With a flick of the toe, Maggie Hanusek put Lambert girls soccer into uncharted territory.
The junior forward scored in the 62nd minute for the only goal the Lady Longhorns needed in a 1-0 victory against Lassiter on Tuesday at home to advance to the state championship for the first time in program history.
Lambert (19-2) will face Grayson, a 2-0 winner over Peachtree Ridge, on Saturday at 5 p.m., at Mercer University Five Star Stadium in Macon for the Class AAAAAA title. Lassiter ends its season at 18-2.
“Booking a spot in the state championship is a testament to the three and a half months of work they’ve done,” Lambert coach Scott Luthart said. “This is a landscape-changer for our program. We will never be the same, in a good way, because of what just happened.”
Lambert had endured tests from all manner of teams during these playoffs. It had faced those reliant on technical passing (Pope) and those reliant on brute physicality (North Paulding). Lassiter offered a formidable concoction of both.
Before Hanusek’s winner, the game had progressed to a combustible stalemate. Both teams had stretches of quality possessions that created dangerous chances. Lassiter’s Kelsey Hahn had a look in the box in the 13th minute but pushed her shot wide right with Lambert goalkeeper Jordyn Ebert charging. Three minutes later, Hanusek took a turnaround strike from 15-feet straight on but it sailed high.
On and on it went past halftime and into the second half until Lambert made a critical adjustment. Luthart saw Lassiter’s outside backs playing flat at times, so he ordered his outside forwards to stretch wide then cut inside their defenders.
It produced the chance Lambert needed. Emily Haugen got a pass on the right wing, cut under her defender and made a run up the center of the field. When Lassiter’s centerbacks stepped forward to defend, Haugen laid it off to Hanusek running down the right seam behind the defense.
It was as open a look as Lambert produced all night, and the crowd built to a crescendo in those dramatic seconds as Hanusek tracked down the pass and Lassiter goalkeeper Megan Richardson charged forward.
The only shot Hanusek could get off was her most desperate one. She stretched her right leg to the ball, connecting with it just before Richardson arrived.
“I think it got the top of my big toe,” Hanusek said. “I didn’t even know I scored, honestly, and then I looked back and was like, Oh my gosh!”
From there, Lambert packed it in on defense, but Lassiter managed to create some chances. Ebert left briefly in the 64th minute after colliding with Lassiter’s Kalli Vogel, but her replacement, Rachel Priest, stopped a short shot off a corner kick. Hahn got a pass on the right side with a clear angle on goal in the 76th minute, but her shot from 20 feet curled wide left.
Minutes later, Lambert was celebrating its historic win.
“Hats off to Scott Luthart and Lambert,” Lassiter coach Rob Galvin said. “He’s got a great group of girls. He does a fantastic job with them. They play very good soccer, gave us headaches all night. It was a heavyweight fight from the get-go tonight, what we expected.”