Apex put the finishing touches on boys and girls lacrosse Southwest Wake Athletic Conference titles on Friday, with the girls winning at home against Green Hope and the boys winning on the road.
The N.C. High School Athletic Association playoffs begin this week with first-round games on Tuesday or Wednesday (some teams have first-round byes) and the second round on Friday.
Apex girls lacrosse, who haven’t lost a home game all year and have six double-digit wins since a one-goal loss to Chapel Hill on March 16, continued the hot streak Friday night and closed out the regular season by dominating Green Hope 21-9 at Cougar Stadium.
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After the Falcons jumped out to a 3-1 lead largely on two quick goals from Allie Winiecki, the Cougars pulled their offense together and rattled off seven straight goals en route to a 12-5 halftime lead.
Apex didn’t loosen its grip in the second half as Emily Beckman scored off a Graci Fulkerson assist just eight seconds into the half, the fifth goal of what became an 11-0 run.
“I preach that and we practice it hard, ‘draws win games,’ ” Apex coach Mike Bagnasco said. “I know we’re winning the draw … and I know we’re going to score. We have so many scorers, and you can’t shut them all down.”
Seven different players had points for the Cougars, a stat that wasn’t as common for teams of the past that had top recruits that handled most of the workload.
“That’s been incredibly important. If they’re face guarding one person and completely shut them down … we can all encourage each other and get assists and goals,” said Kristen Maseli, who had four goals and two assists.
Green Hope will travel to the coast to play Ashley in the first round of the playoffs.
“We played a really good team,” Green Hope coach Bob Stanley said. “We’re looking forward to going a few rounds in the playoffs.”
Ellie Bromley’s back-to-back goals at the 22:07 and 21:38 marks of the second half kept Apex’s momentum rolling.
They said it
“Three straight years as conference champs, three straight years of never losing a conference game, that’s phenomenal.” – Mike Bagnasco
Three to know
Tess Meurling, Apex: Scored two goals and led all players with four assists.
Kristen Maseli, Apex: Maseli was the catalyst of the Cougars’ offense all night, leading the way with six points.
Emily Beckman, Apex: Beckman finished the night with two goals and three assists.
By the numbers
6: Saves for Apex’s Carrie Studdard
7: Saves for Green Hope’s Natalie Marrero
33: Consecutive conference wins for Apex
In terms of playoff implications, Friday’s boys lacrosse regular season finale between N&O No. 2 Apex and No. 5 Green Hope meant nothing.
Don’t tell that to the players and coaches involved, though. Apex came out on top of an emotional game, using a late run to pull away from Green Hope 15-10.
In a game of runs, Green Hope cut Apex’s lead down to one with a little under 10 minutes left on a goal by sophomore attacker Aidan Callahan.
Then the floodgates opened for Apex on offense. Bookended by goals from freshman attacker Christian Cechini and senior attacker Alex McClure, the Cougars ended the game on a 4-0 run to spoil Green Hope’s senior night.
With the win, Apex (16-1, 12-0) completed a perfect conference season, going undefeated against SWAC opponents.
Green Hope (13-4, 9-3) opened the contest with back-to-back goals by senior attacker Nolan Paussa and eventually led 3-0 before Apex coach John Hayden called a timeout to get a point across to his team.
“I wanted to kick them in the rear end,” John Hayden said.
The message was apparently well-received.
Apex scored the game’s next seven goals, three of which came from senior attacker Jack Hayden.
Green Hope fought back, though and trailed by just one goal come halftime. But Apex’s defense tightened up as the game went on and chances proved to be fewer and farther between for the Falcons as senior goalie Andrew Mason allowed only three goals during the final 24 minutes.
Despite the loss, Green Hope coach John Larkin was impressed with the way his group fought against a tough opponent.
“It was senior night for us and it’s unfortunate for those guys that we couldn’t pull it out, but our guys worked their (butts) off,” Larkin said.
When Callahan scored to bring Green Hope within one, it seemed like the Falcons might have had one last rally in them. But Apex’s barrage of four goals in a 1:58 span prevented any chance of senior night win for the home team.
John Hayden thought about calling a timeout late in the game to settle his team down, but thought better of it.
“You know what, sometimes you just have to let the kids play,” John Hayden said.
They said it
“Any game, no matter how much it counts, it can change our season and we all know that.” – Apex senior attacker Jack Hayden on not losing focus on Friday’s game.
Three to know
Jack Hayden, Apex: The senior’s three goals powered a 7-0 run for the Cougars in the first half and even when he didn’t have the ball, he drew attention from the Green Hope defense.
Nolan Paussa, Green Hope: Playing in his final home game, Paussa came up big for Green Hope. After scoring the game’s first two goals, he also scored back-to-back goals late in the second quarter to tie the game at 7-7.
Alex McClure, Apex: McClure scored three times and his final goal put Apex ahead by five.
Both Apex and Green Hope have first round byes in the 4A playoffs and will start second round play on Friday.
Apex will host either Wakefield or a wild-card team. Green Hope travels to N&O No. 1 Cardinal Gibbons.