APEX — It seemed too good to be a second-round match.
Wakefield defeated Apex in a five-game thriller Tuesday night, 25-17, 25-22, 21-25, 23-25, 15-13, in the second round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A playoffs.
Wakefield was the Cap Eight tournament champ and third in the News & Observer rankings. Apex (17-4), the Southwest Wake Athletic Conference champ, was ranked fourth in the area.
The crowd roared with every point.
“We knew Apex was going to be a force to be reckoned with,” said Wakefield coach Cynthia Terrell. “They were a great team, I’m just thankful we came out with a win.”
Apex pressured Wakefield’s back row with 14 aces, while Wakefield used its height advantage on 48 kills and 12 blocks.
“We’re really scrappy and aggressive at the net,” said setter Gabrielle Benda, a Marquette recruit who had 38 assists.
The Wolverines (21-2) jumped out to a large lead and cruised to a 25-17 game-one win.
Apex had the lead for most of game two but Wakefield won the final six points, including two Benda aces, to take it 25-22.
Apex roared back in game three, using a 10-1 run to go from down four to up five before holding on for a 25-21 win. The Cougars had six aces in the set alone.
“We practice being down and coming back, and it showed,” Apex coach Emily Regan said. “The seniors wanted it bad enough.… We just didn’t have it in us.”
Game four was back and forth until Wakefield got its attack in sync to take a 20-13 lead. But Apex went to junior Ally Beckman, a Georgia Tech recruit, and the Cougars caught fire.
Apex won 12 of the game’s final 15 points to force game five.
Beckman, a setter by trade, had six kills in the game-four comeback.
“Ally is a go-to-player,” Regan said. “She doesn’t make a lot of mistakes.”
In game five, Apex rallied from down 9-5 to tie it at 10; Wakefield then won the next four points. The Cougars, on the brink of elimination, regrouped and scored the next three.
But a Maya Muldrow kill on the end of another Benda assist ended the match and Apex’s season.
“In clutch moments like that, we often look to (Benda),” Muldrow said.
Wakefield has four seniors who have committed to Division I programs, and they shined Tuesday. Benda had 38 assists.
Kentucky recruit Darian Mack had 15 kills, Cincinatti recruit Muldrow had 14, and George Mason recruit Jordan Glass had six.
Teammate Julia Forbes had 10 kills.
“We pushed through (critical points),” Glass said.
Apex’s Beckman had 15 kills and 26 assists, while teammates Bri Belicic had 14 kills and Abigail Veit had nine.
Belicic, Chasey Gelston and Morgan Hajnos are the Cougars’ three seniors.
Blake: 919-460-2606; Twitter: @JMBpreps