If Apex is going to do some damage in the state baseball playoffs later this spring, the Cougars will have to ride the arms of their starting pitchers.
On Thursday night, Apex rode starter Alex Yarem to a 3-2 victory over Fuquay-Varina as Yarem pitched a complete game and drove in what proved to be the winning run.
The senior right-hander ran his record to 4-1 as he struck out five while giving up only four hits and two unearned runs. His sacrifice fly in the third plated the Cougars’ third run, and that held up despite a shaky fifth inning.
“I like a lot of our parts,” Apex coach Mike Valder said. “We don’t necessarily have a dominant pitching staff, but we have a pitching staff that’s dominant with experience. Any given night, all three of them give us a chance.
“I’d like to think that once we get swinging, that we could be really contenders. But I know also that it’s a long year, and I know that sometimes you’ve got to win ugly. I’ll take an ugly win versus a tough loss.”
Yarem and fellow seniors Carter Hicks and Chase Denison make for a solid starting rotation that has helped make up for some offensive deficiencies. Apex (8-7, 6-2) managed only one hit against Fuquay’s Jordan Bissette, but that hit came in the crucial third.
A walk, a hit batsman, and an error loaded the bases, and the Cougars scored their first run when Esteban Valencia was hit by another pitch. Ben Highfill then rifled a single to right for a 2-0 lead, and Yarem followed with his sac fly.
“Of late, we’ve been scrappy,” Yarem said. “We find some way to produce runs. There was a sac fly, there was a good hit by Ben and a hit by pitch. I’ve got to attribute that to coaching. He tells us to take pitches and be picky. Yes, we’re a scrappy team.”
Otherwise, Bissette was dominant, striking out five and not allowing a runner past second in every inning but the third.
“We’ve had trouble scoring runs all year,” Bengals coach Milton Senter said. “It just magnifies things when somebody puts three up there like that.”
Neither team has hit the ball well lately, but while Apex has won its last three one-run games, Fuquay (6-8, 3-4) has lost its last four, all by two runs or less.
“What happens over the year when you don’t score a lot of runs, is (when) you get in those situations, you feel that little pressure,” Senter said. “I’m afraid we feel that a little bit. What we need is to rack out four or five hits in a row, and everybody will relax, and we’ll be OK. Maybe that’ll happen (Friday against Holly Springs).
“We need a win. Our feeling is if we can get in the playoffs, we can be a good team in the playoffs because we have good pitching. But we’ve got to get in.”
The Cougars seem well on their way, as Thursday’s win kept them within reach of first-place Green Hope in the Southwest Wake Athletic Conference.
“If we get lucky and they drop one or two, I hope we take first in the conference,” Yarem said. “That’d be awesome.”
If Yarem pitches the way he did Thursday, Apex’s chances look good.
“I really thought I hit my spots well, especially with the top of their lineup,” Yarem said. “The top five, I really wanted to get through with some good pitches. My curveball was definitely on point tonight, and I spotted that well, too. I definitely thought I threw that well and got a lot of outs with it.”