ALPHARETTA — Lambert head coach Seth Thompson was worn out by the time the final buzzer sounded.
The No. 6 seed Lady Longhorns nearly blew a 13-point in the fourth quarter, but managed to hang on and defeat No. 3 seed Centennial 48-43 in the first round of the Region 6-AAAAAA basketball tournament on Tuesday at Alpharetta High School.
The win marked the second year in a row Lambert has earned a state playoff berth.
"We got a little tired because we put a lot of energy into the first half and especially the third quarter," Thompson said. "I think in the end, though, we were 10-of-12 in the fourth quarter on free throws, so that was really big.
"We hit some big buckets in the transition and we just played hard. We had a great game plan defensively against them, but they’re a good team."
Leading 34-21 to start the final period, the Lady Longhorns (10-16) looked as though they were in full control of the game, but things quickly changed. Centennial (18-6) used a full-court press to start the quarter and flustered the Lambert ball handlers into seven turnovers in a little more than five minutes of play.
The turnovers led to scoring opportunities and a 13-point advantage was whittled down to one with under three minutes to play after Becca Davis (team-high 13 points) connected on a midrange jumper and prompted Thompson to use a second timeout in a three-minute span.
The timeout worked as Brittany Schwind scored a layup on Lambert’s ensuing possession to make the score 38-35 with 2:41 left in the game. The Lady Longhorns then forced a defensive stop and Morgan Jackson knocked down a jumper to extend the lead to five.
Lambert forced a turnover on the next possession and Kelsey Morkem was fouled. Morkem connected on both free throws to push the lead to 42-35 with 1:29 remaining, but Centennial roared back and trimmed the lead to 45-43 on a 3-pointer from Davis with 12.7 seconds left.
The Lady Knights were forced to foul after Lambert inbounded the ball and sent Jackson to the free-throw line.
Jackson missed the second attempt after converting the first, allowing Centennial an opportunity to send the game into overtime, but a 3-point try by Chelsea Reese was off target.
Centennial fouled Morkem with 1.4 seconds left in regulation, but she made 1-of-2 tries and sealed a playoff berth for Lambert.
The Lady Horns were ahead 20-15 at halftime before boosting the lead as high as 15 points late in the third quarter.
Jackson led Lambert with 15 points, while teammate Ellie Hammer finished with 14.
"I knew we had it," Hammer said. "I knew our team would come together and [hold on].
"The whole time we talked about it being our seniors’ last year and we wanted to win for them. This could have been their last game, but now we’re guaranteed more."
Lambert will play No. 2 seed North Forsyth on Friday at 4 p.m. at Alpharetta.