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Soccer: Longhorns win 12th straight, down North Gwinnett to reach Elite 8
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Lambert senior Anna Hines, left, fends off a North Gwinnett defender Monday during the Longhorns' win. - photo by Jacob Smith

After Lambert's 2-0 victory over North Gwinnett on Monday in the Sweet 16, head coach Scott Luthart said he knows his team's secret weapon — the one that none of the Longhorns' opponents have been able to solve all season: goalie Heidi Harris. 

To keep Lambert's shutout intact, Harris made back-to-back incredible diving saves in the final 10 minutes: one to her left on the ground and then back into the air on her right just seconds later. 

“In a lot of games that we’ve been able to succeed in, Heidi has had to make that one big stop,” Luthart said. “I think today she made two ESPN-type stops. In the West Forsyth region match, she made about 6 or 7 — she was fantastic. Like I said, she’s special, we’re very fortunate to have her.”

In fact, by the time Lambert’s Elite Eight match on May 4 comes around, it will mark only three goals allowed in two months for Lambert’s defensive unit, which is where the team's 12-game winning streak began. 

Luthart spoke highly of Lambert's defensive line of Maddie Franz, Kate Borner, Lauren Houston and Laney Cassidy.

“We don’t mess with our back four very often, and we definitely don’t mess with our goalkeeper very often,” Luthart said. “We’ll score goals here and there, but that’s the consistency piece.”

The game started off as a physical match, something Luthart said he expected based on matches against North Gwinnett in years prior. Neither offense was able to get past the other's defense for the majority of the first half. 

“We knew if we could get away from all that physicality in some of that crowded area, we could be successful in maintaining possession and building up into attacking,” Luthart said. 

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- photo by Jacob Smith
With 1:34 left in the corner, Carly Wilson sent a chip pass down the middle of the field to Kendall Page, who had escaped all defenders around her. Off one touch, Page sent the goal past the Bulldogs' goalie, into the right side of the net for what would be the game-winning goal. 

Luthart said he warned his team at halftime that North Gwinnett would not give up and that his team needed to continue pushing hard.

 He added he knew that would be a tall task, considering he did not make a single substitute in the half, but called his team “full of machines” when it comes to physical fitness. 

“Give us 80, or 100 percent if that’s what it takes to get through,” Luthart said. “We’ll get a good recovery day tomorrow as we typically do after a game, and then we’ve got four practice days to prepare.”

Wilson found herself with the ball again on a corner kick with 22 minutes left in the game. 

In what Luthart described as “a professional pass,” Wilson sent the ball across the defense directly to Rylee Huffman, who sent a line-drive of a shot to the left of the goalie to give Lambert the 2-0 lead. 

That’s when the team relaxed and Harris had to kick it into high gear, according to Luthart. 

“Inevitably, subconsciously you tend to relax a little,” Luthart said. “I think any team — as much as you try to fight it — is apt to do that subconsciously. That can quickly allow a team to get back in the game; whereas 1-0, you know everything is contentious, every battle.”

However, Harris and her defensive line fended off the exact comeback that Luthart had predicted North Gwinnett would attempt. Goal kick after goal kick, the Bulldogs would get the ball back and attempt another shot on the Longhorn defense, but were unable to convert. 

“To be able to settle it with the keeper coming out and to be able to bury that is professional,” Luthart said. “We have that kind of quality when we can finally break people down and find those little pockets where we can get balls through, but at the same time it is the defense that we lean on a lot.”

After West Forsyth beat Mill Creek on Monday, the No. 1-ranked Longhorns are the only undefeated Class 7A team in the state. 

Lambert will face Brookwood on May 4 in the Elite Eight on May 4 in a rematch against the No. 4 Broncos. The Longhorns won 3-2 in double overtime in the first meeting between the two teams, a match Luthart described as “epic” and “an instant classic.” 

“Does the win mean a lot as far as confidence going in?” Luthart said. “Some, but more so just having seen what they do. I mean, we’ll both adjust, but it will be a very fitting Elite Eight match. Very worthy teams.”