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Defense rises to occasion for West Forsyth girls' lacrosse in playoff win
Lady Wolverines shut out North Gwinnett in second half for 9-5 victory
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West Forsyth junior attack Erika Cross led the Lady Wolverines with three goals to go along with an assist. - photo by Micah Green

As the final seconds of West Forsyth’s 9-5 victory over North Gwinnett in the first round of the Class AAAAAA tournament ticked away, Lady Wolverines coach Dan Kaplan told his players standing on the sideline, “You better go hug that whole defense.”

When the buzzer sounded, West (13-4) players sprinted down the field to goalkeeper Kara Duclos, defenders Allie Fagg and Hannah Huggins and the rest of the Lady Wolverines’ defense that kept North Gwinnett (13-6) scoreless in the second half.

“I can’t explain the feeling of having a shutout in the second half,” said Duclos, who made seven saves, including five in the pivotal second half. “It’s an amazing feeling. It really shows how determined we were and that we can do anything against any team in Georgia.”

“I could tell we wanted it,” Huggins said, “and we were definitely more determined than ever.”

“We have bigger things to play for,” Fagg said.

It’s a refrain West has clung to since Kaplan announced he was stepping down as head coach to become athletic director at Forsyth Central. Kaplan started the Lady Wolverines program. Wednesday was his last game at Wolverines Stadium. The rest of West’s playoff run will be on the road, starting at No. 1-ranked Milton (16-3), a 21-1 winner over Hillgrove.

“I very much look forward to going to the new school,” Kaplan said, “but my heart is here right now.”

Where was Kaplan’s heart in the first half as Lady Wolverine players began to drop on the field and North Gwinnett matched West goal for goal?

First senior starting middie Arielle Pagley left with 19 minutes 40 seconds remaining in the first half. She spent the rest of the game propped up by crutches and her right ankle wrapped.

Senior junior Monica Martelli left soon after. The Lady Wolverines’ 60-goal scorer finished with just one goal on one shot and spent the rest of the night wearing a team baseball cap on the sideline with dizziness.

Junior attack Sydney Frye later left the game in the second half with a knee injury.

It left Huggins as the only player on the field for West who entered the season as a returning starter.

“Adversity makes every team stronger,” Huggins said. “I definitely think that’s something that brought us all together. We knew that he had to play our hardest.”

With just a 6-5 halftime lead, West clamped down on defense in the second half. The Lady Wolverines slid to the ball faster and executed double teams more efficiently to hold North Gwinnett to 0 for 6 shooting in the second half.

“I saw my defense working as a team and talking to each other,” Duclos said. “They were so motivated to pull it out in the second half.”

The Lady Wolverines’ attack suffered without Martelli, but Erika Cross, a reserve defender last season, scored with 15:07 left in the second half and Sarah Grady, a back-up middie a year ago, scored twice in 1:11 give West a healthy cushion.

“They trust each other,” Kaplan said. “They knew when one girls down we have to go to the next one. Monica, yeah it hurt our offense a little bit. She scored 60 goals this year. … We just have to have faith and trust in our girls.”

Cross led West with three goals to go along with an assist. Grady had two goals, while Martelli, freshman Kelly Guthrie, junior Conner Parker and junior McKinley Puckett each added a goal.