Buffaloes fall in regional soccer semifinals

GCHS Athletics
Garden City High School's Wendy Zamudio, right, battles Wichita North's Jasmine Villanueva for control of the ball Tuesday during a Class 6A regional girls soccer match at Buffalo Stadium.

Penalty kicks prove costly in season-ending loss

It may well go down as one of the longest matches in Garden City High School girls’ soccer history.

And also, it may well be remembered for one of the most memorable plays in the program’s history.

But also, it will be etched in the record book as one of the most heart-breaking losses for the Buffs.

That’s what it felt like Tuesday night at Buffalo Stadium when the Wichita North Redskins won a 2-1 Class 6A regional semifinal from the Buffs after the teams had played 30 extra minutes of overtime and then had to go to penalty kicks to decide the winner.

“It’s hard not to be proud of the girls tonight despite the loss,” said Coach Jose Vital-Caro. “They proved to me what hard work looks like tonight. They did not give up and proved they can come back even with three seconds on the clock.”

Garden City High School's Thania Flores-Hernandez steals a Wichita North pass Thursday during a Class 6A girls regional soccer match at Buffalo Stadium.

And that’s where the young Buffs, who entered the game as the No. 6 seed in the west division, came up just short, and they did so against a stellar goalkeeping performance by the Redskins’ senior keeper Olivia Felix-Cardona.

Getting to the overtimes was nothing short of the miracle on Buffalo Way as the Buffs trailed 1-0 with 0:3.5 seconds left in regulation play when the clock was stopped for a free kick by Garden’s Wendy Zamudio from the 30-yard line. She launched the kick high toward the right side of the net and Andrea Anguilar took a header in the crowded goal area and sent the ball into the net over the outstretched arms of Felix-Cardona, who simply was magnificent in goal for North. As the ball sailed into the high right side there was just 0:00.8 of a second on the clock. End of regulation. Overtime.

That miracle of miracle shots came on the Buffs’ 12th shot of the game, of which Felix-Cardona had made 11 previous saves, some of the spectacular diving low and stretching high to repel every Buffs’ attempt at getting a goal.

The Buffs, meanwhile, had played stellar on the defensive end, keeping North from the goal area most of the game. In fact, North had only 3 shots the entire 80 minutes of regulation and added another in the overtime periods.

Wichita North, the No. 11 seed, had broken a scoreless game in the 59th minute (21:43 remaining) when the Redskins were the recipient of a Garden penalty, resulting in a penalty kick by Lissette Tovar who booted the ball in low past Buffs’ keeper Ledaly Enriquez for a 1-0 advantage. That held up until the final-second dramatics by the Buffs.

The match was halted by inclement weather, in this case lightning to the north of Garden City, which halted play for 30 minutes due to the Kansas State High School Activities Association lightning policy. At 8:04, the OT period was halted with 4:07 left of the 5-minute extra stanza. At 8:39, after a brief warm-up, the match resumed. Neither team scored and it went to the penalty kicks.

Each team selected five players for the kicks, with the team earning the most goals being declared the winner.

Sandy Garcia scored first for North and the Buffs’ Ivanee Medrano countered. Then, North’s Mireya Lopez scored high right into the net. Garden’s Thania Flores-Hernandez missed when the ball hit the high crossbar and bounced away. On the third attempts, the Redskins’ Cecy Solis missed high but then Garden’s Andrea Aguilar-Jimenez had her shot deflected by Felix-Cardona. On the fourth attempt, North scored on a high ball into the net by Ilex Hagan and Garden missed again by a shot from Zamudio. With one kick left, North led 3-1 in penalty kicks and the game was over. One goal was added to the regulation score to make it officially 2-1.

The heartbreaking loss ended the Buffs’ season at 9-8-0 and also snapped a three-game winning streak at the end of the regular campaign.

“It’s only unfortunate we couldn’t finish our soccer match how we wanted it,” Vital-Caro said. “Despite the upset, I know next year we will be stronger.”

North, meanwhile, will advance to Thursday’s regional title game at Wichita East, where they will face the Blue Aces, which defeated Lawrence High School, 1-0, in the other regional semifinal. East will host and brings an 11-5-0 record into that game. The winner of that one moves on to the May 25 quarterfinals.

The Buffs lose only three seniors off this squad, those being Anahi Castillo, Jenny Monzon and Zaung Kee.

“I only wish them the best in their journey,” Vital-Caro said of his graduating players. “I tell them thank you for your commitment and hard to GCHS. Our Buffalo family will always consider you part of our herd.”

Six varsity players were freshmen, eight were sophomores and six were juniors so Vital-Caro will have a strong and experienced team returning in 2022. His two goalkeepers – Niera Calderon and Ledaly Enriquez – completed their freshman and sophomore seasons.

“The 95 percent of our starters that were underclassmen made big improvements in their play throughout the season,” Vital-Caro said. “I’m confident about the future of our team.”

WAC schools in playoffs: Liberal’s 6A girls won its regional semifinal Tuesday with a 6-0 triumph over Junction City and will now face Topeka-Washburn Rural on Thursday. The Lady Reds are 8-8-1 and Rural is 14-2-1. The other 6A WAC school, Dodge City, saw its season end with a 3-2 double overtime loss to Hutchinson.

In Class 5A action for the WAC schools, league champion Hays blitzed Topeka West, 10-0, and will now take on Maize South on Thursday. The Lady Indians are now 14-2-1, Maize South is 13-3-1. Great Bend saw its season end with a 10-0 shutout loss to Goddard-Eisenhower.

Wichita North 0 1 -- 0 0 0 0 (3) – 2

Garden City 0 1 -- 0 0 0 0 (1) -- 1

Shots—Wichita North 3, Garden City 17. Saves—WN (Olivia Felix-Cardona 14, Cecy Solis 1; GC (Niera Calderon 1, Ledaly Enriquez 1, Julisa Valladares-Hernandez 1).