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Lacrosse: Lambert rides victory over Johns Creek to championship
Lambert junior Danny Kesselring celebrates Wednesday after scoring a goal during the Longhorns' 10-8 victory over Johns Creek in the Class 6A-7A Final Four. - photo by David Roberts

Winning in the Final Four isn't supposed to be easy.

But for the first three quarters of Lambert's 10-8 victory over Johns Creek on Wednesday, that's exactly how it looked. 

Jack Wise and Davis Dobbs combined to win the first six faceoffs, Will Mangold scored on Lambert's opening possession, and by the time Johns Creek finally grabbed control of the ball halfway through the first quarter, the Longhorns already led 3-0.

Drew Kotanian assisted on Lambert's first two goals, the second coming from Andrew Zeman on the first shot after Mangold's score.

Danny Kesselring pushed the Longhorns' lead to three goals with a highlight-reel shot. Kesselring wrapped around the back of net, faked the top shot with the back of his stick facing the Johns Creek goalie, then brought the ball down low and bounced it into the back of the net. 

It was the first of four goals for Kesselring.

"Danny is one of the highest IQ players that we've had come through here," Lambert coach Josh Sagel said. "Just the fact that, maybe if he doesn't get the goal, he can still see [Andrew] Zeman or Kotanian or [Chris] Harper — any of those guys. He got locked off a lot of the game, because again, he's a creator and he's smart with the ball. He's a heck of a player."

Johns Creek stole possession with 6:23 left in the opening quarter, and Kolin Brandeis needed just 45 seconds to score an unassisted goal. Three minutes later, Brandeis struck again to pull the Gladiators within one goal for the first — and last — time all game. 

Lambert answered with a bounce shot from Tanner Overbay, then three straight goals from Harper, Zeman and Kesselring, each following a successful faceoff by either Wise or Dobbs. 

All told, Lambert won 10 of the first 13 faceoffs and carried a 7-3 lead into halftime.

Johns Creek's Colin Honroth scored the opening goal of the second half, but Zeman responded with his second goal 44 seconds later, then Kesselring added another after Robert Fenters spanned nearly half the field to set up the goal and log the assist. 

Kesselring added an opportunistic goal minutes later when he jumped a pass deep in Johns Creek territory, deked the Gladiators goalie and dumped in his fourth score of the game to make it 10-4.

It was the last score of the night for the Longhorns, who watched as Johns Creek attempted a comeback that included a quick goal to open the fourth quarter, back-to-back goals just inside the three-minute mark, then a score with 1:02 remaining to bring the Gladiators withing two goals. 

Johns Creek earned possession with a minute to score twice, but Zach Vlajk delivered a split-second save from in front of the goal to block Honroth's shot and allow the Longhorns to run out the clock. 

"Zach Vlajk has been lights out for us this year," Sagel said. "The other day against Lassiter, phenomenal game. Tonight he made some great saves. He was third-team all-state, too, so the rest of the state recognizes him as well. If you don't have a good goalie back there, it's going to be a long night."

Vlajk had the help of a stout defense in front of the goal, including senior defenders Malachi Lindsey and Greg Steckel, sophomore Liam Sweeney, and senior LSM Robert Fenters.

Lambert will face Centennial at 4 p.m. Saturday at Denmark High School in the Class 6A-7A state championship game after the 14th-ranked Knights upset fourth-ranked Allatoona in the semifinals. 

"They've just been winning game after game after game in the playoffs," Sagel said of Centennial. "And to go double-OT with Allatoona. I mean, Allatoona is a phenomenal team. I think they only had two losses on the year. Centennial, I'll tell you what about peaking at the right time. They really definitely are. It's going to be a good one Saturday, for sure."