SANFORD — Apex’s girls’ basketball team used a dominant defensive performance to stake out an enormous first-half lead on its way to a 54-25 win over Hoke County that clinched the Lee County Holiday Invitational title.
The Cougars (8-5) scored 27 points in the first half and allowed just six points, as they held Hoke County (3-9) scoreless from around the midpoint of the first quarter until there was just six seconds left in the second quarter.
La’Overa Peterkin scored for the Bucks just over four minutes into the game to cut Apex’s lead to 8-4, but from there, the Cougars went on a 19-0 run that put the game out of reach.
Not surprisingly, Apex coach Jay Huffman said the key to his squad’s win was defense.
“We had great defensive pressure tonight,” Huffman said. “It’s important for us to play to our style. We like to play fast, with a lot of pressure on defense.”
Apex’s previous best mark in points allowed this season came in its opener against Leesville Road, a 31-29 victory.
Junior forward Emily Sasser (13 points, 11 rebounds) and sophomore center Tiffany Finley (12 points, 10 rebounds, 6 blocks) both recorded double-doubles for Apex.
Sasser was named the tournament’s MVP after contributing 27 points over Apex’s three games, joining teammates Finley (36 points) and junior guard Mia Castagnero (34 points) on the All-Tournament team.
“It’s awesome, but I couldn’t do it without my teammates,” Sasser said. “Everyone stepped up and contributed on offense.”
Hoke County snapped out of its offensive funk early in the third quarter, surpassing their point total from the first half in less than four minutes to cut the Cougars lead to 35-13.
But it was far too late for the Bucks to make any sort of comeback.
“[Apex] just executed every part of the game better, offensively and defensively,” said Hoke County coach Derek Butler. “They were clearly the better team.”
Apex came into the tournament having lost its last three games to Tri-9 Conference opponents, but rebounded in a big way against the three nonconference opponents they faced in the invitational, outscoring them by 83 points.
“As a coach, you always look for stuff to improve on,” Huffman said. “And there’s still a lot that can get better... [But] I’m proud of the consistent effort we showed this week.”
The Cougars were allowing 48.6 points per game before the three-day tournament, but averaged just 34.0 points allowed from Thursday to Saturday.
“We talked about playing better on defense,” Sasser said. “That’s what we really focused on this week, and it paid off.”
Guard Courtney Pate led the Bucks in scoring with seven points, and was the lone representative for Hoke County on the All-Tournament team.
Jordan boys 55, Piedmont 44
Jordan won the boys’ bracket of the Yellow Jacket Invitational 55-44 against previously undefeated Monroe Piedmont.
The Falcons overcame an early 15-4 deficit to claim a 21-20 halftime lead. The game stayed close until the final two minutes, when costly turnovers and missed open shots doomed Piedmont. Jordan guard Josh Thompson (12 points) was named MVP of the tournament.