CARY — Apex has clinched the No. 1 seed from Tri-9 Conference in the 4A softball state playoffs.
By virtue of their 11-6 win over Middle Creek on Thursday, the worst the Cougars can finish is in a first-place tie with the Mustangs. And now having beaten them in both head-to-head meetings, Apex owns the tie-breaker.
“Being able to win the conference is a big accomplish for this team,” Apex second baseman Alexis Overdiep said. “We had a bad game recently against Green Hope, but this team has really stuck together played hard.”
The Cougars’ regular season wraps up Monday when they play Fuquay-Varina. Apex beat Fuquay by a run back in March.
“Winning this game and being able to be the conference champs is huge,” Apex pitcher Lindsay Hodge said. “We only beat (Middle Creek) 1-0 earlier this year. To win like this and continue to get better says a lot about our team. We’re young. We only have two seniors on this team, but we know each other so well and trust each other. And after this win, we’re a confident team.”
It’s also a speedy team with the ability to put runs on the board in bunches, which it did against Middle Creek on Thursday.
After both teams posted a four-run first inning, Apex kept it rolling in the second. Overdiep set the table with a leadoff triple and then Cassie Healy and Mackenzie Brown drew walks to load the bases. Mustangs pitcher Kiley Majette then hit Lindsay Hodge and Kierstyn Drum in back-to-back at-bats to give the Cougars a 6-4 lead.
The third base-on-balls of the inning, this one to Jordan Smith, drove in another run and Apex’s lead grew to three runs before Majette worked her way out of the inning.
“I think we recognized (Majette’s) pitches better tonight than we did in the first game this year,” coach Hodge said. “And after we scored those early runs, I think we rattled her a bit.”
On the other side, Lindsay Hodge had settled down. After giving up four runs in the first, she posted three straight shutout innings, and after four the Cougars lead 9-4.
The Mustangs cut the lead to four runs in the bottom of the fifth when pinch-hitter Tyler Ross drove in Erica Adams with a single, but Lindsay stopped the damage at one run.
“Lindsay was great tonight,” Overdiep said. “We know how important it is for us to play good defense behind her and pick her up. We know she’ll do her part.”
Apex cushioned its lead with two more runs in the sixth to take an 11-5 lead into the final inning. Middle Creek scored one run in the seventh on another Ross single and put a couple runners on base, but it was too late for a rally.
With the playoffs on the horizon, Cougars coach Bonnie Hodge feels like her team is peaking – something she’s seen building in this group since the beginning of the season.
“This team has definitely learned something from every single game we’ve played this year,” she said. “We’ve improved steadily all year and fixed something every single time we needed to. It’s just like (Alexis and Lindsay) said, they really trust each other and know that they’ve got each other’s back and we as coaches have their back. It’s really a close-knit team.”