Buffalo boys’ soccer comes up short in playoffs to Free State

GCHS Athletics
Garden City High School's JR Mata, left, battles for control of the ball with Lawrence-Free State's Michael Lickert Tuesday at Buffalo Stadium during a 6A state playoff opening round game.

GCHS ends season at 12-5-0

It wasn’t the ending that the script writer would have wanted to produce for the Garden City High School boys’ soccer team.

Nope, not when you’ve enjoyed one of the most successful seasons over the past decade with losses only to state-ranked teams during the regular season.

But the script writer couldn’t come up with the right chapter scenarios for the Buffaloes on Tuesday night at Buffalo Stadium and a second-half goal midway through wasn’t enough to overcome a two-goal deficit as they fell to Lawrence-Free State Firebirds, 2-1, in a Class 6A regional semifinal.

The loss dropped the West fifth-seeded Buffs to a final season record of 12-5-0 and a second-place finish in the Western Athletic Conference to defending state champion Dodge City. The Demons now sport a 15-0-1 mark after beating Wichita West, 7-0, in its regional semi, also on Tuesday night.

Free State, which competes in the always tough Sunflower League with Shawnee Mission schools and Lawrence High, improved its record to 8-7-2 and will now face No. 4-seeded Derby (14-1-2) Thursday at 6 p.m. at the Derby Sports Complex in the regional title game and the right to advance to the state quarterfinals next week.

Garden City High School's Chris Barragan dribbles the ball upfield against Lawrence-Free State Tuesday at Buffalo Stadium.

The teams had battled to a 0-0 standoff through the first 40 minutes but then it seemed the offenses had made some adjustments at intermission when Free State got the first goal of the match from Michael Lickert in the 44th minute (35:09). That lead would grow to 2-0 when Suyash Kumar took a centered ball from Joon Chun that just slipped past GC keeper Daniel Zamaripa in the 55th minute (24:53).

But Garden City showed signs of life when they finally got past a stingy Free State defense and keeper Benjamin Barnett as Alex Macias rifled a shot into the net, making it 2-1 in the 58th minute (21:02).

It would prove to be the final goal of the night for either team, and both teams had a few other scoring opportunities but couldn’t get the ball into the net.

“Tonight’s match was a rough one for both teams,” said GCHS Coach Jose Vital Caro. “It was as even as I’ve ever seen in a game.”

The Buffs were out-shot 8-6 by the Firebirds and Barnett and Zamaripa produced three and two saves, respectively. The Firebirds had five corner kicks to three for the Buffs.

Vital Caro said the Buffaloes showed marked improvement from his inaugural season as the head coach in 2020, but still looks for more of that for 2022.

“As a head coach, I’m satisfied with the progress we’ve made as a team,” he said. “This year we really outperformed ourselves compared to last year. But, regardless of the progress, it’s evident that we need more investing during our offseason. There are still things in our system we need to improve.”

Notes: Six seniors concluded their careers at GCHS in the Free State match. That group included Zamaripa, Jonathan Hernandez, Bryant Tamayo, Roger Benitez, Juan Terrazas and JR Mata.

“The only thing we can do from here on out is keep our head held high, and wish and thank our seniors for everything they have given to us,” Vital Caro said. “We can now begin with the underclassmen to work harder.”

Lawrence-Free State (8-7-2)  0; 2; -- 2

Garden City (12-5-0)  0; 1; -- 1

Second Half

LFS—Michael Lickert, unassisted, 44th minute, 0-1.

LFS—Suyash Kumar, goal, assist Joon Chun, 55th minute, 0-2.

GC—Alex Macias, unassisted, 58th minute, 1-2.

Shots—Lawrence-Free State 8, Garden City 6. Goalkeeper Saves—Free State (Barnett 3), Garden City (Zamaripa 2). Corner kicks—Free State 5, Garden City 3.