When Apex forward Jake Grieco has the ball at his feet, Apex coach Kevin Todd expects a positive outcome.
“Jake never stops. He works harder off the ball. What he does off the ball would make any coach happy,” Todd said. “When he does get the ball, it’s imminent something good will happen. He’s good at distribution and getting shots off on target.”
Grieco has displayed his considerable talent and workrate by assisting on a pair of Apex goals and scoring one for himself to lead the Cougars to a 3-0 win over Sanderson in the first round of the NCHSAA 4A soccer players Wednesday night.
The Cougars pressed Sanderson’s defense from the opening kickoff and spent the majority of the first 20 minutes trying to solve the Spartans’ rearguard. The breakthrough came in the 21st minute, when Patrick Bailey headed in a cross from Grieco.
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“Patrick Bailey came in with a perfect header,” Grieco said. “I saw him running in. I knew if I hit it in the middle, he’d be there.”
Alex Stewart nearly doubled Apex’s lead in the 46th minute, but his header from Will Tomlinson’s corner kick crashed off the post.
From there, Apex’s defense preserved the result. Centerbacks Nick Madrid and Jordan Koonts kept things organized and helped limit Sanderson to five shots. Goalkeeper Corey Vodicka had five saves to keep the shutout, including a backpedaling, fingertip save off the crossbar in the 63rd minute.
Stewart and the Cougars put the game away in the 77th minute. Greico played Stewart in behind the Sanderson defense, and Stewart tucked his shot away at the far post.
Despite having the game in hand with less than a minute to play, Greico demonstrated Todd’s praise in the game’s final seconds. Greico raced onto a bouncing ball, touched it by a pair of Sanderson defenders before slipping it into the goal for a 3-0 lead with 16 seconds to play.
“We had our opportunities, but it comes with patience,” Todd said. “You have to be confident the goals will come if you persist. That persistence paid off with one goal (in the first half), and it helped in the end.”