RALEIGH — Apex senior Luke Sieber had spent his entire high school career on the losing side against Cardinal Gibbons.
His Cougars team couldn’t seem to get past the Crusaders in the six previous meetings, but Apex turned the tables Friday, halting Gibbons’ chances at a return to the state finals with a 13-9 win in the third round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association boys’ lacrosse playoffs.
“It’s been four years,” said Sieber, who scored three goals and added two assists. “It’s the last time, at their house, we’ve never played them in the playoffs and we finally beat them the one time that it matters most. Everybody put in everything that they had … and whenever everybody buys in, this is what happens.”
After being swept during league play – losing 15-7 in the teams’ first meeting and then 8-7 a month later – the Cougars found a way to beat their Conference 2 foe.
Apex jumped ahead in the second half, scoring three unanswered goals to open the third quarter.
Two of those goals came from senior Brendan Farrell, who led the Cougars with five goals. Derek Sweet and Ryan Sullivan each chipped in two goals.
The Cougars went on to outscore Cardinal Gibbons 6-2 in the second half after clawing back in the first half to even things at seven before the break.
“We got down a few goals early, and you can easily fold your tent with a team like Cardinal Gibbons,” said Apex coach John Hayden. “They are explosive and they can put you away, so for our kids to hold the fort and hang with it and get a goal and another goal and another goal, and then settle down, now we’re in a ball game ... We knew it was going to be a 48 minute game and it was.”
Cardinal Gibbons coach Mike Curatolo didn’t take anything for granted coming into the match against Apex, despite the series record.
“I knew it was going to be a battle. That’s how they always are,” Curatolo said. “It’s very rare that it’s a lopsided game, but I want to give them credit. They did a terrific job tonight, and a couple more went in for them than for us.”
Gibbons was led by Robbie Lavelle with three goals. Danny Dorsett and Gannon Morrison each added two.
Both teams coasted through the first two rounds of the state tournament to get to their third meeting of the season.
Gibbons (18-2) won the regular season battle, besting Apex twice en route to an undefeated finish for first place in the league. Apex finished second, with its only losses coming against the Crusaders.
Hayden said the team learned from the first two meetings, and has steadily improved throughout the season.
“We’re playing our best ball, and you better be playing your best ball to beat Cardinal Gibbons ... It has to be. You’re in the playoffs and we better play even better on Tuesday night.”
Apex (18-2) will travel to Conference 5 champion East Chapel Hill (16-2) for the state semifinals.