APEX — The Apex Cougars girls basketball team turned up the defensive intensity in the second half to defeat visiting Fuquay-Varina 59-38 on Thursday in a Southwest Athletic Conference showdown.
The Cougars (6-1) had a slim 23-21 lead at halftime but dominated during the decisive third period, scoring the first 13 points and limiting Fuquay to four total in the quarter. The Apex pressure forced numerous Bengal turnovers and led to easy transition baskets.
“Our defense picked it up in the second half, and we capitalized with all those fast break points,” said Tiffany Finley, who led the Cougars with 16 points.
Finley opened the second half with a basket, followed by fast break buckets from Cierra Brown and Emily Sasser. Then Mia Castagnero scored on a three-point play, added a layup and assisted Finley to put Apex ahead 36-21.
Castagnero (11 points), Joelle Deese, “Scoop” Curcuru and Sasser spearheaded the Cougar defense, which locked Fuquay-Varina down in the third and did not allow a Bengal basket until the 3:24 mark, when freshman Ava Bethea scored on a nice turnaround shot.
Apex head coach Jay Huffman was pleased with the second-half effort, but wished Apex had played at that level in the opening 16 minutes as well.
“We just didn’t have a lot of intensity or effort in that first half,” said Huffman. “We’re looking for consistency on defense throughout the game. We have been moving the ball well, sharing, and we executed offensively tonight.”
The Cougars never trailed, and the game was tied just once, at 4-all, when F-V senior Tiana Hunter scored on a putback.
Unfortunately for the young Bengals, two of their players suffered knee injuries in the game.
“We’re young, so sometimes sustaining the intensity we had in the first half for a full 32 minutes is a challenge,” said first-year Fuquay-Varina head coach Gail Siemer. “Apex is a great defensive team and can turn it on in a heartbeat. I liked how we stayed together as a team, moved the ball, and in the first half took good care of the ball.”
Siemer praised the efforts of Bethea, who led the team with 12 points and Siemer described as “relentless” and someone who “always gives 100 percent.”
Andrea Baker added 10 points for the Bengals, who will play in the Bunn Christmas tournament.
Apex will play in the Lee County Christmas tourney, which the Cougars won last year.