Earlier this week, Lambert girls soccer coach Scott Luthart elected to have his team spend an extra 20 minutes after practice working on free kicks.
Those 20 minutes may be a big part of why the No. 10-ranked Lady Longhorns are region champions for the second time in three years.
Senior midfielder Heather Lacy took at 22-yard free kick from just outside the right of the box and hooked it into the left of the goal with 6:14 left in the first half, and Lambert held on to secure the Region 6-AAAAAA title and a No. 1 seed for the state playoffs with a 1-0 win over Johns Creek on Friday at The Horn.
South Forsyth finished as the No. 2 seed, while Johns Creek (No. 3) and Alpharetta (No. 4) rounded out the list of squads from Region 6 headed to the postseason.
"We’ve never had a tougher region title," Luthart said. "I’m not sure you’ll ever find a tougher [region title] because we had to go through 14 [games] to do it. Coming out successful 12 of 14 times all in regulation, speaks volumes of what we can do as a team."
Tatum Richey almost scored Lambert’s first goal with a shot in the box in the 13th minute, but her attempt sailed over the goal. Midfielder Maggie Hanusek had a scoring opportunity with 8:43 left in the first half, but her shot was also too high.
The Lady Longhorns (13-3, 12-2 region) stopped a Johns Creek drive and pushed the ball to Lacy. The senior midfielder attempted to make a move toward the box, but was fouled and awarded the free kick.
"We stayed after practice — I was going to send them home — and I said, ‘Listen, we need to stay at least for a little bit and work on free kicks because we haven’t done it in a while," Luthart said.
"We’ve got about four or five options when she’s lining up over the ball and she’s going to make that decision for herself. The last game, I called something when we were in close and it broke down and didn’t work, and in hindsight based on how the game had progressed and what the goalkeeper was doing, I should have let her hit it, and I told her that after the fact.
"Today, I didn’t even say a word. I let her call it. She must have seen the space and she can hit it as well as anybody."
Added Lacy: "I decided to shoot it and it was on [target.] Sometimes you just have one of those shots that you feel good about, that’s kind of what it was.
"[Winning region] is awesome because I think we won my [sophomore] year and we haven’t won since, so we’ve been chasing it."
Johns Creek (10-6, 10-4) had a chance to tie the game with 25:58 left, but Clara Conboy’s shot went over the crossbar. The Lady Gladiators were held to only three shots in the second half, as Lambert keeper Sami Lucas earned the clean sheet.
Lambert’s only problem came in the 69th minute, when Lacy drew a red card. She will miss the next two games, including the first round of the playoffs.
Lambert closes the regular season against Forsyth Central at 5:55 p.m. on Tuesday at The Horn.
Lambert boys defeat Johns Creek (3-3, 5-4 PK)
Chris Wilson doesn’t recall the last time his team had a game reach penalty kicks, but the Longhorns gave their coach one to remember on Friday night.
No. 4-ranked Lambert trailed 2-0 in the first half, but fought back and tied the game at 3-3 to send it into overtime. Neither team could manage a quality threat in overtime to force penalty kicks. Ryan Elswick made the fifth of Lambert’s five shots to earn the 3-3 (5-4 PK) win at The Horn.
Lambert (13-3, 11-3) claimed the No. 2 seed in Region 6-AAAAAA. Centennial finished first in the region, while South Forsyth (No. 3) and West Forsyth (No. 4) also made the state playoffs.
"I’m very proud of our guys," Wilson said. "They’re a resilient group that doesn’t know what giving up means, so that’s fantastic.
"…Knowing [Johns Creek] need a win, it was a playoff atmosphere. Going to pk’s and overtime obviously is a playoff atmosphere as well. So, all good experience for something we haven’t done, so now we have and that’s good."
Johns Creek (9-7, 7-7) jumped out to a quick 2-0 start with goals from Conor Quinn and Cole Berry. Quinn reached the back of the net in the 15th minute with a ball that curved to left, while Berry tacked on his goal two minutes later with header.
It took all of 42 seconds for Lambert to strike back.
Trexler Bennett chipped the ball over to Bobby Hopper in the box for a close shot to bring Lambert within one. Eight minutes later, Chad McArdle got in on the action with a cross from the far right side of the field to Cooper Coughlin for the header to tie the game at 2-2.
"When I went over there, I tried to serve it on the first try, but [a defender] blocked it," McArdle said. "I noticed it was sitting on the end line, so I just ran up and hit it again and saw Cooper [by the] back post and finished it perfect."
Lambert carried the momentum into the second half and took a 3-2 lead in the 60th minute. Hopper made a deep cross into the box for McArdle, who tapped it in past Johns Creek’s diving keeper.
The Gladiators got more aggressive on offense and tied the game at 3-3. Eduardo Anguiano took a shot that bounced off Lambert keeper Jake Nelson before Berry took the rebound and scored to force overtime and then the shootout.
"We just played as a team," McArdle said. "We’re trying to build some momentum for playoffs. We locked up the No. 2 seed, so we were going out and giving it our best tonight. We just made the best of the chances we were given."
Lambert closes the regular season against Forsyth Central on Tuesday at The Horn.