The National Soccer Coaches Association anointed Lambert the No. 1 boys soccer team in the nation Tuesday morning. The unbeaten Longhorns promptly went out and played like it.
Trexler Bennett assisted on Lambert’s opening score and later banged home a clinching goal early in the second half to lead the Longhorns past Marist 2-0 in the Class AAAA state semifinals at the Horn and into the state championship game.
The only undefeated team in the state, Lambert (22-0) will host No. 4 Greenbrier (20-1) in the title match on Friday.
After avenging last year’s season-ending loss to McIntosh in the quarterfinals, there was potential for a letdown against Marist. Instead, the Longhorns delivered what coach Chris Wilson described as one of their best all-around performances in what has been a dominating season. And they did it without their superstar tallying a goal.
Junior forward Bakawsu Kinteh, who has 40 goals on the season, was shadowed by two and sometimes three Marist defenders throughout Tuesday’s game. Several times an Eagles defender would find himself singled up on Kinteh and would wave a teammate over for help, while Marist coach Brendan Murphy screamed that the double-team man was coming over too slow.
It was only the third game all season Kinteh failed to score a goal. But his teammates stepped up.
The Lambert defense, led by Bobby Hopper and Kris Reaves, posted its 15th shutout.
“I don’t think Bobby missed a header all night,” Wilson said.
Goalkeeper Michael Zambetti faced only six shots, but deftly punched out several threats off throw-ins deep in the box. And midfielder Cooper Coughlin controlled the middle, winning the majority of 50/50 balls and igniting several of Lambert’s 18 shots on goal.
The Longhorns dominated throughout, but didn’t get on the board until the 19-minute mark of the first half. Bennett’s throw-in was deflected right back to him. He gathered and delivered a perfectly placed cross into the box, where Brendan Everett redirected a header past Marist keeper Vaughn Moore to put Lambert up 1-0.
With 10 minutes left in the first half, Marist (15-7) had one shot on goal. The Eagles’ best chance came off a direct kick with six minutes left before intermission, but Faris Mirza’s volley off a bouncing ball sailed wide right.
Bennett put Lambert in control early in the second half. The junior midfielder corralled a loose ball, penetrated up the middle and unleashed a rocket. Moore made a diving stop, but Bennett put home the ricochet before Moore could regroup.
“I should have made the first one,” said Bennett, who earned Player of the Game honors from Wilson.
Now, the Longhorns must turn their attention to a talented Greenbrier team that knocked off Starr’s Mill 2-0 Tuesday in the other AAAA semifinal.
“We had a guy there, so we’ll get a scouting report a go from there,” said Wilson. “We know they’re going to be tough, just like Marist and just like McIntosh.”
Lambert has outscored its opponents 95-8 this season and is on the verge of claiming the school’s second state championship. The Longhorns won the Class AAAA-A lacrosse title last year.