Apex and Holly Springs came into Tuesday night at No. 2 and No. 3 in the N&O boys’ soccer power rankings, each coming in without a loss to blemish its record. However, the anticipation leading up to the game fell short, as Apex dominated the full 80 minutes en route to a 7-0 victory.
Cole Pena and Will Tomlinson shared the individual glory, each recording a hat trick for the Cougars (6-0-1).
“We know what each other’s strengths and weaknesses are,” Pena said. “We work hard and target the strengths.”
The Cougars stunned the Hawks (3-1-2) with two goals in the opening 15 minutes and proceeded to open up with four more goals in the first 10 minutes of the second half.
Poor positioning allowed Will Tomlinson to score the opener in the fifth minute as he caught Hunter Nordberg at the top of the 18-yard box.
Eight minutes later, Apex doubled their lead to 2-0 when Patrick Bailey’s pinpoint cross found the right boot of Pena, whose volley rocketed into the top right corner past the fingertips of a defenseless Nordberg.
Holly Springs created their share of chances for the remainder of the first half but were ultimately unable to legitimately test Apex goalkeeper Corey Vodicka outside of an Estevan Mendoza one-on-one challenge in the 17th minute.
The final 40 minutes went from bad to worse for the Hawks.
Pena initiated the second-half onslaught in the 43rd minute, chipping an arcing shot over Nordberg after being denied on his first attempt from the top of the 18-yard box.
Pena kept the highlight reel rolling, blasting a turnaround shot into the upper 90 after an assist from Tomlinson in the 46th minute.
At this point, Holly Springs coach Joey Will had seen enough, sending in a platoon sub of eight players, including a goalkeeper.
“We didn’t bring the effort or intensity that they brought to us,” Will said. “Take out 15 minutes and it’s a 1-0 or 2-0 game.”
Tomlinson was rewarded for his assist, scoring goals in the 47th and 50th minute to bring his season goal total to six.
Apex got its scoring curtain call in the 72nd minute when Kian Charkhest’s grounded cross to Liam Fulling brought the Cougars’ goal count up to seven.
Pena’s chip shot in the 43rd minute gave Apex back the momentum it had lost in the final 25 minutes of the first half.
“I tried to hit the back post and accidentally hit it right to the keeper. I kept my wits about me and turned around and chipped” the ball, Pena said.
They said it
“When you capitalize on your chances, the score can run up, and that was the difference here,” Apex coach Kevin Todd said. “While our confidence is growing, (Holly Springs’) is going down.”
Three who mattered
Cole Pena, Apex: Pena was the flashiest player of the night, silencing the home crowd with his trio of goals.
Will Tomlinson, Apex: Tomlinson finished with a hat trick and an assist, bringing his season point total to 14.
Ihssane Chahhou, Holly Springs: The left winger repeatedly tested the Apex backline. Chahhou was the leader of the Holly Springs offense that owned possession the latter 25 minutes of the first half.
By the numbers
8-3: Holly Springs goal total in their first three games compared to their past three games. The Hawks are 0-1-2 since a 3-0-0 start to open the season.
13: Goals scored by the Cougars in only two games of conference play.