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Lady Blue Devils advance to second round of state
Statesboro High's Smith Kaiser, right, puts the ball in the net past Thomas County Central goalkeeper Kaylee Ingram on a crosser from Isabella Gutierrez during the first half to give the Blue Devils a 2-0 lead Tuesday. Statesboro notched a 4-0 victory to advance to the second round of the Class AAAAA state playoffs. - photo by Associated Press

The Statesboro Blue Devil girls soccer team picked up in the state playoffs right where they left off the regular season. Hosting the Thomas County Central Yellow Jackets the Blue Devils jumped out to a 3-0 halftime lead, and cruised to a 4-0 win in the opening round of the Class AAAAA state playoffs.

“Tonight I feel our depth really stood out at every position,” said Statesboro coach Brian Thomas. “We had to sub our keepers as Samariah Smith had to come out, and Morgan Host went in. I also feel like our back line played really well.”
Statesboro’s Isabella Gutierrez continued her hot play from the end of the regular season scoring on two of the first three Blue Devil goals, and assisting on the other.

Just over five minutes into the game Smith Kaiser found Gutierrez around midfield, and Gutierrez did the rest, sprinting past the Yellow Jacket defenders and was all alone, easily beating the keeper for a 1-0 Statesboro lead.

The Blue Devils scored again eight minutes later. Gutierrez was nearly out of bounds on the end line where she bent the ball around the goal with her right leg, the ball was deflected by a leaping Kaylee Ingram in goal, but right to a wide open Kaiser, who tapped it into the back of the net to give Statesboro a 2-0 lead.

With 16:35 left in the half Gutierrez would strike again. Dribbling through a couple defenders Gutierrez slammed on the breaks, and fired a rocket past a diving Ingram from the top of the 18-yard box, for a 3-0 Statesboro lead, which would hold through halftime.

“Smith and Isabella have really worked well throughout the whole year,” Thomas said. “I feel like they continued to click tonight with Smith assisting Bella, and Bella having that nice one to Smith.”

In the second half coach Thomas changed things up a bit, putting Gutierrez at defensive back. The plan worked to perfection, as the Yellow Jackets only managed a couple of shots on goal.

“We felt like if Thomas County Central were able to get a goal, that could psychologically get back in the game,” Thomas said. “So we just felt like we should just really solidify our back defensively, and shut things down.”

Statesboro added a late goal from freshman Tanner Kaiser. With 6:41 left in the game Kaiser tracked down a loose ball and her shot from about 15 yards sailed over a leaping Ingram in goal for the final point of the evening, and a 4-0 Statesboro victory.

The Blue Devils are now one victory away from advancing further than any Statesboro girl’s soccer team has gone, as they host a yet to be determined team next Tuesday evening,

“It’s a chance to make history,” Thomas said. “We got close about five years ago, but fell in a tight game. It’s a chance to advance to the elite eight which would put these girls in the history book.”