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Pope knocks off No. 1 Lambert boys lacrosse in playoffs
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Lambert's Hayden Barnes takes a hit from behind Wednesday at Pope in the first round of the Class AAAAAA playoffs. - photo by Brian Paglia

MARIETTA – Zach Lynch’s shot hit the back of the net, and one by one Lambert boys lacrosse players crumbled to the ground.

The Pope junior attackman scored with 1:11 left in overtime to clinch a 7-6 victory against the Longhorns in the first round of the Class AAAAAA tournament, knocking off the No. 1-ranked team in the state and handing Lambert its earliest playoff exit in program history.

The Greyhounds (15-3) advance to play North Gwinnett, a 17-7 winner over Hillgrove, in the state quarterfinals. Lambert ends its season at 16-3.

“We didn’t execute like we can,” Lambert director of lacrosse Rich Wehman said. “But sometimes that happens. Really that’s all that we can do. I wouldn’t have changed anything we did.”

Lambert deals with stratospheric expectations from a sparkling résumé: two state championships, four straight state championship game appearances, nothing less than the state semifinals for the precocious program. The temptation is to wonder not if the Longhorns will get back again but how they will do it this time.

The path back this season seemed a carbon copy of a year ago. Though Lambert entered as the top ranked team in Class AAAAAA and the entire state by Laxpower.com, it faced the likelihood of having to win three games on the road to reach the finals like it did last season where it eventually lost, 6-5, to Roswell.

Pope was up first this time. The Longhorns program knows the Greyhounds well. The teams met in the Class A-AAAA finals in 2011 and 2012, and Lambert won both. They hadn’t played since, until Wednesday.

All was well for Lambert through two quarters and some change. The Longhorns built a 5-2 lead by early in the third quarter on goals from Johnny DiVirgilio, Alex Walker, Grant Plaugher, Hunter Clem and Eric Overbay.

Then Pope chipped away. Tyler Barko scored two of his team-high three goals in the third quarter. Patrick Lavelle tied the game at 5-5 with 43 seconds left in the third. Lynch gave Pope its first lead 1:02 into the fourth quarter.

It took a miraculous goal from Conrad McEvoy off a Pope turnover with 5.6 seconds left to force overtime.

Even then, the Greyhounds regrouped. Pope head coach Carl Pfaff said he used to get nervous going into overtime, but not this season, not after the Greyhounds went 2-0 in overtime games during the regular season in wins against Milton and Lassiter.

“We feel confident that if we can stop the ball and get a chance with the ball, whether it’s the first chance or second chance, that we’re going to try to get something with it,” Pfaff said.

Pope waited almost three minutes, but it got the chance it hoped for. Lavelle found Lynch at the top of the crease with a clear look at the goal, and Lynch sent a laser into the net for the game-winner.

“Unfortunately for Georgia lacrosse and for Lambert we had to meet tonight instead of maybe working our way through the bracket somehow and maybe get to play later,” Pfaff said. “That was the best team I’ve seen this year, probably in several years.”

The rankings felt the same, but the Longhorns were plagued Wednesday night by shooting woes. Lambert outshot Pope, 49-30. The normally potent duo of Jake Stanford and Matt O’Rourk shot a combined 0-for-23. In one sequence in the third quarter, Lambert missed six successive shots while up a man.

After Lynch’s decisive shot, Pope players erupted in celebration, swarming the junior as Lambert players dispersed, their season over sooner than any other before it.

“They had a great season,” Wehman said. “They represented the program really well. We tell guys when they come into the program that we want you to leave it with more than when you came in, and this [senior] class did exactly that. It was a great season, and we’re going to take the time to celebrate.”