MARIETTA -- It usually takes a few things to bounce a team’s way for it to win a state championship.
For Walton boys lacrosse coach Griffin Spotz, the last three games of the season, during a nine-day span and against three of the stronger teams in the state, was the most pivotal.
The Raiders won all three games, capped by an 8-7 overtime win against Lambert for the Class 6A/7A state championship May 18 at Fifth Third Bank Stadium.
The three-game stretch started May 10 with a 8-5 win at Etowah in the state quarterfinals. Walton then beat Centennial 8-3 in the semifinals May 15 before taking care of business against the defending state champion Lambert in the finals.
“Having those three opponents -- Etowah, Centennial and Lambert -- back-to-back-to back, it was pretty impressive what the boys did,” said Spotz, the 2019 Marietta Daily Journal/Cobb County Boys Lacrosse Coach of the Year. “Twenty-three games is a lot in a season, and we were fortunate to make it to the finish line.”
Walton’s final day of practice, held on the grass field at the adjacent Dodgen Middle School, was the most critical.
The Raiders (21-2) wanted to set the stage, knowing that the field at Fifth Third Bank Stadium was also grass instead of turf. In preparing for Lambert, Spotz and his staff wanted to push the players to get the best out of themselves, yet, at the same time, create a relaxing environment.
“It’s funny because, if we had lost that championship, people could look back and be like, ‘Oh, we didn’t go hard enough in practice,’ but, in reality, our coaches were making sure we didn’t overwork out boys,” Spotz said. “But if we win, they’d be like, ‘Man, that was genius.'”
Much of the Walton's final two practices were also devoted to game strategy, which proved vital when Walton and Lambert went into sudden-death overtime.
Despite losing a three-goal lead to the Longhorns during regulation, Spotz said the Raiders had advantages. They were winning most of the groundballs and faceoffs, and he also knew that Walton was good enough to push transition against Lambert.
So, Spotz drew up a play with Tate Harran at the wing to start the overtime minutes, and Harran provided the game-winner 18 seconds later.
“It was one of those few magical moments where (Lambert) did exactly what we thought they were going to do, and it worked out exactly like we thought it could,” Spotz said. “It was complete magic, I guess.”
The toughest moment of the season for Walton was losing 8-6 at Lassiter in what decided the Area 4-6A/7A championship. According to Spotz, the Raiders were over it by the time they returned to campus, and they did not lose another game for the rest of the season.
“Everyone was focused, and we bought in after that,” Spotz said.