Apex Friendship gave a hint of the boys basketball rivalry the Patriots hope to develop when they traveled across town Tuesday night to face their big brother, the Apex Cougars.
Friendship, in only its second year, hoped to play the spoiler role and hand Apex a setback as the second-place team in the Southwest Wake Athletic Conference race. Through five-and-a-half minutes, the Patriots trailed Apex only 15-12 following an impressive driving layup by Jayden Beloti.
But before you could say throw out the records in a rivalry game, reality set in.
Apex went on a 5-0 run to finish the first quarter and outscored Friendship 32-16 over the next two periods en route to a 60-40 rout. That allowed Cougars coach David Neal to empty his bench in the fourth quarter.
“The rivalry will get their someday,” said Apex senior Eric Fox. “This is only their second year, and they’ll get better. But right now we don’t have any sympathy for them. We want to win.”
Fox scored 20 points in only three quarters to lead the Cougars, who improved to 11-7 overall and 9-2 in SWAC play. Junior Denzel Jacobsen added 10 points and junior Chavis Coachman contributed 10 off the bench. In all, nine Cougars scored.
The Cougars remained one game behind Green Hope (15-2, 8-1 SWAC), which plays Wednesday night at home against Athens Drive. Green Hope beat Apex 63-60 on Dec. 16 to account for the lead before the teams meet again on Jan. 31 at Apex.
“We feel we’re getting better,” Fox said. “We’ve been working on moving the ball better and getting open shots. When we hit our shots, we feel we can beat anybody. We’ve been inconsistent, but we played some good teams early in the year. Our defense was terrible the first couple of weeks. We’ve really worked on our defense.
That was frequently evident against the outmanned Patriots, who dropped to 1-18 and 0-12. Friendship’s young roster executed plays, but often a Cougars defender recovered in time for force an awkward shot or a pass.
That’s what happens when a team starting three seniors and two juniors faces one starting three sophomores and two freshmen. The freshmen starters were the Patriots’ leading scorers, with the 6-foot-2 Beloti scoring 13 and Jeremiah Baker 10. Sophomore Taylor Nelson also was in double figures with 10.
“We’ve been coaching effort, and we’ve been playing hard,” Friendship coach P.J. Lowman said. “We’re trying to create a culture, and they’ve taken to it. We can see progress. We only lost to Panther Creek by four the last time after they beat us bad the first time.”
Panther Creek beat Friendship 80-42 on Dec. 6, but the Patriots only lost the rematch 64-60 on Jan. 20. Friendship’s strong first quarter against Apex was was improvement from a 65-28 loss on Dec. 9 that finished with a running clock in the fourth quarter.”
Friendship doesn’t have a senior class as a second-year school, which contributes to obvious mismatches in experience and maturity.
Compounding the Patriots’ youth is they don’t have a big junior class. They began the year with only two juniors on the roster, but the junior that was a starter, Brendan Lucero, was lost for the season with a broken hand that required surgery. He played only two games, scoring in double figures in both contests.
“People were really impressed with him,” Lowman said. “But we have to keep growing and learning this year.”