Over the past three years, Lambert and Hillgrove’s boys soccer teams have fostered a budding rivalry.
They’ve fielded some of the best teams in the state over that period, and each squad has had their moments against each other. Lambert beat the Hawks at home in the second round of the playoffs two years ago, and last year, Hillgrove took a one-point win over the Longhorns in Jekyll Island that was capped off with a celebration that Lambert didn’t forget.
“I knew then (that) it was kind of a rivalry that I didn’t know existed because they acted like they won the state championship when they beat us,” Lambert coach Chris Wilson said. “That's good -- it's respect.”
Wednesday’s installment of the newly-minted rivalry was a matchup between two of the top teams in Class 7A. Unlike the last meeting, though, Lambert was doing the celebrating well before the game was over. The Longhorns outlasted Hillgrove’s pressure defense in the first half, and after rattling off three goals in five minutes early in the second half, Lambert came away with a dominating 5-0 win over the Hawks to move on to the state semifinals, to be played at Lambert on Tuesday against Meadowcreek.
“Fitness-wise, after our second or third goal, they were done and we were still going after them,” Wilson said. “I couldn't be prouder of these guys for what they did tonight.”
Hillgrove did a good job spoiling most of Lambert’s first half scoring chances, but the Hawks got unlucky with 28 minutes left to the half when a would-be goal for the lead bounced off the crossbar. With 19:09 left to the break, Hayden Fontana scored the first goal of an eventual hat trick right in front of the net to put Lambert up 1-0.
“The first half, we were able to kind of weather,” Wilson said. “We’re a team that gets adjusted to the game. All we had to do was spread out and play simple, play two-touch.”
Lambert didn’t take long to secure the win in the second half. Fontana scored his second goal with 34:28 left from about 20 yards out to make it 2-0. A few minutes later, Jay Patterson got his right foot on the ball while falling to the ground in front of the goal for a score. Fontana completed his hat trick just seconds later on another midrange shot to make it 4-0.
“I don't score too many of those,” Fontana said. “I have more of the close finishes and one-on-ones, so it's always good to have a longer shot.”
Hillgrove was visibly deflated for the rest of the game after Lambert’s scoring barrage. The Hawks almost broke the shutout with a well-placed shot with 18 minutes to play, but a fantastic leaping save by Chris Smith kept them scoreless. Trey Hines scored the Longhorns’ fifth goal on a free kick from right outside the box with eight minutes left.
“You don't always get to see it because we have such a good defense, but (Smith’s) the kind of kid that we rely on,” Wilson said.
Lambert has had to face quality opponents over the last two weeks in its quest to defend last year's state title. Being able to look back on that accomplishment is certainly nice, but with the forthcoming opponents looking more beatable, the goal now is to not get complacent.
“We were definitely hungry last year,” Fontana said. “This year, we're kind of riding a wave, and I think in order to win the next two games, we're definitely going to have to step it up and take on our own mentality instead of riding off last year's. I think we can do it.”