MACON - If Scott Luthart had the chance, he would have left his team in the locker room in Mercer University's Drake Fieldhouse and returned minutes later with packs of electrolyte-enriched fluids, and Lambert would have challenged Grayson to match two.
That was his tongue-in-cheek response to Saturday's 5-0 loss in the GHSA Class AAAAAA finals between his Longhorns and Grayson, last year's state runner up, but in reality Luthart's comments painted the picture.
Lambert just didn't take advantage of its opportunities when it had them.
The Longhorns out-shot Grayson, and were even in nearly every statistical category aside from the one that mattered most in the game that mattered most in a season that set an even higher bar for a surging program.
Lambert fell behind early when Notre Dame-bound junior Jennifer Westendorf found the right corner in the 8th minute of play, but for the next 20-plus minutes Lambert showcased it had the pedigree to keep up with the Rams. But it didn't have the execution.
In the 12th minute, midfielder Maggie Hanusek delivered a perfect, gliding pass across to senior Emily Haugen, who then turned a shot chance into a cross delivery to Keely Cartrett. The play was executed so well that Cartrett had nothing but the net in front of her, but a microscopic misfire led to a header-too high instead of a header in the back of the net.
Moments later, Hanusek had a perfect look at a shot opportunity but received the feed offsides, which became a recurring theme throughout the night.
After Lambert missed its chances, Grayson capitalized, as Brittany Montgomery scored, followed by a goal with just 52 seconds remaining in the half from Amanda Baker, who curled a hard bullet into the left corner.
Grayson's lead stayed at 3-0 for much of the second half, where Lambert possessed the ball and attacked some more, but shots continued to go awry for the Longhorns and between the pipes for Grayson. Montgomery and Westendorf each scored late in the second half, but at the end of the day Luthart knew his team was much closer than they were far from state championship caliber.
“Anybody who wasn't here and reads about this tomorrow will think we were never in it, but at the same time, I would have liked to get them hydrated and go back out there,” Luthart said. “We really could have put in two in the first half that we shot wide and missed from close range. The game would have been completely different.”
Lambert outshot Grayson 13-11 and was even with them on corner and free kicks. With each Grayson goal, Lambert's offense seemingly applied more pressure and held the ball longer, but the numbers on the scoreboard never changed in their favor.
“Credit to my girls. They could have folded at 3-0, 4-0, but the deeper we got into a hole, it was almost as if we played more freely. We never stopped until the final whistle,” Luthart said.
Maddie Eddleman and Briarly Beauchamp each had three shots, while Emily Haugen added two. Freshman defender M.E. Craven also had a pair of good looks late in the game.
Goalkeeper Jordyn Ebert had four saves and many more aggressive stops.
The Longhorns are slated to return nine juniors, five sophomores and three freshman to next year's team, which might just follow in Grayson's footsteps as runner-up to champion in a two-year span.
“It was great progress for our program,” Luthart said. “Our first making the finals, so we know what it tastes like.”