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Walks haunt North as Lambert forces Game 3

Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan North Gwinnett Draven Sonnon (99) makes contact with the ball against Lambert during high school softball Class AAAAAA State Playoff action at North Gwinnett High School in Suwanee on Wednesday. North Gwinnett defeated Lambert 8-0 in game one.

Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan North Gwinnett Draven Sonnon (99) makes contact with the ball against Lambert during high school softball Class AAAAAA State Playoff action at North Gwinnett High School in Suwanee on Wednesday. North Gwinnett defeated Lambert 8-0 in game one.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan North Gwinnett Alaina Hall (14) attempts to bunt the ball against Lambert during high school softball Class AAAAAA State Playoff action at North Gwinnett High School in Suwanee on Wednesday. Lambert defeated North Gwinnett 7-5 in game two forcing a game three.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan North Gwinnett Kinsley Jennings (7) delivers a pitch to a Lambert hitter during high school softball Class AAAAAA State Playoff action at North Gwinnett High School in Suwanee on Wednesday. North Gwinnett defeated Lambert 8-0 in game one.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan North Gwinnett Mallory Koepke (2) high fives teammate Ashley Stephan (8) after scoring against Lambert during high school softball Class AAAAAA State Playoff action at North Gwinnett High School in Suwanee on Wednesday. North Gwinnett defeated Lambert 8-0 in game one.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan North Gwinnett girls cheer on their teammate at bat in game two against Lambert during high school softball Class AAAAAA State Playoff action at North Gwinnett High School in Suwanee on Wednesday. Lambert defeated North Gwinnett 7-5 in game two forcing a game three.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan North Gwinnett Draven Sonnon (99), Randi Tuck (4), Katie Black (17), Moriah Strother (25) celebrate the three run home run by Mallory Koepke (2) against Lambert during high school softball Class AAAAAA State Playoff action at North Gwinnett High School in Suwanee on Wednesday. Lambert defeated North Gwinnett 7-5 in game two forcing a game three.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan North Gwinnett Kendall McKinney (9) out runs Lambert third baseman Macy Stovall (6) scoring on the play during high school softball Class AAAAAA State Playoff action at North Gwinnett High School in Suwanee on Wednesday. North Gwinnett defeated Lambert 8-0 in game one.

SUWANEE -- Suddenly, this became a series.

After dominating Lambert in Game 1, top-seeded North Gwinnett appeared primed for a first-round sweep and a berth in the second round of the Class AAAAAA state softball tournament.

Then, the Bulldogs racked up eight runs off six hits in a 8-0 mercy-rule-shortened game. Lambert managed just four hits and left five runners on base.

That changed early in Game 2.

A one-out home run followed a lead-off walk, and Lambert broke through for its first runs of the postseason. It was a back-and-forth game, but the walk set the stage for the 7-5 Game 2 loss. North walked 12 batters in the game, twice with the bases loaded to tie the game at 4-4 in the fifth.

"That's like 12 hits," said North head coach Rand Black. "If you don't throw strikes you probably aren't going to win."

And North didn't, at least in the second game. But the Bulldogs return to their home field today for the deciding Game 3 at 5 p.m.

"We get to play tomorrow, that's the good thing," Black said. "We're not going home.

"I told them, '(Lambert) came out here and they wanted it.'"

After falling behind 2-0, North rallied with a three-run home run by Mallory Koepke with an out in the third. It extended the lead in the top of the fifth when Kendall McKinney continued a big offensive night with an RBI single to score Koepke. North had just squelched a Lambert rally in the fourth with two big strikeouts by starter Hannah Harrison and when it added to the lead it appeared the Bulldogs were in control.

But Harrison lost her command in the bottom of the fifth, walking four and allowing the Longhorns to tie the game in the process.

North went down in order in the top of the sixth and Lambert took charge in the bottom half.

A lead-off walk ended Harrison's night, but Kinsley Jennings didn't fare any better. Jennings quickly got two outs on the Longhorns, but then issued another walk to put two runners on with two outs. And then an error on a infield pop-up allowed allowed Lambert to take the lead and the next better singled in two more runs to make it 7-4.

"We didn't make a play," Black said. "We didn't do it."

Amanda Shimmin led off the seventh with her first home run of the season, but that was the last offense North managed.

In Game 1, North slowly bled the win away from Lambert before ending it with a bang, winning 8-0 in five innings.

The Bulldogs scored runs in all but one of the mercy-ruled five innings, slapping around Longhorns starter Kassie Howard. In three-plus innings, Howard allowed six runs off five hits and her defense didn't do her any favors with three errors.

"We wanted to play (that way), they helped us a little bit," Black said. "We took advantage of that."

Ashley Stephan went 1-for-2 against Howard, driving in a pair of runs and scoring another. It was Stephan's single the ended Howard's outing in the fourth inning.

North starter Jennings didn't blow down Lambert, but she scattered three hits over five innings and left five runners on base, she walked four and struck out one.

But it was McKinney's hot bat that finished off the Longhorns. With a seven-run lead and two outs in the fifth, McKinney smacked a ball just over the left-center field fence to end the game. McKinney's homer capped a 3-for-3 game with a double, three runs scored and two RBIs.