BUFORD — A spirited rally attempt came up just short for Buford’s boys lacrosse team in its Class AAAAAAA/AAAAAA state semifinal against Lambert.
The Wolves fell behind after just 34 seconds against the defending state champions and trailed 8-2 late in the third quarter, but trimmed the deficit all the way to two before ultimately falling 8-6.
“Effort was not an issue,” Buford head coach Kevin Peek said. “They weren’t going to quit, and I knew that going in. I just wish we would have had a better beginning, and there were just some mistakes that they capitalized on. That’s why Lambert is Lambert.”
Buford (17-4) was looking to ride the momentum of a thrilling 16-14 victory over Roswell in the quarterfinals into play, but they were up against the stingiest defense in the tournament in Lambert. The Longhorns (19-2) had only conceded four goals in three tournament games coming into play, winning the games by an aggregate score of 48-4.
A quick start was going to be imperative for Buford to avoid playing from behind against the Lambert defense, but the reality was starkly different. Lambert’s Chris Harper scored on a man advantage with the first shot of the game, and almost the entire first quarter was played in the Buford half. The Wolves did not even register a shot on goal until the contest was almost 10 minutes old, but only trailed 2-0 thanks to some stellar goaltending from Matthew Canavan.
Buford put a goal back on the board when Evan Leonardo darted inside and scored late in the first half, but it was the last time a Buford shot beat Hunter Klosterman in goal for over 22 minutes.
Momentum was short-lived after the goal, as Lambert scored all three second-quarter goals and continued to drag the game out with long possessions on offense and tight-checking defense. Harper and Brent Starcher each upped their goal tally to two with strikes less than two minutes apart, and Charlie Goldstein found himself wide open in front of the Buford net for another tap-in late in the first half.
“They have the absolute best defensive coordinator probably in the state if not the Southeast,” Peek said about Lambert’s Rick Lewis. “He just has a very team-oriented concept, he runs different things, he knows what he wants to do, and he is sending people to take away the things that you do well.”
While Buford was unable to kill off a penalty in the first minute of the game, it did successfully fend off a man advantage situation in the first two minutes after the break. The Wolves continued to fight in difficult circumstances with a mounting deficit, doing something no other team has done so far in the postseason by scoring three goals against Lambert. Jackson Rhodes scored the first and set up the other, dishing it off to Carson Perry for a goal to make it 8-3 with 9.9 seconds left in the third quarter.
The comeback attempt really accelerated with two goals in six seconds early in the fourth quarter. After some more great work from Canavan to steal a possession with a tight save, he unloaded an outlet pass to Nash Perry, who used the space in transition to rip a goal past Klosterman with 8:28 left. And when Dawson Andrew scooped up his own face-off win for another goal at the 8:22 mark, the Wolves were within three for the first time in the half.
Matthew Scruggs made it 8-6 with 3:25 remaining, but that was Buford’s last serious threat on goal. The Longhorns killed more than two minutes of clock on their final possession to take the air out of the game, and the comeback attempt ran out of time.
Lambert will go for its second consecutive state championship against Walton on Saturday, while Buford will be looking to build on its furthest playoff run in program history next season.
“It wasn’t the big physical things or the effort,” Peek said. “It was the little mental mistakes that we made early, and we made some in the middle. And when we took care of those mistakes we started scoring again, but again that’s why Lambert is Lambert. They’re like Buford football, they take advantage of the situations when they’re there.”
Nash Perry and Jackson Rhodes had a goal and an assist each, Evan Leonardo, Matthew Scruggs and Carson Perry had a goal each and Zack Salo and Noah Steinbrecher added an assist each.
Canavan finished with 20 saves behind a Buford defense led by Davis Peek, Jameson Hynds, Carson Perry Ben Martin and Jordan Castro.