Apex’s Alex Stewart saw a small opening and took his chance.
The Apex midfielder slotted in the winning goal in the 81st minute to get the Cougars a second-round 2-0 road win at New Bern on Monday night in the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A playoffs.
The first goal is important in soccer – especially in the playoffs and even more so when that goal comes with less than 10 minutes left.
“When we were counterattacking the ball, their outside back on my side was pushed really far inside. So I was screaming for it from Cole and he played it through and I had to finish,” Stewart said. “To put that in the goal boosted our confidence for those last nine minutes.”
After New Bern pushed up nine players for a corner kick, goalkeeper Corey Vodicka punched it out right to Jake Grieco, who added a two-on-none breakaway to seal the victory in the 78th.
“We brought everyone back. We were just trying to get the ball out and far. And luckily he just punched it between me and the last defender,” Grieco said.
The 11-seed Cougars (15-5-2) peppered the No. 6 New Bern (14-5-4) early and often but had trouble with Bears goalkeeper Xander Vizcarrondo. The teams had a scoreless tie at half despite Apex having more possession, corners and shots.
“We just had to keep plugging away and plugging away. We had a lot of chances, at least potential chances, in the first half. In the second half we knew we had to be persistent,” Apex coach Kevin Todd said.
Apex hasn’t lost since it played Green Hope on Oct. 10, a streak of six games. Stewart said correctly using the Cougars’ team speed has kept the squad rolling.
“When we can switch it through the middle to the outside mids, our outside mids are great at getting the ball down the side and then working it back to the middle,” Stewart said.
The Cougars will travel to No. 3 Broughton on Wednesday.
The Capitals are the highest-seeded team left in the 4A East and are ranked No. 1 in The News & Observer’s greater Triangle coverage area.
“We don’t know much (about Broughton). We came into this game not knowing who (the Bears) were,” Grieco said. “We just have to utilize our advantages and just work off the wall.”