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Araya leads Longhorns to first playoff win

Staff Photo: John Bohn Lanier's Bethany Blanton (9) scores while making contact with LaGrange goal keeper Lauren Robinson during a Class AAAA first-round playoff girls soccer game played Tuesday.

Staff Photo: John Bohn Lanier's Bethany Blanton (9) scores while making contact with LaGrange goal keeper Lauren Robinson during a Class AAAA first-round playoff girls soccer game played Tuesday.

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Staff Photo: John Bohn Lanier goal keeper Emily Polanco (0) makes a save while colliding with LaGrange's Cassidy Kemp (1) during a Class AAAA first-round playoff girls soccer game played Tuesday.

SUGAR HILL -- Andrea Araya did a quick shimmy by her bench after being subbed out with the victory in hand.

The senior earned a little celebration.

Araya had a hat trick and led the Lanier Longhorns to a 4-0 win over LaGrange in the program's first playoff game Tuesday. They will host River Ridge in the second round next Tuesday.

"We've been a very good team all season," head coach Jack Hughes said. "This is the third year of the program and all but three of the girls out in the field today started the program. So they feel really comfortable together. They work really well together."

The Region 8-AAAA champs showed some jitters early in their state tournament opener.

"It takes a little while to get used to it because we're all really excited," Araya said. "Of course the nerves are going to kick in for a bit, but then we all have that motivation and strength to pull it together."

The Longhorns (13-6) settled down and took advantage of an early red card to LaGrange.

A sure goal for Lanier less than 10 minutes into the game was smacked away by someone other than the goalkeeper. Araya took the penalty kick, punching it past the upraised hands of the goalie, and LaGrange (10-7) had to go the rest of the game down a player.

The Longhorns capitalized on the extra space and junior Tori Wyant doubled their lead with 22:25 left in the first half. Wyant burst down the right side and launched a shot from way out that arced gracefully over the keeper and into the back of the net.

"We were dominating, keeping the ball in their end," Hughes said. "We missed a few of those easy goals. We probably should have had a different score at halftime. But you can't complain about a win."

Lanier remained composed with a 2-0 lead and kept LaGrange hemmed in.

"We were very comfortable," Araya said. "We're a second-half team and we definitely showed it out there."

Araya went back to work in an increasingly physical second half and blasted home a rebound that came to her inside the goal box with 19:10 left in the game.

"It feels so good to get that (breathing room)," Araya said.

The powerhouse pixie rounded out the hat trick with another goal three minutes later. In the corner, she sent a cross toward the goal mouth. The ball was cut off by the keeper, but Araya followed her shot and used her left foot to sneak it in point-blank at the post.

She played about eight more minutes before getting a well-earned rest.

"The combination of Tori and Andrea up top has been dominant this season," Hughes said. "Both of them are in double digits for goals. Andrea with her three tonight gets her close to 20. Tori is right around 25 goals.

"It's one of those 1-2 punches. You try to guard the one and the other is going to kill you."