The Cardinal Gibbons and Apex boys’ lacrosse teams played a game that lived up to expectations on Tuesday, with Gibbons coming from behind to pull out a narrow 8-7 win.
The Crusaders clinched the Conference 2 championship outright thanks to a season sweep of Apex (14-2, 10-2), which will finish second.
The last automatic bid for Conference 2 will go to third-place Holly Springs.
The teams’ second game of the season featured a four-goal performance by Cougar Derek Sweet and a three-goal effort by Crusader Gannon Morrison.
Looking forward: Sweet, along with fellow senior Luke Sieber, was involved in six of the seven Apex goals.
Sweet and Sieber were a key part of the Cougars’ last run to the state championship game. They were freshmen, and Sweet said they would love to come full circle as seniors.
“This conference is the SEC of lacrosse,” Sweet said. “We just have to get back to work and keep believing in ourselves and our goal of getting to another state championship game.”
Morrison echoed similar sentiments for the Crusaders, who were runners-up last year.
“We never get down on each other, we know we have to play all four quarters and fight hard,” Morrison said.
The win moved Gibbons up to No. 2 in the state behind undefeated Northwest Guilford, the 2011 state champ. Gibbons (15-1, 13-0) won on Thursday against Panther Creek to cement its first-place status in the conference.
What worked: In addition to the offensive prowess of Sweet and Morrison, both teams protected the ball well, and their goalies came up with clutch saves. Gibbons goalie Austin Nelli stopped a potential game-tying goal with just a minute remaining.
Just prior, Tyler Nesbitt prevented Gibbons from adding to its lead and putting the game away with two key stops.
Highlight reel: After Nelli stopped the shot with under a minute left, he fired a perfect pass to Morrison at midfield, just past the stick of a Cougar defender. Morrison made the over-the-shoulder catch, and the Crusaders were able to run out the clock.
Unsung hero: Gibbons coach Mike Curatolo praised Colin McKendry for his faceoffs, which the Providence-bound senior won the majority of. McKendry helped spark a third-quarter run in which the Crusaders turned a 5-3 halftime deficit into a 7-5 advantage late in the period.