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Lacrosse: Lambert passes physical test to down Buford, reach title game
Lambert sophomore Charlie Goldstein, left, braces for contact from Buford defender Jordan Nelson Castro during Wednesday's 8-6 win against the Wolves in the Class 6A-7A Final Four. - photo by David Roberts

BUFORD — It took 12 seconds for Buford to commit its first foul during Wednesday's Class 6A-7A Final Four match with Lambert's boys lacrosse team.

The Longhorns needed only 22 seconds to capitalize.

Chris Harper scored the game's first goal inside the first minute, giving Lambert a lead it never relinquished — despite a late Buford surge — as the Longhorns won 8-6 to reach their ninth state championship in the past 11 seasons.

Davis Dobbs won possession for Lambert on the opening faceoff but was promptly decleated by Zack Salo. Lambert freshman Harrison Richards scooped up the loose ball but found himself on the receiving end of a cross check from Carson Perry.

Lambert, playing a man up, took advantage of the penalty as Harper fired two shots at Buford goalie Matthew Canavan, the first one bouncing off Canavan and the second finding the net.

Harper said he expected Buford to play rough to an extent.

"Not the first two penalties — that was unexpected," Harper said. "But we play with a lot of teams that play hard, and we play hard back."

The goal energized the Longhorns, who took the first seven shots of the game, punctuated by Brent Starcher's goal with 4:03 left in the first quarter to make it 2-0.

Lambert dominated possession in the first quarter, cutting off Buford's lanes and driving the Wolves out of bounds before reaching midfield. 

The Wolves finally answered two minutes later when Evan Leonardo snuck in front of Lambert's goal and fired a shot past Hunter Klosterman to cut Lambert's lead in half heading into the second quarter.

But Lambert spent the next 12 minutes constructing an insurmountable lead, outscoring Buford 3-0 in the second quarter thanks to goals from Harper, Starcher and Luke Goldstein.

The quarter also featured five excellent saves by Klosterman, who shut down a Buford offense that averaged more than 16 goals in its past three matches. 

A Lambert foul near the end of the first half gave the Wolves a power play with 1:43 to go. Buford coughed up possession, which led to Lambert senior Joshua Huntington bringing the ball up the field and taking a shot on goal, which was blocked. And with Buford on the offensive with fewer than one minute remaining, Klosterman absorbed yet another shot at goal to keep the score 5-1.

 Lambert extended its lead to six goals halfway through the third quarter after Huntington hit Charlie Goldstein in stride during transition, then Danny Kesselring let off an over-the-shoulder shot to make it 7-1 with 4:14 left in the quarter.

Buford stopped the skid when Jackson Rhodes bounced a shot between Klosterman's legs, but Lambert sophomore Kevin Connolly responded with an improbable goal, sneaking a shot past Canavan while falling to the ground.

A goal by Perry with 9.9 seconds until the final quarter seemed innocuous at the time but ended up being the first in a string of four straight goals that brought Buford within two scores.

Nash Perry added another in the early stages of the fourth period, which led to Dawson Andrew winning the ensuing faceoff and taking it straight to goal, accounting for the Wolves' second goal in six seconds.

The home crowd erupted after Matthew Scruggs scored another Buford goal to trim the deficit to 8-6 with 3:25, but Klosterman delivered another critical save, then Lukas Dopfer picked up what proved to be the final ground ball of the game as the Longhorns managed to run out the clock, rotating possession between Kesselring, Harper, Huntington and Charlie Goldstein to secure their spot in Saturday's state championship game.

"What a great environment and great crowd," Lambert coach Nate Hamilton said. "We knew it was going to be packed. Buford's AD told us they sold something like 1,500 tickets."

Lambert [19-2] will face Walton at 4 p.m. Saturday at Denmark High School with a chance to win its sixth state championship and second in as many years.

"It's great to go back," Harper said. "Our saying is 'one more,' so we haven't really been focusing on it, but now we've got one more practice and one more game."