Kyle Lewis launched the ball straight up in the air, pumped his fist and strutted off the field.
For the junior attack and the rest of the Lambert boys lacrosse team, everything had gotten much harder and much more intense very quickly. But on Friday night in their state quarterfinal matchup against Pope, the Longhorns wavered but didn't fall, using a furious fourth quarter to pull out a 12-9 win.
"I think they would prefer to win big," Longhorns director of lacrosse Rich Wehman said with a laugh. "It's tough, but you know what, that's how it is this time of the year."
Lambert had gotten its fill of that on the first two rounds of the playoffs with a 22-0 win over Parkview and a 19-1 victory over Kennesaw Mountain.
Those were two favorable draws for the Longhorns – Friday's was much less so. The Greyhounds' quality was a factor, but so was the vast increase in difficulty from game to game.
Lambert's past postseason experience helped offset that, as did the memory of facing state power Lovett late in the regular season.
"Instead of having a bunch of kids that were just kind of staring because they hadn't been in this position at all this year, they were pretty upbeat," Wehman said.
Pope had played well against the top squads in the state, claiming a win over Cambridge, a squad that Lambert beat by the relatively minute margin of 11-5.
"Honestly, they could be the best team we've played this year," Lambert midfielder Jonny DiVirgillio said. "If we met them in the championship, it would have been a really good game."
That was evident for much of the game, which was tied 2-2 after the first quarter, 6-4 in Pope's favor at halftime and 7-7 in the third quarter.
Lambert (19-1) sped ahead in the fourth quarter, though, sticking with their offensive plan and not letting the Greyhounds upset their pace. Eric Overbay scored with 9:57 left in the game to put the Longhorns ahead 8-7, and 41 seconds later, Alex Walker corralled a loose ball in front of the goal and dropped it in.
The barrage continued, and when Gerard Kane coolly sliced through the defense and scored with around four and a half minutes, remaining, he made the score 12-7, sucking much of the anxiety from the stadium and replacing it with elation.
The game was a reintroduction to the scraps that define the postseason play, a departure from the blowouts that defined much of Lambert's regular season, and the players' expressed preferences showed that there's still a bit for their coach to learn.
"Blowout wins are no fun," Lewis said.
"I want a one-goal game every time, if we could have it," DiVirgilio
The Longhorns are set to face Centennial on the road on Wednesday in the state semifinal.