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GAC beats Westminster to reach Class AA finals

Staff Photo: Jason Braverman. GAC's Lauren Bryan (22) and Westminster's Layne Kelley (7) battle for the ball during the first half of Tuesday's game.

Staff Photo: Jason Braverman. GAC's Lauren Bryan (22) and Westminster's Layne Kelley (7) battle for the ball during the first half of Tuesday's game.

NORCROSS -- It's an old, cliched expression, but the third time was a charm for Greater Atlanta Christian's girls soccer team.

Playing in its third straight Final Four, second-ranked GAC finally broke its semifinal curse and earned a shot at a Class AA state championship with a 3-1 win over Westminster on Tuesday.

The win erased the two devastating losses to Walker in the previous two semifinals and added some revenge as third-ranked Westminster was just one of two teams to beat the Spartans this year, a 2-1 decision on penalty kicks on April 18.

"This was our third straight Final Four and we finally got over the hump," GAc head coach Troy Bendickson said. "It was unfinished business for us and it was this game that we've had our eye on. We lost to (Westminster) earlier in the season and that was also on our mind.

"There was no more time for words. Words were over. We didn't do anything different than we'd done all year, we just left in all on the field."

GAC's offense had been flying in the three previous playoff games, scoring 29 goals while the defense had yet to allow one. Goals would be a premium against Westminster (13-7-1) as the Wildcats had surrendered just one goal in their three previous playoff games.

But GAC (16-2-2) found all the offense it would need in sophomore Rachel Garcia as the young forward scored all three goals, duplicating a feat she was familiar with.

"Those three goals for Rachel were epic," Bendickson said. "She also scored three in the first game she played for us and just has a knack for it."

GAC found itself in a very early hole as Westminster scored less than one minute into the match when GAC keeper McKenzie Nelson saved a long shot from one of the Wildcat forwards.

However, Nelson wasn't able to maintain control and the ball rolled out. Layne Kelley came in from the left side and easily scored the first goal allowed by GAC in the playoffs.

Using an aggressive offensive attack, GAC equalized things eight minutes later when Garcia took a nice long lead pass from Lauren Bryan and found herself in a one-on-one situation.

She was able to shake the defender and scooted her shot home past keeper Michel Fernandez in the lower left corner.

The two teams went into the half tied 1-1. When the second half began, GAC continued its aggressive style on offense.

The Spartans managed two good looks by Auburn-bound Chelsea Gandy-Cromerin the next 10 minutes but couldn't connect.

However, things finally came together with 25 minutes left to play when Kelsey Fervier lofted a pass into the box, giving Garcia the chance she was looking for.

"Kelsey is very good at those passes and I was ready for it," Garcia said, who put GAC up 2-1 with a nice header off Fervier's assist.

Barely five minutes later, Garcia iced things with her third goal, this one coming off a loose ball in the box when Gandy-Cromer's attempt was smothered by the Westminster defense. The collision between Gandy-Cromer and the defense caused the ball to roll out to the right, giving Garcia the easy look for the hat trick.

"It was really rough last year losing to Walker," Garcia said. "The last game (with Westminster) was physical but we knew we could beat them. They're aggressive and tried to beat us to every ball but we did what we needed to do."

The GAC defense did a nice job of limiting Westminster to five shots on goal, four of which were saved by Nelson. Constant pressure from Anna Douglas, Kayla Puzas, Kailey Bryan and Kelsey Pelletier also helped keep Westminster to one goal.

GAC's first final will be this Friday against the winner of the Lovett-Blessed Trinity match.