APEX — Water damage to Leesville Road’s gym floor forced the Pride’s season-opening basketball doubleheader to move to Apex High. Then the games were nearly postponed after one of the backboards in the Cougars’ gym was shattered during practice earlier in the week.
It seemed like greater forces were at work to keep the two teams from meeting Friday night.
Leesville’s boys and Apex’s girls are no doubt pleased that Apex athletic director Del Phillips was able to get the backboard fixed in time. The Pride boys pulled off a 54-44 win, while the Apex girls streamrolled their way to a 56-24 victory.
Leesville undeterred by youth
With five players from last season’s 19-9 team graduated, second-year Leesville coach Russ Frazier emphasized that his team is young and inexperienced. The Pride certainly didn’t look it against Apex and its roster of eight seniors and three juniors.
Though Apex was in control for most of the first half, Leesville steadily chipped away at an early 12-4 hole. In the second quarter, the teams traded the lead seven times before the Pride went on an 11-3 run over the final 90 seconds that turned a five-point deficit into a four-point lead. Up 31-27 at the half, Leesville never trailed again.
Apex cut the lead to two points on three occasions in the second half, but each time the Cougars got that close, the Pride came right back down the floor and answered with a basket to push the lead back to four.
“We just wanted to come in here and make a statement,” said Leesville guard Brandon Staver. “Lots of people were doubting us after we lost a lot of our older guys. It’s a good win against a really good team.”
Staver pumped in 16 points and seven rebounds, and Grayson Kelley scored a game-high 17, including a pair of buzzer-beating baskets at the end of the second and third quarters.
The Pride shot 54 percent from the field and were 9-of-11 at the free throw line in the fourth quarter.
“We had to stay patient and not make mistakes,” Frazier said. “We’re going to make some, but that comes with the territory. We’re off to a good start, but we’ve got to get better.”
Jon Jones led Apex with 10 points, eight rebounds and two blocks, while Ian Boyd had eight points and 11 rebounds.
Apex girls stifle Pride
The Apex girls led from start to finish en route to their 56-24 win. The Cougars relied on a balanced inside-out attack and a stifling defense to claim the convincing win.
They shot 46 percent from 3-point range (6 of 13) and were 44 percent from the field. Eight players scored for the Cougars, with five accounting for eight points or more. Samantha “Scoop” Curcuru led the way with 10 points, Tiffany Finley had nine and Mia Castagnero, Joelle Deese and Cierra Brown had eight apiece.
“We’re in a unique situation in that just about all of the guards have the green light to let it go,” said Apex coach Jay Huffman. “I was happy that we started by hammering it inside, then we let it open up.”
Apex made five of its first seven shots from the floor and led 11-0 with 3:21 remaining in the first quarter. After Finley’s putback with 6:40 remaining in the second quarter put the Cougars up 21-10, their lead was never less than double digits the rest of the way.
Defensively, Apex forced 26 turnovers, and, in the first half, the Cougars held the Pride scoreless for a stretch of 5:04 and another for 7:11.
“This is my third year here,” Huffman said, “and this by far is the best opening game to a season we’ve had.”