Special Photo. North Gwinnett's Thomas Perry and Lassiter's Tyler Happ compete for the ball in Thursday's Class AAAAA state playoff game.
MARIETTA — Top-ranked Lassiter began its quest for the state title with a 5-2 victory over North Gwinnett in the first round of the Class AAAAA state boys soccer playoffs on Thursday at Frank Fillman Stadium.
The game was played one day later than originally scheduled after severe storms came through the metro Atlanta area forced its postponement on Wednesday.
The two teams traded goals to tie the game at 2-all before Lassiter (17-0-1) scored three unanswered goals in the second half to put the game away and advance to a second-round matchup at home with Brookwood next Wednesday.
Bubba Hanks, Shaban Abousand, Tyler Happ, Drake Dinnan and William Robinson scored one goal each for the Trojans.
It was a far from easy start to the state playoffs for Lassiter as North Gwinnett (11-8), the fourth seed from Region 7-AAAAA played aggressively against the Region 5-AAAAA champions from start to finish, with Bulldog standouts Matthew Melton and Roberto Hinojosa — who scored one goal each — proving particularly troublesome for the Trojans.
“We knew coming into this match that they were going to come at us — they were going to pressure,” Lassiter coach Billy Pritz said. “(Melton) and (Hinojosa) were giving us problems all night. We watched film on them and we talked about it at halftime and sorted it out.”
North Gwinnett coach Michael Wentzler was proud of how competitive his Bulldogs were against the top-ranked team in the state.
“We came in playing the No. 1 team, had an unlucky draw with our four seed (in 7-AAAAA) after finishing strong in the region, but they played very well,” Wentzler said. “We had a plan, we stuck to it. We had some breakdowns and Lassiter is a very good team — they took advantage of those. They put away the chances they created and we let them have.”
Lassiter got on the scoreboard fairly quickly as Hanks scored from short distance off of a cross from Drake Dinnan with 35:28 remaining in the first half to give the Trojans a 1-0 lead.
North Gwinnett struck back when Hinojosa scored from close range with 19:28 left in the first half to tie the game at 1-all.
It didn’t take long for Lassiter to respond, however, as Abousand kicked the ball away from North Gwinnett goalkeeper Michael Hennessey, who was about to grab it on the bounce, and deposited it in the goal with 12:25 left to put the Trojans back ahead 2-1.
Lassiter nearly increased its lead to 3-1 at the beginning of the second half, but Tyler Happ’s goal off of a cross by Abousand with 37:35 remaining in the game was waived off on an offsides call.
Instead, the game ended up tied again as Melton scored from close range with 34:45 left to even the score up at 2-all.
Lassiter responded a little over two minutes later when Happ blasted the ball into the goal on an assist from Abousand with 32:29 to give the Trojans a 3-2 lead.
Lassiter followed that up with several scoring attempts that fell short and North Gwinnett had a couple of missed shots off of a corner kick with 18:51 left before Dinnan scored with 13:15 left to increase the Trojans’ advantage to 4-2.
Robinson gave Lassiter its final goal of the game as he took a pass from Happ, who faked a shot on a free kick, and scored with 1:53 left to give the Trojans their final margin of victory.
“We talked about the five steps in the playoffs and this was step one and we accomplished our goal,” Pritz said. “We always want to keep a shutout, but we knew it was going to be tough to hold this attacking team, North Gwinnett, back. I’m proud of my guys. They showed a lot of resolve, managed the game once it was in hand and we’re looking forward to Brookwood next week.”