SUWANEE -- Peachtree Ridge's boys played the best and played them tight for the better part of 48 minutes.
The balance of power in Georgia lacrosse is shifting, but the old guard isn't letting go of its grip just yet.
No. 1 Milton pulled away from Peachtree Ridge in the fourth quarter for an 8-3 victory in the second round of the Class AAAAA state playoffs Friday. The No. 9 Lions fought well, especially senior goalkeeper Greg Rose, and were still within striking distance at the start of the final period.
But Milton, which won the state championship in 2010 and is no stranger to a top ranking, extended its 5-3 lead to secure a spot in the quarterfinals.
"When I wanted to start lacrosse here, I called some of the coaches in Cobb and Fulton and asked them how they got their programs started," Lions head coach Bob Basher said. "They said they'd been waiting for Gwinnett to come -- and we're not happy about it because they have so many athletes.
"They knew once Gwinnett got in, they were going to start taking state titles eventually. And I think we're coming. Gwinnett is coming."
Peachtree Ridge scored first on an unassisted goal by sophomore Jacob Lee 2:40 into the game. Lee put his shoulder down and slung the ball into the back of the net from close range.
Milton answered quickly, tying the game 14 seconds later on a shot from the post by Justin Newell and took a 2-1 lead with 37 seconds left in the first when Brandon Davis connected with a wide-open Jarred Wellem.
Rose made two excellent saves in the waning moments of the period to hold the Eagles at bay and junior Connor Rouleau tied it 2-2 barely a minute into the second. Rouleau got a quick feed from Matty Ledon and buried an outside shot.
"Greg was lights out," Basher said. "He's had a great season. He's one of the best goalies in the state and he proved it tonight. No doubt."
Sophomore attack Steven Lee was crunched driving the net with less than five minutes left until halftime and didn't return to the game. Milton served a penalty for the hit, but Peachtree Ridge wasn't able to capitalize on the man advantage and a pretty passing play gave the lead back to the Eagles.
Collin Hall capped the tic-tac-toe play to put Milton ahead 3-2 with 1:49 to go in the half.
"We felt like we were in it -- all the way," Basher said. "Especially in lacrosse, you can score four goals in two minutes. I believe the guys felt they were in it all the way. There's a big difference playing with confidence and believing you can play the best.
"At halftime, there is no doubt we believed we could beat this team. We nearly did."
The Lions kept it close and got a big goal from Trevor Lee with 31 seconds remaining in the third quarter. Peachtree Ridge went into the final 12 minutes down just 5-3 after Doug Poedtke fought for possession along the sideline and found Trevor Lee in front of the net.
Rose continued to hold the line, even smacking his stick over a loose ball inches from rolling in. But Milton pushed through with goals by Jake Jenkins, Newell and Wellem.
"Unforced turnovers hurt us all the time -- and I think that's still being part of Gwinnett County growth," Basher said. "Playing Milton, who has had sticks in their hands since 3 years old, we're still going to make mistakes and keep learning from it."
Still, Peachtree Ridge and the rest of Gwinnett County's lacrosse programs are making strides. It was a tough finish for the seniors who have ushered the Lions into the upper echelon, but they have a bright future with all the young talent on the team.
"Our offense has one starting senior, Michael Ruffcorn," Basher said. "We bring everybody else back. It's not like we should drop off.
"Starting the (club) program six years ago, the last few years, we've lost great seniors every year. Those guys were the core that got us started, the foundation."
Peachtree Ridge has a handful of sophomores who have gotten playoff experience the last two years. They've also been going against the state's best teams all season. Five of the Lions' losses this season came against top 10 teams in Class AAAAA. Two others were against the best in Class AAAA.
"We believe we had one of the two toughest schedules in the state," Basher said. "Milton probably had the toughest and we had the second toughest. But we do that for a reason."