Braxton Wright had a chance two years ago to send his team to the state championship.
Playing against Brookwood in the Final Four, with all other matches completed and the score tied 2-2, Wright's No. 3 singles match would determine which team advanced to the championship. But Wright, then a freshman, narrowly lost the third set and watched as Brookwood celebrated its championship berth.
On Friday, it was a similar situation but a much different outcome.
Wright won his first set at No. 1 singles 6-1, then battled through a back-and-forth second set, 7-6, to send Lambert's boys tennis team past Harrison and into the Class 7A state championship.
"It was nerve-wracking," Wright said. "It was a lot of fun, because I had a bunch of friends out here watching the team. It felt good to actually clutch it this time and not lose it like last time. I'm just excited that we can hopefully go win state."
It was never easy.
Wright had his work cut out for him in the second set, and seemed to be greeted by a precise passing shot every time he tried to move up to the net.
"He's a grinder. He just doesn't quit," Lambert coach Eric Hampton said. "He may not have the strongest forehand, the strongest serve or whatever, but I told him, 'No one will out-grind you. No one. Momentum shifts are going to happen during the match, just keep grinding, keep grinding and you'll come through it.'"
Whether or not he realized it, Wright was also in a race against the clock. No. 2 singles player Aidan Atwood led his opponent 6-2, 5-2 and was likely minutes from securing the Longhorns' third win.
Hampton praised Wright's ability to stay calm and not let momentum shifts affect him too greatly, a characteristic he also sees in Atwood.
"For a freshman, Aidan is phenomenal at doing that," Hampton said. "That kid is just steady Eddie. He's an assassin out there. I love watching both of those guys play."
Wright and Atwood were in a position to clinch the match for Lambert because both of the Longhorns' doubles earned quick victories.
Skyler Feng and Alex Dua won 6-1, 7-5 at No. 1 doubles, while Aneesh Seemakurthy and Rithvik Suram cruised to a 6-0, 6-1 win at No. 2 doubles.
Matthew Lim typically plays doubles with Feng, but Hampton decided to rest Lim to make sure he is completely healthy for the state championship, giving Dua an opportunity to continue his postseason success.
"Alex Dua stepped in the other day over at Brookwood and played pretty well," Hampton said. "He stepped in today and actually hit the final shot to win the match, so he's done great."
Holden Artz was also in position to win, leading 6-1 and 4-3 when the match was called.
"I'm glad Holden got on the court today and got some quality minutes," Hampton said. "Because we've beaten teams so quickly, he'll get out there and warm up, then it's over."
Hampton said Harrison played its No. 1 singles player against Atwood at No. 2 singles to try to steal a win, but he didn't say anything because he knew Atwood would win.
Wright is impressed with Atwood's development, especially being just a freshman.
"Whoever taught him did a perfect job," Wright said. "His technique is perfect, his game is perfect and he's a lot more mentally composed than I was as a freshman. A lot more."
Lambert will face North Gwinnett on May 8 in the Class 7A state championship at Rome Tennis Center at Berry College.
The win comes one day after Lambert's girls tennis team swept Alpharetta to reach the Class 7A state championship.
"Everybody's stepped up and chipped in when needed," Hampton said. "It's a great bunch of guys to coach. It makes it easy."