Featuring two teams undefeated in Southwest Wake Athletic Conference play and two of the top five scorers on The News & Observer leaderboards, the conference clash between Apex and Holly Springs girls basketball was down to the wire, with the Golden Hawks clawing their way out with a 55-50 win.
Holly Springs picked up its third straight victory, holding the resilient Cougars scoreless in the final four minutes of regulation.
After a 7-all deadlock to start the night, Holly Springs went on a 14-0 run en route to a dominating 33-15 halftime advantage.
No matter how large the lead, Golden Hawks coach Peace Easton knew that the Cougars wouldn’t lie down.
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“I wasn’t surprised, I told (my players) they were going to come out fired up,” Easton said.
Apex came out of the break striking first on an Elle Hepburn 3-pointer – one of four she hit that period – as the Cougars dominated the third quarter 22-5, narrowing the deficit to 38-37.
“We focused on defense, that side of the court and let offense take care of itself,” Apex coach Isaac Bristol said.
When Hepburn fouled out – along with the other four starters – the Cougars struggled to hold onto the four-point lead they built in the fourth quarter.
“Five of our starters fouled out, we’re running the last two minutes of a tight ballgame with your sixth, seventh and eighth person off the bench…who aren’t typically in that situation or called upon to finish a game like that,” Bristol said.
Holding onto a 51-50 lead, Caila Spruill earned two trips to the line and collected two offensive rebounds in the final minute of play.
The intensity from the stands didn’t phase Spruill, who was calm as a cucumber from the charity stripe.
“I pretended I was in the gym by myself and was just shooting,” Spruill said.
With 3:21 to go, Tate made a driving layup and nailed the ensuing free throw to give the Golden Hawks a 51-50 lead they didn’t relinquish.
They said it
“Everyone is capable, if someone has an off night, we have nine other girls who can step up.” –Peace Easton
Three who mattered
Elle Hepburn, Apex: Hepburn knocked down five 3-pointers, leading all players with 26 points. She also added on four boards and assists.
Brianna Tate, Holly Springs: Despite being held scoreless in the third quarter, Tate still finished with 22 points.
Caila Spruill, Holly Springs: Spruill was the only player to earn a double-double, racking up 11 points and 10 rebounds.
By the numbers
12-to-3: Advantage Apex had on assisted baskets.
3: Turnovers committed by Apex after giving the ball up 10 times in the fist half.
25: Fouls called on Apex’s starters.