The Apex and Middle Creek boys’ lacrosse teams were unable to decide the Conference 3 title after splitting regular-season matches, but the Apex claimed the all-important third meeting with a trip to the state final at stake.
Second-seeded Apex (19-2) captured its third straight N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A East Regional title with a 13-11 victory over the No. 3 Mustangs (18-2) on Tuesday at Middle Creek’s stadium.
The Cougars are positioned to win their second state title in three years on Friday at WakeMed Soccer Park after finishing as the runner-up a year ago. They will play Charlotte Catholic.
“My sophomore year we were led by a lot a senior leadership, and last year we were pretty young,” said Apex senior Branden Farrell, whose three goals shared the scoring lead with junior Jack Hayden. “I think this team has matured, and it is more like my sophomore year.”
Apex relied on that maturity after Middle Creek jumped out to a 3-0 lead. The game’s pace resembled Middle Creek’s 16-6 regular-season win more than Apex’s 9-8 victory in double overtime.
“I wasn’t expecting that,” Hayden said. “I thought we’d be able to control it. They were winning the face-offs and fast breaks. But we knew we would be able to make a run when we needed to.”
Apex’s defense turned the momentum, outscoring Middle Creek 8-2 the remainder of the first half. The Mustangs were scoreless the final 9 minutes, 1 second of the first quarter and nine minutes of the second period.
The second-half resembled a traditional Apex-Middle Creek battle considering that four of their last six matches were decided by one goal with two in overtime.
The Mustangs closed to within 10-8 at the end of the third quarter and sophomore Charlie Doetzer scored two fourth-quarter goals to make it a 12-11 with 5:44 to play. But Apex senior Nick Greco tallied what turned out to be the final goal for a two-goal edge with 3:35 remaining.
Middle Creek freshman Owen Caputo led the Mustangs with three goals.