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North girls persevere to prevail in PKs

SUWANEE -- North Gwinnett head coach Corban Cofer was happy about one thing after his girls faced ninth-ranked Lambert in the first round of the Class AAAAAA state playoffs on Tuesday night.

His team will have practice today, a reality that very nearly slipped away.

North squandered a two-goal lead only to withstand a late surge from Lambert and topped the Longhorns 4-3, nipping the Region 6-AAAAAA champs with a 5-4 edge on penalty kicks.

The win sends the 9-9 Bulldogs to the second round, where they will travel to Lassiter next Tuesday.

"I wish we hadn't gotten to penalty kicks, but our girls kept their heads up and kept playing," Cofer said. "There were times we slipped down a little bit, but we were able to pull ourselves back together and play our game."

North led 2-0 most of the first half and 3-1 with just over 15 minutes left when Lambert (14-4) rallied to tie it at 3-3 off a pair of goals from Casey Baker, the second with 9:10 left in regulation on a long floater from 25 yards out.

That score stood when the horn sounded, and after an uneventful pair of five-minute overtime periods, the two teams lined up for penalty kicks.

Lambert went first, and the opening attempt from Lauren Sykora hit the right post, giving North an opening it took full advantage of.

The next five Bulldogs all converted their kicks, getting goals from Amanda Delgado, Caroline Gualdoni, Katie Strand, Hannah Asher and Raina Davis.

Lambert also hit its next four, but the miss on the first kick was the difference.

During the majority of regulation, it looked like North wasn't going to need the extra kicks. The Bulldogs jumped out to an early 2-0 lead with a pair of goals in the first seven minutes.

The first of those came just over five minutes into the match when Strand took a long lead pass and found herself in a one-on-one situation with a Lambert defender.

Her first attempt at a shot was deflected, but Strand quickly recovered for a second shot, this time successfully rolling it in past keeper Sami Lucas.

Less than two minutes later, North scored again, this time off a corner kick from Gualdoni when her kick caromed in off the back of a Lambert defender for an own goal.

North stayed in control at 2-0 until 24:14 left in the second half when Lambert got on the board off a goal from Emily Haugen.

The momentum from Haugen's goal was short lived as North went back up by two goals when Taylor Flemming rolled one in the lower right corner.

Fleming was one of several bench players for North who saw additional playing time because of an ankle injury to Taylor Burns, North's leading scorer.

Burns went down at the 16:44 mark in the first half when she injured her left ankle in a battle for possession near midfield, staying down for several minutes before being carried off by two North coaches.

"It changed us up a lot because you lose 28 goals and a big-time player," Cofer said of Burns' injury. "Taylor is a great player but the rest of the team around her helps to make her great. We had to adjust our front line but I was real proud of the girls that came in off the bench and played at the level they did."

Daniela Shartouny was another reserve that Cofer praised, along with Sarah DiMaria. North's defensive effort was also bolstered by Carmen Toomer, Stephanie Lee and Jordan Goldring.