If Leesville Road’s girls basketball team makes a case as the Triangle’s most improved team from the season opener to the start of conference play, Exhibits A and B are results of two non-conference dates with Apex.
The Pride stumbled to a 45-37 loss to Apex on Nov. 21 in the Cougars’ gym, but they turned the table on Apex 15 days later with a 59-45 victory on Friday night at home.
Note that Apex scored 45 points in both games, but Leesville Road improved 22 more points. Most of that can be attributed to youth. The Pride was led in scoring by two freshmen and a junior and on the boards by a sophomore.
“We’re coming together as a team from the start of the season,” said freshman guard Allie Moss, who scored a game-high 17 points. “The first time we played Apex we could not shoot and get into the game. But this time around we brought up our level of play. We played better help defense and we shot better.”
Leesville Road improved to 4-2 with three of the Pride’s wins over Southwest Wake Athletic Conference members – Cary, Panther Creek and the split with Apex. The Cougars, led by Mia Castagnero’s 15 points, dropped their second straight to fall to 2-2.
Moss was joined in double figures by 12 points from freshman guard/forward Shea Plocharcyzk and 11 from junior forward Kelly Funderburk. Lauren McNamara-Clement, a 6-foot-1 sophomore, finished with six points and eight rebounds.
Despite the 14-point victory, a repeat of the first meeting when the Pride trailed Apex at halftime 29-8 appeared to be playing out again. The rematch started with Leesville Road turning the ball over three times before Funderburk hit a field goal with 5:14 left in the first period. But fortunately for the Pride, Apex had only scored five points in the opening moments.
“We knew they would be a much better team at home,” first-year Apex coach Isaac Bristol said. “They were 3-0 and home; your reserves always play better and feel more comfortable at home.”
Leesville Road led 27-21 by halftime and 39-27 with 2:10 left in the third period when Apex’s Mia Castagnero led a comeback with a 14-2 scoring run from the final two minutes of the third quarter and into beginning moments of the fourth. She hit a 3-pointer at the third-quarter buzzer and opened fourth-period scoring with another.
The late surge was the kind of play Bristol said he expected throughout the night following the Cougars’ last-second loss Tuesday to Millbrook.
“Coming back after a tough buzzer-beater loss, I expected us to be hungrier with an attitude of redemption,” Bristol said. “I didn’t quite see that across the board.”
Castagnero’s 3-pointer to open the fourth quarter trimmed the deficit to 43-41, but the Pride regained the game’s momentum with seven points from Moss and five from Plocharcyzk. Moss hit seven of eight free throws and Plocharcyzk followed a steal and layup with a 3-pointer.