North Gwinnett had seen what Tucker Maxwell could do with his arm and foot speed. Still, the Bulldogs probably weren’t expecting him to beat them with his power.
Maxwell, Lambert’s freshman right fielder, launched the first home run of his varsity career in the ninth inning of Game 2, and the Longhorns beat North Gwinnett 5-3 to sweep the opening round of the Class 6A baseball state playoffs on Friday at Lambert. The Longhorns (19-8) cruised to a 9-2 victory in Game 1 earlier in the evening.
Maxwell batted leadoff for the Longhorns Friday night. He saw time in that spot earlier in the year, but struggled at the plate and was moved near the bottom of the order for much of the season.
"I’ve just been working hard and our team’s been working hard, and I’ve been trying to play better," Maxwell said.
"Coach Corr, before the inning started, told us that the [pitcher] had a great two-seam [pitch], and [I was] just trying to take it to left field."
No. 3 seed North Gwinnett (15-13) put up a fight in Game 2 and threatened to extend the series to a third game following a lackluster performance in Game 1.
Playing as the away team, No. 2 seed Lambert took a 2-0 lead in Game 2 courtesy of a solo homer by Eric Furphy off starting pitcher Jordan Brown in the second inning and an RBI single by Ian Kimbrell (2-for-4) in the third. The Bulldogs tied the game in the bottom of the third when Justin Moran drove in a run with a ground out and Blake Sangster followed with an RBI double off Longhorns starting pitcher Dylan Biumi.
Kimbrell briefly put Lambert back on top with a run-scoring double in the fifth, but North Gwinnett manufactured a run in the bottom of the sixth after Lambert reliever Danny Edgeworth got Devin Mitchell in an 0-2 count with two outs and no one on base.
Mitchell battled back and drew a walk, advanced to second on a single by Brady Powell and scored on a single by Michael Haynes.
Although a steady rain fell through most of Game 2, Edgeworth said the moisture didn’t hinder him on the mound.
"It kind of felt good, honestly, it cooled me down," Edgeworth said.
"We’ve battled through adversity all year, and that’s just how we do it. That’s our brand of baseball."
Much of the adversity the Longhorns faced in Game 2 involved missed opportunities. Lambert stranded 11 baserunners in the game and had two more tagged out on the basepaths.
The struggles to get runners home almost came back to haunt the Longhorns in the bottom of the eighth, when Ben Carswell led off with an infield single and made it all the way to second, courtesy of a throwing error by Edgeworth. Instead, Alex Hartz lifted a harmless pop up to shallow right field for the first out, and Edgeworth struck out Mitchell and Powell to end the inning.
Maxwell led off the ninth and put the Longhorns back on top 4-3 with a solo homer to left off Haynes. Jeremy Johnson followed with an infield single, advanced to third following walks to Brock Maxwell and Kimbrell, and scored on a sac fly by Furphy.
Edgeworth gave up a two-out walk to Cody Short in the bottom of the inning before striking out Moran to end the game.
"These guys are battle-tested," Corr said. "We just won a nine-inning game, and we spent the year against great competition, which put us in four or five extra inning games. Throughout the entire stretch of this one, our boys never lost their poise."
Lambert will either travel to Milton or host Brookwood in the second round of the playoffs on Wednesday. The Eagles and Broncos split their first two games Friday night.
The Longhorns backed starting pitcher Joe Vonderschmidt (7 IP, 3 K, 2 R, 4 H, 3 BB) with five runs in the first inning of Game 1, which provided all the support the senior right-hander needed in a complete game performance.
Playing right field, Tucker Maxwell helped set the tone when he threw out Moran at third to end the top of the first, after the runner tried to advance from second on a sac fly.
Maxwell then led off the bottom of the inning with an infield single off Bulldogs’ starting pitcher Tucker Baca. Johnson followed with a bunt single and Edgworth walked to load the bases for Brock Maxwell (2-for-3), who ripped a two-run single to right field. Kimbrell then reached base on a bunt single that resulted in a throwing error that allowed Edgeworth to score.
Tre Logan later drove in two more runs with a bloop single to right-center.
"The playoff nerves were kind of setting in and we got off to a hot start, which really set the tone for the entire game," Edgeworth said. " ... We really needed that."
Brock Maxwell added an RBI triple in the third to increase the lead to 6-0.
North Gwinnett scored its first run in the fourth, only to see Furphy answer with three RBIs on a two-out double in the bottom of the inning, making the score 9-1.
The Longhorns finished with 11 hits.
"We did a good job of jumping on them early and Joe never really gave them much breath," Corr said. "He attacked hitters early and often, and we made routine [plays] behind him. That’s what we’ve got to do to be successful."