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Lacrosse: Lambert boys hold tough early, cruise past North Gwinnett in state quarters
Lambert's Patrick Deans (46) and Brendan Wehman (in goal) track a North Gwinnett attacker during the teams' state quarterfinal game on May 10, 2019 at Lambert High School. - photo by Kevin O'Brien

It’s true, strictly speaking, that defense is a more prominent part of this year’s Lambert boys lacrosse team.

That doesn’t mean that past Longhorns groups lagged in that area. But with faceoff man Philip White winning an easy majority of possessions for the Longhorns, their offense just wound up having the ball more, leaving the defense to watch and wait for their turn. 

But White graduated last year, and now that Lambert is more even with opponents on faceoffs, their defense has more time to cook.

“This year, we’re playing in the game more,” Longhorns junior defenseman Patrick Deans said. “We’re more involved in the game plans and everything like that. We’re seeing the ball on our side of the field, and it’s nice, because we’re contributing more this year.”

That hasn’t been a problem. The Longhorns have yet to give up more than nine goals in a game, and in Friday’s 12-4 state quarterfinal win over North Gwinnett, they stymied a team that had scored in double digits its last nine performances. And while the win wound up being plenty comfortable, it wouldn’t have developed like that without some crucial preventive plays.

“It’s huge,” Lambert director of lacrosse Rich Wehman said. “We’ve got a really good defense, and when they’re playing well back there, they’re really, really good. They’ve played some really good teams this year where they’ve shut them down.”

The Longhorns had the game’s first possession and had a solid look early for junior attack JD Marston, but the Bulldogs were the first to score, off a transition opportunity that gave Danny Kesselring plenty of time to deke around Lambert goalkeeper Brendan Wehman and finish a one-on-one chance. Gerard Kane scored less than a minute later for the Longhorns to tie the game, and Christian Rhoad had one at the 7:42 mark to give Lambert a lead that would last the game.

Lambert's Aaron Jubard (11) and Christian Rhoad (20) fight for the ball on a faceoff during the Longhorns' state quarterfinal game against North Gwinnett on May 10, 2019 at Lambert High School. - photo by Kevin O'Brien
But the Longhorns’ real breakthrough would still take a while to come, as the Bulldogs kept winning faceoffs and executing well-thought out offensive possessions. On one, North Gwinnett had the ball on one side of the goal with an open man on the other, with the game-tying score easily in sight, but Wehman reached up and intercepted the pass.

“If one of our goalies is hot and he’s on, then it makes it tough, because when we have any sort of a breakdown, he’s there,” Rich Wehman said. “And there are certain shots that we’ll give up (where) we’re pretty confident that he’ll save them all.”

Lambert’s defense was again intensely tested at the beginning of the second half, with the Longhorns taking until the 6:32 point to score, with Benny O’Rourk’s unassisted effort off of a timeout. But Kane’s goal just under two minutes later was the first of a four-goal run in less than three minutes, which made Lambert’s lead a much more comfortable one. The Bulldogs did score before halftime, but it was on a deflection that Wehman had no chance to reach. After Marston’s goal with 39 seconds to play, the Longhorns headed into halftime with an 8-2 lead.

The Longhorns (19-1) will have a familiar foe in the state semifinals: Lassiter, whom they’ve seen in the past three state finals, of which Lambert won two and lost one. Wehman, for one, doesn’t have any issue with seeing the Trojans a game earlier than usual.

“I actually like it,” Wehman said. “Us and them for the fourth time in a state title (game) I think would be boring for the rest of the state.”