MARIETTA — It had the feel of a heavyweight championship-boxing match, as South Forsyth and Kell threw everything they had at one another.
An impressive offensive barrage and timely second half defense made the difference, lifting No. 8 Kell to a 17-12 victory over South in the first round of the Class AAAA-A state lacrosse playoffs Tuesday night at the Longhorns’ field.
“I couldn’t be more proud of my team,” South coach Katherine Richelt said. “We’ve played some tough teams all season long and held our own, and I think that has something to say about how hard they work and how they never give up.”
South (13-6, 5-2) was dominant early, as Natalie Howard and Mackenzie Heber netted back-to-back goals in the first 30 seconds of the game. Howard scored again three minutes later, after splitting the defense down the middle in the Kell zone to give the War Eagles a quick 3-0 lead.
South was still ahead by three goals, 5-2, when the Longhorns (15-4, 5-1) went on a seven-minute scoring spree, lashing in four unanswered goals to take a 6-5 lead.
Howard finally answered for South at the 7:20 mark when she picked up a ground ball and put a high shot into the upper left corner of the net past Kell goalie Morgan Waller.
One minute later, Katie Kunberger stole the ball from Heber and ran down the middle of the field to score an uncontested goal and put the Lady Horns back on top. Two minutes later, Kell’s Emily Swift split the War Eagle defense to score from inside the crease to extend the lead 8-6.
Kell led the rest of the way.
With a 10-7 lead and two seconds remaining in the half, Haley Swift scored on a free shot after a penalty to give the Lady Horns an 11-7 halftime lead.
Three minutes into the half Howard scored as she jumped and shot over a defender into the upper left corner of the net.
In the next three minutes, Emily Swift scored two goals and Howard scored one to bring the score to 13-9. Swift was the game’s leading scorer, finishing with eight goals. Howard led South with seven.
Midway through the second half, the Kell defense made game changing stops when it needed them the most. After two defenders drew yellow and red cards, the Horns found themselves at a temporary numbers disadvantage.
During that period, Waller stuffed three South goals and the defense kept South scoreless for 10 minutes.
“We started off on fire, but their defense was a little bit stronger in the second half,” Richelt said. “We kind of fell apart.”
Howard broke the drought for South with nine minutes remaining, scoring from five yards out and cutting the lead 13-10. But Kell broke the game open with four straight goals — one by Kunberger, one by Jessica Armstrong and two by Emily Swift — which boosted the lead to 17-10 with under five minutes left.
Heber and Keri Porter scored two quick goals to try and rally the War Eagles, but the Lady Horns defense shut the door to seal the win and advance to the second round.
Kell will travel to Peachtree City to face No. 1 seeded McIntosh Friday night.
The loss ends the season for South, which finished third in region 3-AAAA.
“Even though we lost tonight, we came a long way this season,” Richelt said of her squad. “I’m real proud of them.”