HOLLY SPRINGS — Apex girls’ basketball coach Jay Huffman tries not to talk about the conference race with his team. The Cougars certainly made themselves heard on Wednesday.
Apex jumped out to a 13-1 lead and never trailed in escaping rival Holly Springs with a 78-70 win that log-jammed the Cougars into a four-way tie for the Southwest Wake Athletic Conference lead. Cary, Athens Drive and Green Hope are also in the running. Holly Springs, defending conference champions and winners of 31 of their last 38 conference games, lurk one game back.
Apex (13-3, 5-2) led by as many as 19 points in the second half while tying a season-high point total. It was the first win over Holly Springs in the last seven tries, dating back to the current senior class’ freshman year.
“We’ve taken our whoopings,” Huffman said. “This is my third year with this group, and we were really young a few years ago. I told them to stay the course and continue to work, and it’s paying off finally.”
Every time the Golden Hawks (11-4, 4-3) showed some life, Apex answered the call. Holly Springs closed within seven points midway through the second quarter before the Cougars ripped off seven straight points to separate themselves. Halfway through the third period the Hawks again closed the gap to 41-35, but again Apex responded, this time with an 11-3 burst.
Apex pocketed its last field goal of the game with more than five minutes to play in the fourth quarter but kept Holly Springs at bay at the free-throw line down the stretch. The Cougars benefited from a 27-for-42 effort at the foul line as four Hawks fouled out.
“We’re not happy with the result, but we’re happy with the fight,” Holly Springs assistant coach Wyndell Holmes said. “We didn’t play our best defense. (Apex) did what they were supposed to do. They took the most opportune shots and they made them.”
Tiffany Finley scored 17 points to pace the Cougars and was joined in double figures by Aliya Ruffin with 12 and Samantha Curcuru and Joelle Deese with 11 apiece.
Sophomore Brianna Tate led all scorers with 28 points for Holly Springs, including an astonishing 20 points in the fourth quarter. Vielka Barber chipped in 15.
“We worked on containing their point guard, Bri. She caught fire late, but it worked early where we gained a little cushion,” Huffman said.
“We try to get her motivated to shoot a little bit more. She’s got the ability to score,” Holmes said of Tate. “In the fourth quarter she really came on, which is the right time.”
The Cougars may be coming on at just the right time as well.