RALEIGH — The Apex Cougars girls’ basketball team started off slowly in their Tri-9 matchup against Athens Drive on Friday, which was also the 6th Annual Hoops for Hope game between the two teams to raise money for breast cancer research.
But it was the finish which counted, and the Cougars had a strong fourth quarter to avenge an early season loss to the Jaguars, winning 51-44 and putting themselves in good position as the stretch run approaches.
Apex (11-8, 7-6) led 30-24 after three quarters, but scored 21 points in the decisive final period. Tiffany Finley, who had been out for weeks with a concussion, came off the bench and scored seven points in the fourth, while junior captain Emily Sasser made two clutch defensive plays when the Jaguars nearly erased an 11-point deficit.
“That was huge, I’m so proud of our girls,” said Apex head coach Jay Huffman, whose Cougars played three games in four days, including one against conference leader Green Hope. “The key was we made plays when we needed to and showed a tremendous level of toughness tonight against a very physical team.”
Finley and Sam Curcuru each scored 13 to lead the Cougars, who played hard defense throughout the game, helping them to overcome a first quarter which saw them score four points in 7:59.
Joelle Deese knocked down a 3-pointer at the first period buzzer though which seemed to give Apex a boost they took into the second.
Jaguar sophomore Grace Hunter led all scorers with 24 points. She and senior guard Taylor Cesarski nearly brought Athens back late, especially when Cesarski hit her second three pointer to trim the Apex lead to 44-40 with two minutes left. Then Sasser made a steal and on the next Jaguar possession had a huge shot block to prevent Athens (10-9, 6-6) from having a chance to sweep the season series.