A senior class of Lady Longhorns that took the Lambert soccer program to heights never reached before saw their final playoff appearance end abruptly Wednesday night.
North Gwinnett eliminated No. 3 Lambert 2-1 on penalty kicks on the Lady Bulldogs’ pitch.
North Gwinnet freshman keeper Haley Brinkman made two diving saves during penalty kicks, and Emily Mason, Kaitlin Andrews and Hanna Asher came through on their kicks from the mark to send the Bulldogs to the second round. They’ll face the Newnan-Tucker winner next week.
The loss was stunning for the Lady Longhorns (15-4), who reached the state championship game last season for the first time in school history. Lambert coach Scott Luthart believed this year’s battle-tested squad had the potential for another deep run.
“We’re disappointed,” Luthart said. “We’ve been a top-two or three-ranked team for the last two months. And I really thought, as a four seed, we had the personnel to make a run and get in deep.”
The Lady Longhorns fought their way through one of the toughest regions in the state, only losing twice and finishing fourth in Region 6-AAAAAA, which featured four teams ranked in the top five entering the state tournament. But they simply didn’t create many opportunities and failed to convert on the few legitimate chances they did have against a stringent North Gwinnett defense.
“Their defense is one of the more structured, more organized defenses we’ve seen this year,” Luthart said of North Gwinnett. “But I really thought we were a touch here or there from getting in.”
Playing on grass for the first time this season, Lambert grabbed the lead 16 minutes into the game on a right-place, right-time goal from senior catalyst Keely Cartrett. Madison Eddleman lobbed a seemingly harmless ball from left to right into the box. Brinkman misplayed it, though, and Cartrett found the ball at her feet with an open net. She capitalized, putting the Lady Longhorns up 1-0.
Lambert goalie Jordyn Ebert denied every North Gwinnett threat in the first half, and the Lady Longhorns went into halftime with a one-goal lead.
North Gwinnett tied the game midway through the second half on a goal by junior Carly Anderson, who fooled Ebert on a ball from just outside the box that caught the right corner of the net.
Neither team seriously threatened the rest of the way in regulation nor in the two five-minute overtime sessions, sending the game to penalty kicks.
Lambert had prevailed in both of its previous games that were decided by penalty kicks this season, but misfired on three of its four attempts against Brinkman.
“We talked before the game about getting through the first game is the toughest part,” Luthart said. “You have to prove that you can win in the postseason.”