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Softball playoffs: Battle-tested Lambert has eyes for Columbus
Lady Longhorns, North Forsyth, South Forsyth and West Forsyth begin Class 7A first round
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Lambert senior Marissa Guimbarda and the Lady Longhorns went 11-0 in games decided by two runs or less during the regular season. - photo by File photo

Softball playoff schedule

• Lakeside-DeKalb at Lambert, Wednesday, 5 and 7 p.m.; Thursday, 5:30 p.m., if necessary

• Norcross at South Forsyth, Wednesday, 5 and 7 p.m.; Thursday, 5:30 p.m., if necessary

• West Forsyth at Brookwood, Wednesday, 5 and 7 p.m.; Thursday, 6 p.m., if necessary

• North Forsyth at Parkview, Wednesday, 5 and 7 p.m.; Thursday, 6 p.m., if necessary

On Sept. 1, Lambert softball completed the first of three times through the Region 5-7A schedule undefeated, a perfect 5-0 record at that point.

Great, said Lady Longhorns head coach Brooks Youngblood.

“That was doable for a lot of teams in our region,” Youngblood said, but to do it a second time would be hard.

On Sept. 19, Lambert completed its second time through the region schedule undefeated, a perfect 10-0.

Outstanding, Youngblood said, but to do it a third and final time would be almost impossible.

So on Oct. 6, Lambert completed its third and final time through the region schedule undefeated, a perfect 15-0.

The tangible results of the Lady Longhorns’ unblemished region record: a region championship trophy and No. 1 seed against Lakeside-DeKalb in the Class 7A state playoffs that begin today.

Perhaps more crucial for Lambert were the less tangible but no less critical results: experience, perseverance and team chemistry.

“It wasn’t easy to get there,” Youngblood said. “We had to fight through some adversity and some tough games, and every turn that they took and piece of adversity they faced in these games they found a way to get through it.”

That was the reasonable expectation for this softball season after Region 5-7A was formed in the Georgia High School Association’s latest round of reclassification months ago. Coaches deliberated in the offseason how best to structure the region schedule with just six teams that now included Forsyth Central, Lambert, Milton, South Forsyth and West Forsyth, particularly whether to have a region tournament at the end of the regular season or not. After some gridlock, they scrapped the region tournament in favor of having teams play each other three times.

And so came in to play one of sports’ oldest axioms: it’s hard to beat the same team three times.

Youngblood knew this. It seemed implausible to not trip up at some point against the likes of talented pitchers like Sara King (North), Katherine Huey (South) and Hannah Guthrie (West) or formidable hitters like Bella Caracciolo (North), Bianca Mora (South) and Bailley Concatto (West). Indeed, North, South and West captured the other three state playoff spots out of the region, jockeying all season-long.

Lambert never tripped. But in doing so, the Lady Longhorns encountered almost all manner of game situations. Half of their games were decided by two runs or loss. The last two region wins, against North (6-5) and South (5-4), were decided in extra innings. They held on to early leads in some games, pulled away late in others.

“We’ve been tested in pretty much any way you could be tested,” Youngblood said.

That, Youngblood and players said, is the most valuable result of the team’s perfect run through the region. Sure, the Lady Longhorns are buoyed by pitcher Kassidy Krupit and hitter Marissa Guimbarda, both in contention for individual state awards after remarkable regular seasons.

But Lambert seems to derive much of its confidence in that it has no fear of the unknown anymore. The Lady Longhorns feel there isn’t any situation they’ll face in the playoffs they haven’t faced before.

“We just come together when we need to,” Guimbarda said. “We get the hit when we need to. We’re just a team that has each other’s back on and off the field, which is really cool.”