Excitement and relief finally bubbled to the surface on the faces of the Model girls’ soccer players as they ran across the field to their bench after thanking their fans Tuesday evening.

The hurdle had been cleared. Now the time had come to finish the race.

Model’s Lady Blue Devils defeated the visiting Harlem Lady Bulldogs 8-3 in the Class AA state playoffs in front of a home crowd Tuesday, clinching the program’s first-ever trip to the Final Four after coming up just shy in three of the last four years.

Head coach Kacie Crowder was a player for Model before returning to lead the team.

“It’s emotional really. I couldn’t be more proud of them. I really could not be blessed with a better group of girls, and they give 100 percent every single day,” Crowder said. “I’m so proud. And it’s not me. I’m just blessed with a great group of girls and a great community and a great group of parents. We are all-around just blessed.”

The Lady Blue Devils will host Vidalia next week in the semifinals after the Lady Indians topped Lamar County 4-3 on Tuesday. Vidalia is the No. 2 seed out of Region 2-AA and ranked No. 2 in Class AA by EuroSportScoreboard.com. Model, which has won 16 straight matches, is ranked No. 5 and the Region 7-AA champion.

“It’s amazing to make it to the Final Four, and then we get to host. I mean, we’re making history,” Crowder said. “We didn’t even make it past the first round when I was in school. So it’s really nice to be a part of it and get to watch this program grow. We want to go all the way. And we’re going to do everything we can to get there.”

Lauren Akemon once again led the charge for Model, scoring four goals on seven shots and recording two assists. Two goals came off deflections in the first half — one on a corner kick from Anna Ruth Parker and another on a ricochet off the post from a shot by Ashley Vicente.

Akemon completed a hat trick three minutes into the second half by bending a corner kick through the front of the goal, over the head of the Harlem keeper and into the far side of the net.

Libby Upton continued her string of strong showings in the playoffs with three goals, and Parker scored in the 15th minute when her corner kick was deflected awkwardly by the Harlem keeper and up into the goal, touching the net across the top.

Nora Grace Snow and Perry Durden were also credited with and assist each.

“This week we didn’t know a lot about Harlem coming in. We got to see a little bit of video on their last game. But we knew they had three girls who were their main scorers who we needed to shut down, and that’s basically what we did,” Crowder said. “We just came out and played our game. We’re very good at attacking, and I felt like we did a great job of attacking today.”

Model (17-1-1) held a 7-0 lead midway through the second half before Harlem got some traction with three goals in the final 10 minutes, the first one coming off a penalty kick given after a fourth Model player was given a yellow card in the match.

In all, five yellow cards were assigned to Model after Crowder was given one as well by the referee. The situation forced Crowder to try and keep her players alert during most of the second half to avoid any of them getting a second yellow, which would be an automatic red card and an ejection that would have lasted through next week’s Final Four match.

“I felt like it was one of those things were you take precautionary measures and take them out so you don’t have to worry about them getting another yellow. It was really frustrating,” Crowder said. “You just tell them to keep playing their game.”

The semifinals are tentatively set for next Tuesday with a time to be determined. Last season’s state champions St. Vincent’s will face Bremen in the other Final Four match. The winners will play in the Class AA state championship May 16, 17 or 18 at either McEachern High School or Mercer University.