It’s not often that the first opponent a team faces in the postseason is described as its biggest hurdle to a potential run at a state title, but that was case when Southwest Wake Athletic Conference champion Apex hosted one-loss Wakefield in the second round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association girls lacrosse playoffs Friday night.
After a lengthy weather delay pushed the players indoors for more than an hour, the Wolverines came out of the gates rolling on all cylinders, riding a strong first half to a 16-8 victory.
“We knew this was our biggest hurdle, if we got through this then that confidence would extend forward,” Wakefield coach Denna Grasso said. “We have nine seniors who have worked hard for four years; we want to win it all.”
The Cougars elminated the Wolverines from the postseason each of the past two seasons.
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Friday, Wakefield scored the game’s first seven goals – four coming from Andee Abrams – to stun an Apex team that had kept its opponents to fewer than six goals or less in the last seven regular-season meetings.
“Our game plan was to get on the board and get on the board quick and use our middies to our advantage,” Grasso said.
The Cougars stayed neck-and-neck for the remainder of half with Kristen Maselli hitting a fadeaway shot at the buzzer to cut the deficit to 12-5.
Apex’s momentum stalled out during the intermission as Wakefield’s Savannah Boyd, Hanna Anderson and Megan Blawas each scored to open the second half and put the game to bed as the lead expanded to double digits for the first time.
The Cougars responded with three goals of their own from Maselli and Ellie Bromley in a 10-minute stretch, but it was too little, too late.
Wakefield’s Julie Anne Pretty dominated draws all night, an area in which the Cougars typically excelled during their 11-game win streak preceding the playoffs.
“When we play teams that are really good like this, winning possession of the draws is really important because it’s less likely they’ll drop the ball or turn it over,” Pretty said. “It’s so rewarding for us, we’ve worked so hard for this … and it’s such an accomplishment because I don’t think we’ve ever beaten Apex.”
Apex coach Mike Bagnasco was less than thrilled to face another one-loss team to open the playoffs. By finishing second in the Cap-8, Wakefield fell into a predetermined bracket with Apex.
“(Wakefield) is 14-1 and they don’t get a home game? Whoever makes the bracket doesn’t know anything about sports,” Bagnasco said. “It is what is is; eventually we would’ve played them. Every other sport has seeding where the top plays the lower, not two of the top three teams in this area playing. It’s just absolutely senseless.”
Wakefield had goals from Abrams (five), Blawas (three), Pretty (four), Boyd (two) and Anderson (two).
Maseli led Apex with four goals and Graci Fulkerson, Tess Meurling, Emily Beckman and Ellie Bromley also made the score sheet.