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Soccer: Lambert girls hold off South Forsyth for promising start to region play
Lambert's Melina West, center, reacts after scoring against South Forsyth on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018. - photo by Brian Paglia

One game, the Lambert girls soccer team can create dozens of scoring opportunities and need overtime to find a goal. The next, the Longhorns can struggle and get goals almost by accident.

That was the feeling after Anna Sullivan’s goal in the second half Tuesday against South Forsyth. Already up a goal against South Forsyth on Tuesday, Sullivan collected a loose ball off a poor clear and wasn’t immediately pressured by a defender. The senior decided to take a chance, and she turned and chipped a high, slow-arcing shot with an uncertain trajectory.

Even Sullivan wasn’t optimistic as she watched.

“Slim to none,” Sullivan said. “I just kind of saw an opportunity. There was a space in front of me. There wasn’t a defender. So I just thought, why don’t I just shoot this?”

The ball cleared the goal keeper’s fingertips, and after a late goal from South it held up as the game-winner for Lambert in a 2-1 victory. The win improved the Longhorns to 2-0 in Region 5-7A, a promising position considering all factors of this unique girls soccer season.

None of Forsyth County’s teams had more work to do entering the season than Lambert and South. The Longhorns lost three first-team all-county players expected to return this season off its 2017 Class 7A state championship. South lost one and five second-team players from a group that reached the state semifinals. All were casualties of playing for club soccer organizations newly-affiliated with the U.S. Soccer Development Academy, which prohibits players from playing for their high school team.

A heavy dose of self-discovery was in order for both programs after all the roster upheaval, and even now, two games into the region schedule, that process is still on-going.

For Lambert (3-1-1, 2-0), that process most manifests itself when it comes to scoring goals. Last Friday, the Longhorns were relentless against North Forsyth with 24 shots on goal, but they needed overtime to get just one through. On Tuesday, Lambert struggled far more to create scoring chances, but they broke through after some halftime adjustments.

Longhorns head coach Scott Luthart pulled defender Melina West up to forward, and just seven minutes later she collected a pass up the middle, headed it to herself in space behind South’s back line and finished to put Lambert up 1-0.

“She’s a game-changer,” Luthart said. “Most of the time I can’t afford to not have her back (on defense), but she’s really good at opening up defenses and sometimes doing it on her own. That changed the game a lot.”

Six minutes later, Sullivan scored too, and though Hunter Blanchard’s goal with 3:42 left raised the tension, Lambert held off South (1-3-1, 0-2) the rest of the way.

“Yeah, we’re missing some players that put up big numbers and helped us win a (state) championship,” Luthart said. “But at the same time, no excuses. They’re still going to battle. They’re still going to defend our legacy. They’ve done a pretty good job of it so far.”

Lambert's Hayden Fontana races South Forsyth's PJ Mollenauer to the ball on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018. - photo by Brian Paglia

Lambert boys 1, South 0

The Longhorns and War Eagles shared the Region 5-7A championship last season after finishing tied, but Lambert made the first move through the region schedule with a narrow win at home Tuesday.

Hayden Fontana provided the winner on a header 13 minutes in, and though the Longhorns (3-1-1, 2-0 Region 5-7A) produced several harrowing chances the rest of the way, they couldn’t increase their cushion.

Lambert’s defense was up to the task, holding South (4-2-0, 1-1) to manageable chances on offense and in the process ending the War Eagles’ four-game winning streak.