KENNEWICK -- Hanford soccer runs thick in Cari Exarhos' blood.
Her three siblings -- Annemarie (2003 graduate), Alex (2006) and Stephen (2008) -- all earned at least one league championship as well as a trip to state in their time playing for the Falcons' girls and boys programs.
Cari, a junior defender, moved one step closer to her own league-championship patch with Hanford's 1-0 win over Kamiakin on Saturday at Lampson Stadium.
If the Falcons (12-3, 11-2 CBBN 3A) win their final regular-season match at Eastmont at 4 p.m. Tuesday, they will clinch at least a share of their first girls league title since 2005.
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"My sister's team made state in 2002. I really feel like this team can get there," Exarhos said. "Since my freshman year, I've wanted state, and this year we've got some amazing seniors."
One of those seniors -- captain Kie Johnson -- drilled a 25-yard free kick in the 18th minute that came in a little too hot for Braves' goalkeeper Sydnee Grant, who made the initial stop at the goal line. But the ball rebounded away from her to the left post, where Exarhos punched it home for the lone goal of the match.
Exarhos and Johnson each began this season as midfielders, but Hanford coach Mart Oostrom's decision to move them to the back third has paid off.
Since Johnson joined Exarhos on defense at halftime during a 6-0 loss to Southridge on Sept. 21, the Falcons have allowed just three goals over their last nine league games.
"Kie is a player who can play anywhere on the field," Oostrom said. "In a big game like this against top teams we're going to play her and Cari on defense."
With nothing but big games remaining, expect the talented duo to remain in the back for the remainder of the season. But that doesn't bother Johnson, who plays central defense for her Three Rivers club team.
"Our formation is a little different," said Johnson, who plays in a flat back four in club but is a sweeper at Hanford. "Maybe it's a little more pressure because you're the last person."
The Braves (9-6, 9-4) actually outshot the Falcons 13-6, but Kamiakin only managed a few significant threats.
The first came in the 12th minute off a 30-yard free kick by Taylor Schutzenhofer that ended up in front of Hanford's goal. Braves' midfielder Brianna Turley headed the ball towards the back of the net, but Falcons' keeper Emily Busselman reacted quickly, tipping it over the bar.
Busselman finisded the game with three saves for her shutout.
The next came late in the game on an indirect kick inside the Falcons' penalty box. Heidi Leonard drilled a shot from the left side from 13 yards out in front of Hanford's four-person wall, but Exarhos leaped in the air to block the shot, sending it back toward midfield.
Oostrom also gave props to freshman midfielder Sydney Shintaffer, who played all 80 minutes and battled hard for 50-50 balls in the center.
"She understands the game and she knows what to do," Oostrom said. "She wins balls in the air but can also give a 50-yard boot when needed."
Kamiakin is in a more precarious situation in terms of qualifying for the playoffs.
The Braves have now lost three of their past four games as they continue to battle a plague of injuries, including the latest bad news -- a potential fractured ankle that could force freshman forward Ellie Heiden to miss the rest of the season.
"It's frustrating because now we're in a really rotten situation. I don't want to ride the bus (in the first round of the playoffs) again," said Kamakin coach Chris Erikson. "If we lose to Southridge (7 p.m. Tuesday at Southridge) we would be in fifth place. We could be in serious trouble."
Scoring--1, H, Cari Exarhos (Kie Johnson), 18:00. Shots--H 6, K 13. Saves--H, Emily Busselman 3. K, Sydnee Grant 2.