MILTON — The longer Lambert traded goals with Milton, the clearer it became that the game wouldn’t be decided until the final horn sounded.
Fortunately for Lambert, Dillon Alexander and Logan Wood provided the last bit of heroics in a contest filled with big moments.
Alexander knocked the ball away from Eagles attacker Justin Newell in front of the Lambert goal, and Wood scooped it up and slung it down the field as time expired to preserve the No. 4-ranked Longhorns’ 11-10 victory over No. 3 Milton in the Class 6A lacrosse state quarterfinals on Saturday at Milton. Lambert will host Roswell in the state semifinals at 8 p.m. on Wednesday at The Horn.
“I think this is one of [our] biggest wins ever,” Lambert director of lacrosse Rich Wehman said. “I’m as proud of this team right now as I’ve been of any of the four teams we’ve had at Lambert.
“The Milton-Lambert games are always awesome anyway, but now that we’re in the same classification and it’s playoff time, it makes it bigger.”
Lambert goalie Garrett Gomez played up to his billing as a second team all-state selection. The sophomore saved 21 of 32 shots on goal, including two crucial stops in the final five minutes of the game.
“He played out of his mind,” Wehman said. “ ... He’s got the ability to take games over, and this was one of those days.”
Said Gomez: “During the game I talked to defenders and I was like, ‘Play this game like its your last one.’ I knew if we lost it, we were never going to have the same team [together on the field] again.”
Peyton Smith and Ryan Fendt led Lambert with three goals apiece, while Sean Carruthers scored two goals — both in the final six minutes of play — to go along with three assists. Matt Geran also tallied two goals, and Spencer Wilson added one goal and two assists.
The No. 3 seed Longhorns (14-6) and No. 1 seed Eagles (15-5) seemed about as evenly matched as any two teams could be: the score was tied on nine separate occasions.
Lambert twice established a two-goal advantage, but those leads lasted a combined stretch of only 2:28 of game time. For the remaining 45:32 of play, the game was either tied or separated by only one goal.
“It was just a battle,” Lambert senior Christian Sheppard said. “You’ve really got to focus on your goal and you can’t get flustered by [the momentum swings].”
Milton took its final lead, 9-8, on a close-range score by Newell with 8:19 remaining in the fourth period.
Sean Carruthers (2 goals, 3 assists) answered for Lambert on an unassisted goal with 5:41 on the clock. The junior attacker struck again at the 2:57 mark, putting Lambert on top 10-9 on an assist from Spencer Wilson during a man-up opportunity.
Gomez stopped a shot by Nick Newell with 1:35 remaining, and Ryan Fendt ran the clock down to 39.9 seconds before scoring an unassisted goal to put Lambert ahead 11-9.
Nick Newell cut the lead to 11-10 only five seconds later on an assist from Ryan Glover and Milton got the ball back with a chance to tie, before calling timeout without 9.8 seconds left.
The Longhorns kept their defensive game plan simple.
“We decided to shut off their two best players [Nick Newell and Nick Basile] at midfield and not let them touch the ball, and really that was it,” Wehman said. “We didn’t do anything special, we just talked about how it was time to really dig down deep.”
Alexander forced the ball loose before Justin Newell could attempt a shot, and Wood cleared it away to help the Longhorns avenge a 9-7 loss to Milton earlier in the season.
Sheppard said “heart” made the difference in the teams’ second meeting.
“We were much more in it this time,” he said. “We wanted it more than anything, especially for the seniors.”
Sheppard won just eight of 19 faceoff attempts for the Longhorns, but Wehman praised the senior’s performance in light of the competition he faced.
“[Milton’s] number four [Sanna Hunter] is one of the best in the state. He’s won like 80 percent of his face-offs this year,” Wehman said.
“Christian did a great job of just giving us a chance to compete for them.”
The Longhorns have now reached the state semifinals in each of their first four years of existence despite what has been — by the program’s own standards — a down year following back-to-back state championships in 2011 and 2012.
Lambert has lost twice as many games this season (six) as it did in its first three combined (three).
Part of those struggles can be attributed to inexperience.
If Saturday’s game was any indication, Lambert’s young roster may be growing up just in time to challenge for a third consecutive state title.
“There was a point in that game where Logan Wood was sick on the sideline, and we looked up and we had a freshman, a sophomore and a junior on defense and a freshman on the wing,” Wehman said. “A lot of youthful guys stepped up.
“I think we’re a lot different team than we were in the beginning of the year.”