Buffaloes drop home opener to Liberal, 2-1

GCHS Athletics
Garden City High School's Destiny Rojo, center, steals a Liberal pass off her head and moves it to a teammate Thursday at Buffalo Stadium during the Buffaloes home opener.  GCHS' Alessandra Tovar is shown at right.

There were a number of items that Jose Vital-Caro had on his list to accomplish in his Garden City High School girls soccer team’s 2021 debut game, and the first for Vital-Caro to be coaching the Buffaloes after having the plug pulled on the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Thursday night at Buffalo Stadium, Vital-Caro got to see how many of those items he could check off, but one he couldn’t was securing a victory. That didn’t come as the Liberal escaped with a 2-1 triumph in a battle of Western Athletic Conference opponents.

Perhaps part of the final outcome was due in part to Liberal having already played one game, a 2-0 loss on Tuesday to Dodge City. Throw in a young and inexperienced Buffs and it was the making of a game that could have gone either way.

After all, the Buffs got the game’s first goal when junior mid-fielder Destiny Rojo took a rebound off a corner kick and drilled it into the upper left portion of the net in the seventh minute of the first half.

That tenuous lead held up until the 14:50 (25th minute) mark when Liberal left-winger Ashley Carrillo blasted a shot from the left 15-yard line into the top middle of the net past a leaping Ledaly Enriquez that tied the game at 1-all.

That’s how it stood at halftime.

The game, played with a chilly temperature around 50 degrees at the start on the pitch, saw the sun set and temperatures fall into the 40s. A slight breeze made the temperature feel even colder.

In the second half, the team’s battle back and forth with each getting great scoring opportunities. A pair of offside penalties on Liberal negated two goals in the first 20 minutes of the second half. Garden, too, had its chances, with one of the best coming in the 78th minute when sophomore forward Marcayla Mcgregor just missed a nifty kick that at first looked to be hooking into the top right of the net, only to straighten out at the last second and sail past the net.

Liberal’s Castillo, who was a thorn in the Buffs’ defense all night, got the game-winner in the 69th minute (10:23 remaining) when she dribbled down the left sideline, cut into the penalty area and fired a bullet past Garden keeper Niera Calderon into the lower right-hand corner of the net.

Calderon had been inserted into the lineup, replacing starting keeper Ledaly Enriquez, who had exited the game with an undisclosed injury after diving for a ball just past the midway point of the second half.

That lead would hold up as Liberal played defense in the final 10 minutes, putting five defenders on the back line to minimize the number of good scoring opportunities for the Buffaloes.

“The girls had a real battle out there,” Vital-Caro said of the opening match. “We scored first and so it really could have been anybody’s match. I’m hoping we learn from this game to use it as the drive to work harder and get the results we want next we face them.”

Liberal 1; 1 - 2

Garden City 1; 0 - 1

First Half

GC—Destiny Rojo, unassisted, 7th minute.

LIB—Ashley Carrillo, unassisted, 25th minute.

Second Half

LIB—Ashley Carrillo, unassisted, 69th minute.

Shots: Liberal 11, Garden City 12. Saves: GC (Enriquez 6, Calderon 4)

Next up for the Buffaloes will be the Goddard Invitational on Monday with a 7 p.m. game against host Goddard.