach Joaquin Padilla said of the double yellows. “We actually never got a clear explanation of what happened. All we could do was keep playing.”
The Buffalo defense was tested early and often as the Trojan offense put continuous pressure on the Garden City backline for the opening 15 minutes of the first half.
While bending - committing uncharacteristic errors - the defense did not break, thwarting every Trojan shot and opportunity in the first 40 minutes.
Once Garden City settled down, co-captain seniors Noeli Munoz and Elyssa Salazar won back some of the momentum for the Buffaloes. Salazar’s physical play kept the middle of the pitch in check while Munoz’s speed kept the Trojan defense honest.
After a very physical and fast-paced first half, it was still scoreless.
Though, freshman Ivanee Medrano, who played an integral role in the midfield, was sorely missed after her injury in the regional semifinal versus Dodge City.
“We had to move people around and that does affect us,” Padilla said. “When you have a team that has become very consistent and has learned to play with each other, when you take one out and move people around, that does make a difference.”
Garden City looked more energized and focused in the opening minutes of the second half, putting in their best opportunities to score up to that point.
A Salazar free kick in the 44th minute was barely saved by the Trojan keeper, doing just enough to punch it over the crossbar. Salazar wasn't done threatening to score — a minute later her corner kick connected with a Buffalo forehead, but that could not find net.
The momentum Garden City had built over 30 minutes in the second half came to a screeching halt when Castillo received her second yellow and a minute later Salazar’s tough play earned her a yellow, as well.
The free kick awarded to Topeka after Salazar’s yellow bounced around the Buffalo penalty box until a Trojan cleaned the rebound and scored the winning goal in the 71st minute.
“I think if the referee would have called something at the beginning to calm all the players down, we wouldn't have gotten to that point,” Padilla said. “I think she let that game get away from her a little bit …”
Garden City frantically pressed for the last eight minutes of the game, trying to find an equalizer, but to no avail as the Trojans parked the bus making it tough to score and closed out the game with a 1-0 win.
“I think after (Topeka) scored their goal, we picked up the energy a little bit, the last ten minutes,” Padilla said. “I think if we played at that level earlier, we would have won more balls in the middle. They were a little more physical than us and I think those are the things that made a difference.”
The Buffaloes are still in search for their first trip to state since 2011, and they have now lost in region finals five of the last six seasons.
But the Buffs had just two losses all season this year.
“I thought we had a good season — we won 11 games and I saw our team improve every game and became a cohesive unit,” Padilla said. “They gave themselves a chance to win every game. Just like today.”