RALEIGH — For the first time since 2011, Apex is heading back to the girls’ lacrosse N.C. High School Athletic Association championship after defeating rival Cardinal Gibbons 15-14 Tuesday night in the semifinals.
Apex will play Charlotte Catholic on Saturday in Cary for the state title.
The Cougars built a four-goal advantage and maintained it for most of the game, but after Cardinal Gibbons junior Sarah Comstock capped off a rally by tying the score with 1 minute, 19 seconds left in the second half, it was Apex junior Mia Castagnero who saved the day.
After initially being stripped of the ball, Castagnero regained possession and fired a shot past Cardinal Gibbons junior goalie Morgan Sinclair for the winner.
“I got stripped of the ball because I wasn’t being very careful with it. Luckily I was able to get it back and score, so we got lucky there,” Castagnero said.
She was one of two Cougars to score six goals, as senior Erin Cornell did so as well.
With a little less than eight minutes remaining in the first half, Apex led 7-3 after a score by junior Abby Flynn.
A big reason behind Apex’s first-half success was its ability to win draws, something Cardinal Gibbons usually excels at doing.
“That was a big part of our practice for a long time. I just put it to them that it’s got to be a personal battle between you and the girl standing next to you,” Apex coach Mike Bagnasco said.
Cardinal Gibbons ended the first half on a 4-2 run to trim its deficit to 9-7 heading into halftime.
Things looked bleak for Cardinal Gibbons once senior captain Shelby Scanlin left the game just two minutes into the second half after colliding with Apex senior goalie Rose Redfoot.
With Scanlin out, Cardinal Gibbons struggled to produce on offense as Apex made adjustments based on its 18-14 loss against Cardinal Gibbons from earlier in the season.
While Cardinal Gibbons sophomore Erica Skowron scored eight goals during the first game between the teams, she had zero Tuesday and a lot of that had to do with who was defending her.
“The adjustment we made was putting Jessi DeLuca on Erica Skowron. She scored eight goals on us, so we put Jessi Deluca on her,” Bagnasco said.
While Scanlin was on the sideline, Apex built its lead back to four goals.
As soon as she re-entered the game with 15 minutes remaining, Scanlin made an immediate impact, scoring just 19 seconds after getting back on the field. She finished with five goals, tied for the team high with senior Rebecca Wiley.
Gibbons came within one goal from tying Apex with 11:39 remaining as a Scanlin goal made the score 12-11, but Apex remained composed, quickly building its lead back up to three goals. Still, the Crusaders had one rally left in them.
Following goals by Scanlin and Wiley, Comstock scored her second goal of the game, tying the score at 14-14 before Castagnero scored the game-winner for Apex.
“Like I told the girls at the end of the game, no matter what the outcome today was, we have a lot to be proud of. I was really proud of the way that our team has come together,” Gibbons coach Taylor Chumney said.
Likewise, Bagnasco is also very proud of his team, and in his mind, they completely deserve to be where they are.
“They deserve it. It’s unbelievable. Right now I’m lost for words. They were determined,” Bagnasco said.
The Cardinal Gibbons boys’ team remained perfect on the season as coach Alex Buckley’s team picked up its 21st win while advancing to the NCHSAA 1A/2A/3A championship game with a 19-3 victory against visiting Jacksonville.
Senior captain Gannon Morrison, who scored three goals, said he and his teammates are very excited about advancing to the championship game.
“It feels really good. We’ve worked really hard all year for it,” Morrison said.
Cardinal Gibbons will face Marvin Ridge on Saturday at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary.